In This Review

The Icon and the Square: Russian Modernism and the Russo-Byzantine Revival
The Icon and the Square: Russian Modernism and the Russo-Byzantine Revival
By Maria Taroutina
Penn State University Press, 2018, 288 pp
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In her lavishly illustrated book, Taroutina revises the time period during which art historians generally locate the origins of modernism in Russian art from the beginning of the twentieth century to the closing decades of the nineteenth. During that earlier time period, Taroutina points out, Russian artists had moved away from imitating contemporary European styles and toward developing a local “Russo-Byzantine” tradition that drew from older sources. This shift, although seemingly conservative in nature, in fact produced innovative art. The new fascination with Byzantine roots generated an interest in cleaning the dust off old icons that suddenly struck Russian viewers as looking rather modern. These pictures likely served as a source of inspiration for many modernist artists. Mikhail Vrubel began his artistic career working in the Byzantine manner. Wassily Kandinsky in his youth copied Byzantine miniatures, his artistic theory informed by his church attendance; according to Taroutina, even his mature paintings bear some resemblance to old Russian icons. Kazimir Malevich’s “quasi-cubism,” Taroutina writes, also owes more to the Russo-Byzantine tradition than to contemporary European cubism.