Part IV

In its cultural evolution Novgorod, however independent, was not alienated from the rest of Rus. As a matter of fact, cultural contacts between the different lands during the medieval period were far more active than has usually been assumed. The self - sufficiency of the regional schools, and the degree of their mutual isolation, have long been unduly exaggerated by both social and art historians of Russia. And though of all Russian lands Novgorod, and next to it Pskov, had the strongest claim to cultural autonomy - owing principally to the peculiarities of their social and political structure - they were nonetheless subject to the same cultural factors which, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, operated throughout Rus.

The winds of change blew from Byzantium and the Slav countries in the Balkans, where a new cultural trend was in the making. (It was not, however, only to this new influence that the wide cultural movement which spread all over the south - eastern and north - eastern Europe owed its origin. Some of the art phenomena illustrative of the new ways of thinking had emerged in the Balkan Peninsula in earlier periods, but did not then exert any far - reaching influence; while others evolved in different lands simultaneously, or at least independently of each other, as products of their native cultural soil). Fourteenth - century Novgorod was seized with a passion for Byzantium and Byzantine culture. There appeared a rich and varied literature on Constantinople, and Byzantine and southern Slav artists began to be invited to work in Novgorod.

At that time, a great interest in classical antiquity arose in Byzantium, comparable to that which preceded the Renaissance in Western Europe, but not destined to lead to a mature classical revival. Educated Greeks began to study the works of Homer, Pindar, Plato, and Demosthenes; to write commentaries on them; to correct them on the basis of textual criticism; and to translate Latin literature into their own language. (In Italy, too, the spread of classical learning was started by the Greeks).

Quite in keeping with the prevailing cultural interests, Novgorodian pilgrims to Tsargrad, as Constantinople was called in Rus, paid the greatest attention to art monuments. This is felt in such descriptions of fourteenth - century Constantinople as we find in the Traveller by Stefan, a Novgorodian from the nobility, or the Tale of Tsargrad, or the Holy Places of Tsargrad (authors unknown). These three works written in the fourteenth century deal not so much with religious as with secular art. They do describe reliquaries, icons, and churches, but also such monuments as the Hippodrome of the Roman emperors, the statue of Justinian, or the Pravosudy - sculptures representing the patron deities of justice - and others like them. All these art monuments, whether religious or secular, are viewed with the exacting eye of the true connoisseur, well able to appreciate both their aesthetic value and the technical mastery of their execution. By far the best description of the statue of Justinian (later destroyed by the Turks) was the one given by Novgorodian travellers. Their depictions are strikingly expressive, showing a rare insight into the artist's original concept and a keen understanding of movement and gesture.

The existence of historic ties between Novgorod and Constantinople was a matter of particular interest to Novgorodian travellers. Their works include abundant evidence of such ties, derived from a variety of sources: from the tales of their predecessors, Russian pilgrims of earlier times; from historical literature; from all sorts of writings and collections of stories, widely read in Novgorod; and even from oral tradition.

Of the barbarous destruction of ancient Byzantine art monuments, perpetrated by the Crusaders after their seizure of Constantinople in 1204 y., Novgorodian travellers speak with such horror, indignation, and regret as only a perfect love of art could evoke.

Pilgrimages to Constantinople were not the only channel through which the links between the Russians, on the one hand, and the Greeks and Southern Slavs, on the other, were maintained. In the latter half of the fourteenth century, there were whole communities of Russians living in Constantinople and on Mount Athos. They included learned Novgorodians engaged in the copying, translation, and comparative studies of texts. Some of the codices transcribed by them in the monasteries of Constantinople and Mount Athos have been preserved to our day.