A selection of illustrations from Antiquities of the Russian State (1830) by Fedor Grigoryevich Solntsev (1801 – 1892).

Fedor Grigoryevich Solntsev,
Title Page, Antiquities of the Russian State, Drevnosti Rossiiskago Gosudarstva..

Fedor Grigoryevich Solntsev was a Russian painter and historian of art who played a major role in recording and preserving medieval Russian culture. He was the principle author of the epic Antiquities of the Russian State, an exhaustive, exquisitely illustrated encyclopedia detailing contents of Moscow’s Grand Kremlin. He discovered and restored the mosaics and frescoes of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, Cathedral of the Dormition of Kiev Pechersk Lavra in Kiev, and the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius in Vladimir.

Solntsev, together with Metropolitan Philaret and Archimandrite Photius Spassky (such fantastic names), are considered founders of modern Russian icon painting.

Solntsev’s origin story reads like a fable. Born in Verkhne-Nikulskoyem, a village near Rybinsk in the Yaroslavl Governorate,. His parents were peasant serfs under Count Ivan Alekseyevich Musin-Pushkin. His father, Grigory worked as a box-office attendant for the Imperial theaters in Saint Petersburg and returned home to the village very infrequently whilst his mother Elizaveta was a peasant who lived all her life in the village. After his artistic ability was discovered, Count Ivan freed the entire Solntsev clan which meant Fedor could enter the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg in 1815. Solntsev’s younger brother, Yegor later graduated from the same academy and became a notable painter.

Solntsev’s rise was rapid. He graduated in 1824 with a “Lesser Gold Medal” for his painting A Peasant Family in his pocket, and in 1827 he received the “Greater Gold Medal” from the Academy for Render unto Caesar. In 1836 he became a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts for Meeting of Grand Duke Sviatoslav with John of Tzimiskes and by 1876 Solntsev was Professor of the Academy.

The President of Imperial Academy of Arts, Alexey Olenin was a huge fan of Solntsev’s work and so was the Emperor Nicholas I who commissioned Solntsev to decorate dinner parties and his private Kremlin apartments. Through his life Solntsev worked on restoration of almost every Moscow Kremlin building including the Grand Palace and Armoury. He painted cathederals and churches all over Moscow. He worked in Kiev too, on restoration and describing artefacts in Kiev Pechersk Lavra and painting the interiors of the Krestovozdvizhenskaya Church.

Olenin commissioned Solntsev to detail all the archaeological and historical artifacts of the Russian state. He work in 1830, making over 3000 highly detailed drawings of artifacts including all the Kremlin’s riches. some 700 of those drawings made up the bulk of the 6-volume epic that resulted: Antiquities of the Russian State. The Emperor Nicholas himself provided the funds to publish what was now an encyclopedia.

Solntsev died on 3 March 1892 and was buried in Saint Petersburg.

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