Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio






Moscow's Rise

The Muscovite grand princes extended their territories and considered themselves the successors to the Byzantine emperors.


When Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, the grand princes of Moscow deemed themselves to be the legitimate heirs of the Byzantine emperor and defenders of the Orthodox Church.

Moscow was to be the "third Rome."

1 View over the city of Moscow with the Kremlin in the center,
copper engraving, ca. 16th century

Grand Prince 6 Ivan III married the niece of the last emperor in 1472 and from 1478 on assumed the title of "Sovereign of All Russia."

6 Ivan III, wood engraving, 16th century

From Byzantium, he adopted the heraldic double eagle on the Muscovy coat of arms, the court ceremonial, and the autocratic rule that characterized the Russian monarchy until its end in 1917.

Ivan had his royal residence in Moscow, the 3 Kremlin, maynificently improved by Italian architects.

3 The Kremlin with the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel

3 The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel

see also collection:

Russian Architecture

Russian Icons

In 1478 he annexed the merchant city of Novgorod, which had acquired vast territories in the north of Russia, and in 1480 ended his tribute payments to the Mongolian khans. Ivan and his son Vasily III steadily extended their Russian domain westward at the expense of the Polish-Lithuanian union.

When 2 Ivan IV (the Terrible) inherited the throne from his father Vasily in 1533, he was just three years old, and a brutal battle for the regency flared up among the noble families, the boyars.

When he reached adult hood in 1547 Ivan was crowned tsar, the first Russian ruler to use this title formally, and he began to break the power of boyars. With the help of the nobility (who earned their titles through service), the Church, and an elite military unit, the Strelitsi, he reformed the military, the legal system, and the government.

To accomplish these ends, he used great 4 brutality and the oprichniki, a bodyguard bound to him by an oath of loyalty. The opposing boyars were persecuted through deportations, expropriations, and liquidations, and their property was divided among the newly titled nobility loyal to the tsar. In 1570, Ivan had Novgorod razed and thousands of citizens murdered because the city had supposedly risen up against his authority.

2 Ivan the Terrible,
painting by Victor M. Wasnezow, 1897

4 Ivan IV the Terrible has convicts roasted over an open fire,
copper engraving, 17th ñ

He even killed one of his own 5 sons in a fit of frenzied rage.

5 Ivan IV the Terrible with his dead son, painting by Ilya Repin

Peasants fled the state terror and sought refuge with the Cossacks in the steppe regions north of the Black Sea.

In international affairs, Ivan IV continued the expansionist policies of his predecessors.

The khanates of 7 Kasan and Astrakhan were conquered, which provoked a retaliatory strike by the Crimean Tatars, who devastated Moscow in 1571.

The conquest of Siberia began in the east. In 1584, the northern port of Arkhangelsk was founded on the White Sea to facilitate trade with England.

When Ivan died in 1584, Russia had become significantly larger in territory, but internally was in ruins, the populace in poverty, and the leadership classes split by power struggles that broke out openly after the death of the czar.

7 St. Basil's Cathedral, built by Ivan IV to celebrate his victory over Kasan

see also collection:

Russian Architecture

Russian Icons




In 1558 Ivan IV charged the merchant Stroganov family with subjugating Siberia. They hired the Cossack leader Yermak, who in 1584 conquered the capital of the khanate of Sibir.

The Cossacks were followed by merchants, fur traders, and settlers. A hundred years later, the Russians had reached the extreme east, where a treaty with China in 1689 established the Amur River as the boundary.

Conquest of Siberia by Yermak, painting by Vasily Surikov




The Cossacks

Ever since the 15th century, runaway serfs from Russia and the Ukraine and dispersed Tatars had been settling the steppes between the Black Sea and the Urals. Here they founded communities of free armed peasants and warriors, who chose their leaders by election.

The Cossacks (from the Tatar qazaq, "adventurer") had a high reputation as skilled soldiers and were thus often hired as mercenaries by the Poles, Lithuanians, and Russians.

Assembly of Cossacks, painting by llya Repin




The Time of Troubles

After the death of Ivan the Terrible, the Smuta—Time of Troubles—began.


9 Boris Godunov was the regent for his brother-in-law Fyodor I, the feebleminded son of Ivan IV and Anastasia Romanovna.

9 Boris Godunov

Fyodor's only surviving brother, Dmitri, was murdered in 1591, probably on Godunov's command. When Fyodor died in 1598, ending the main line of the Ruriks, Godunov was elected to the throne. After a severe famine, social unrest and revolts plagued Godunov's reign as he made the serfdom of the peasants even harsher and more stringent.

Following Godunov's death in 1605 and the assassination of his son Fyodor II, Sigismund III Vasa of Poland-Lithuania sought to expand his influence in Russia and supported a pretender who claimed to be Dmitri, the son of Ivan IV. This Dmitri became tsar for a short time before he was assassinated by a boyar, Vasily Shuysky—who was then elected tsar by the boyars in 1606. Further revolts brought another false Dmitri, from Tushino, to prominence. Sigismund then claimed the tsar's throne for his son, the future Wladyslaw IV (p. 302), and had Shuysky deposed in 1610.

The Poles ruled in Moscow for two years, until the folk hero 11 Kuzma Minin put together a Russian army and. with the support of the Cossacks, liberated Moscow in 1612.

11 Kuzma Minin and Dmitriy Pozharskiy, painting by Mikhail Scotti

The following year, the boyars elected a new tsar, 10 Michael Romanov III, the 16- year-old son of an influential patriarch and— through his great-aunt Anastasia Romanovna—cousin of the last legitimate tsar of the House of Rurik.

10 Michael Romanov

8 Whipping in a Russian village,
stuel engraving, 19th century

The Time of Troubles had finally ended, although the disputes over the autocracy of the tsars and the social problems of the starving and impoverished 8 rural population that had erupted during the Time of Troubles would continue to plague Russia in the ensuing centuries.

Tsar Michael, who ruled until 1633 jointly with his father, the Patriarch Philarete, came to an understanding with Poland-Lithuania wherein the Polish territories under Ivan the Terrible's rule were returned.

The imperial dynasty of the Romanovs would rule as Russian tsars for 150 years and five generations from 1613 to 1762.



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy