Monday, July 3, 2017

Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Book of Revelation

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow was built from 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible, and today is painted in a potpourri of saturated, bright colors that dominate all other buildings in the Red Square. The color scheme has evolved considerably since the complex was constructed, and the current colors were chosen and applied between 1680 and 1848. The Cathedral’s original color was said to have been white to match the white stone of the Kremlin, while the domes were gold. The new color scheme was chosen in accordance with descriptions of the New Jerusalem found in the scriptural Book of Revelation:

“The One seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and a rainbow gleaming like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and on these thrones sat twenty-four elders clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads” (Rev. 4:3-4).

The 24 seats from the biblical reference are alluded to in the building's structure, with the addition of eight small onion domes around the central tent, four around the western side church and four elsewhere. This arrangement survived through most of the 17th century. The walls of the church mixed bare red brickwork or painted imitation of bricks with white ornaments, in roughly equal proportion. The domes, covered with tin, were uniformly gilded, creating an overall bright but fairly traditional combination of white, red and golden colors. Moderate use of green and blue ceramic inserts provided a touch of rainbow as prescribed by the Bible.

As Russian aesthetics developed and artists learned to create more vibrant pigments, church hierarchs decided to brighten the Cathedral's outward appearance. By 1848, the tower’s colors were finalized. The coloring of Saint Basil's Cathedral went on to inspire the outward color of many Russian churches soon after.