15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration

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During restoration of the Dormition Cathedral within the Moscow Kremlin, restorers found hidden frescoes that no one has seen before.

15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
Credit: Moscow Kremlin Museums

The Dormition Cathedral inside the Moscow Kremlin’s walls used to be the country’s main church until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Almost all Russian tsars were coronated and married there, and at the same time, there is an underground necropolis holding graves of Russian Orthodox Church patriarchs.




The cathedral was built in the late 15th century by Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti, while the best artists of the time (including the famous Dionysos) were enlisted to create the iconostasis (wall of icons and religious paintings). By 1515, the church walls were covered with murals, but some of them were lost later, as over the years, the church was reconstructed several times, new supportive arches were erected and some renovation was necessary after a massive fire.

15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
Credit: Moscow Kremlin Museums

In 1643, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, Mikhail I, ordered to paint the cathedral anew, and those frescoes are preserved to this day.




“The cathedral restoration began in 2017 and is slated to run until 2023, and aims primarily at the preservation and protection of the structure and its wall paintings,” says Yelena Gagarina, Director-General of Moscow Kremlin Museums.

15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
15th century frescoes discovered during Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral restoration
Credit: Moscow Kremlin Museums

“The restoration measures we carry out are complex and involve not only monitoring the condition of the primer and the paint layers, but also the removal of soot and dirt, mending cracks and restoring lost elements,” Gagarina adds.




In 2018 the restorers found some frescoes that no one had seen before behind the altarpiece walls. There are low hidden parts of two compositions: the ‘Synaxis of the Virgin’ and the ‘Birth of John the Baptist’. Two new prophets from the fresco ‘Praises of the Theotokos’ were also discovered.

Research indicates that these wall paintings are most likely to be dated around 1481, when Dionysos and other masters made the iconostasis. “If these conclusions are correct,” Gagarina notes,”then these wall paintings are an absolutely unique discovery, given that the frescoes of Dionysos and his contemporaries have almost all been lost.

Among the few surviving frescoes created in late 15th/early 16th centuries are the rare masterpieces of Dionysius in Ferapontov Monastery near Vologda.

Sources: TASS & Russia Beyond [February 27, 2020]