Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


James M. Saslow

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


This dissertation explores how early modern Russian identity was shaped by the built environment and, likewise, how the built environment was a result of an emerging Russian identity. I focus on the years 1472 to 1539 because they were crucial to the formation of this early modern Russian identity. Muscovite princes, seeking to rebuild Moscow's cityscape in a grander style, imported a large community of architects, engineers, stonemasons, and statesmen from Lombardy, the Veneto, and Rome. At least six architects, and an unknown number of masons, from Italy worked in Muscovy during these years, and their presence indelibly changed the face of Russian architecture and culture. The Muscovite princes sought to recreate the cityscape of Moscow as a symbol of the power gained when Ivan III freed his people from Mongol control and began consolidating Russian lands into an emerging, unified state. Furthermore, with the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, Muscovy declared itself capital of Orthodox Christendom, casting its authority across the Russian lands.

Accordingly on the ascent, Muscovy actively sought to define its emerging sense of national identity in a new architectural language; it deliberately looked to the traditions of Medieval and Renaissance Italy to assist in this process. The resulting hybrid architecture was a combination of the revered architectural traditions of medieval Kiev and Novgorod with the Western Renaissance, all overlaid with a fervent Byzantine theological persuasion. Thus, Muscovy's use of foreign architects is emphatically not indicative of a deference to a "superior" West or of a desire to become or appear Western, as some older scholarship implies. Instead, it reveals the ingenuity of a culture on the verge of statehood, one that seems to have understood that artistic forms could be transferred and "repurposed."