This is a continuation of my Renaissance History series, my 7th (and final) entry in the series. In this series, I’ve covered five out of six Renaissance men of my invention, each man of a different European country; the 6th is Ivan Petrov of Russia. This article is likely also the largest article I have in the series.
Ivan Petrov was a prominent Russian scholar who was the first to lead the integration of Western culture into Russian life and society by bringing the Renaissance to Russia.
Ivan was born Ivan Vladimirovich near Moscow on January 19, 1368 into a family of Russian peasants. His father, Vladimir, who saw talent in Ivan from a very early age, was determined to give his son an education and sent him to a group of Jewish scholars in Moscow who were noble, diverse, and very educated, and they agreed to take him under their wing.
While still living at home, Ivan went to Moscow for years to study with the scholars, who recognized that he was a prodigy. Ivan was able to read and write fluently by age 3, and by 18, he had completed his studies of every bit of knowledge that the scholars were able to teach. But Ivan still wanted to continue learning, so he decided to go west, aiming for Rome. He was very hungry for knowledge. That very year, Ivan left his homeland. Before he left, he bid his family farewell and promised that he would return one day.
As Ivan traveled further west, he heard of an important movement taking place in Europe and dug deeper into it until he found the source of it in Florence, Italy. He was very fascinated by the society and activity there. Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance, which had fairly recently begun to take effect throughout much of Europe. In 1388, Ivan obtained a very decent occupation in Florence, and stayed at this job for six years. From 1388 to 1394, he spent his free time studying the Italian language (particularly the Tuscan dialect). From 1390 to 1394, Ivan studied contemporary humanistic trends in art, literature, and music with Luciano Marrone.
Ivan returned to the Moscow Principality, his homeland, in 1395, accompanied by some of his Italian friends. On his return he adopted the surname “Petrov” (to honor his paternal grandfather, whose name was Pyotr), and introduced to the Muscovites his vast knowledge associated with Renaissance and Western culture in various fields, including the arts, literature, music, and dress. Ivan encouraged his people to assimilate into European society by incorporating Western ways into their society and adopting the Renaissance. Soon enough, partly because of Ivan’s reputation, many nobles and other Muscovites came to look like the people he met and saw in Italy. The old Russian culture in the Muscovite state was sabotaged. Ivan’s discoveries in Italy even attracted the Muscovite Grand Prince Vasily I. He realized that Moscow was primitive the way it was then and advocated this new cultural movement.
Following the first Westernization, Vasily took his court, Ivan, and other scholars from the Muscovite State through an expedition throughout Western Europe including visits to Italy and to other areas such as France, Spain, England, and Germany. While Prince Vasily and Russian noblemen flooded Italian barbershops to have their beards shaved and their hair cut, artists back in Russia were already creating Renaissance art, and Russian composers were composing Renaissance music. After learning a great deal of knowledge about Western culture and the Renaissance throughout the expedition, the grand prince and his crew spread the knowledge to everywhere in Europe where it wasn’t very well-known, even Greece, which was then part of the Eastern-cultured Byzantine Empire. They even spread the knowledge throughout the Russian states outside of Moscow. Russians also discovered the whole meaning of the Renaissance, a revival of ancient Greek and Roman art. They also learned a great deal about ancient Greek and Roman history and culture.
After so much contact with and influence by Western Europe, all city-states of Russia existing at the time united under Vasily to oust the Mongols. The Russians did not want their contact with Western Europe to be ruined by them. The united Russian force became successful as a result of building and using more advanced Western-style weapons and using Western military techniques. As a result of the ousting of Mongols, all of the formerly separate Russian states unified into a single nation based in Moscow by late in 1399. News of this inspired similar revolutions, including the split of Greece from the Byzantine Empire. Now that Greece was also becoming in contact and style with the rest of Europe, its inhabitants were reacquainted with their ancient past and experimented with the Athenian-style democracy of their ancient history, though as time went on it became more of a sort of constitutional monarchy.
As Western culture and the Renaissance was becoming mainstream in Russia by 1399, sacred music, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish alike, was absorbing Western music styles. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church, which had previously forbidden instrumental music and had medieval styles of music, had now come to incorporate the use of musical instruments, such as the organ, and Renaissance music styles, into its service. Also, in fashion, Russia’s Christian and Jewish clergy imitated the appearance of Western European clergymen, as a result of compromise after Ivan Petrov questioned the infallibility of sacred texts. And as secular music, which was equally absorbed with Western influence, emerged, Russian musicians were composing in a variety of Renaissance music forms, including masses, motets, chansons, and madrigals. Russia had a considerable number of noted Renaissance composers, as did England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Austria.
While Western culture and the Renaissance were transforming Russia into a prominent European nation, the country still maintained some of its heritage, including a chiefly Russian style of architecture, which was occasionally used, especially for sacred purposes, though it was not as popular as Renaissance architecture. One example of a work of architecture unique to Russia is St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow (which shows both Byzantine and Renaissance influences, thus leaving the cathedral in the previous version of history or timeline largely unchanged (i.e. the “onion” domes are still there)). Also, Russians tried to make their cuisine still look exotic and thus unique to Russia, despite that new culinary resources and techniques were arriving from Western Europe. And while many Europeans had had feelings of anti-Semitism, Russia maintained its rich Jewish heritage, and Judaism expanded in popularity in Western European countries, almost putting an end to anti-Semitism in many ways. (However, anti-Semitism never left Europe completely, not even Russia, where there were brief periods of history with pogroms; those were unofficially supported by the Russian Empire though not affecting ethnically Russian Jews; that’s because a very large minority (30%) of Russians are Jewish.)
Ivan became a high-ranking noble and a favorite of Vasily soon after his 1395 return to Russia. He also wrote Renaissance literature, painted Renaissance art, sculpted Renaissance sculpture, designed Renaissance architecture, and composed Renaissance music. He died February 3, 1453 in Moscow, at age 85.