The architecture and painting of St Isaac’s Cathedral were conceived to complement one another sublimely with the harmonious concept and its perfect execution in common. It is only here that the collection of Russian monumental, religious and historical paintings dating from the 1840s-1850s remains preserved.
103 wall paintings and 52 canvases were executed by the major painters of the Russian academic school of the period, including V.K. Shebuev, F.A. Bruni, K.P. Brullov, A.T. Markov, N. M.Alekseev, P.V. Basin, F.P. Brullov, T.A. Neff, K.A. Moldavsky, Ch. Mussini and others.
The iconographic program of St Isaac’s is unique, having been conceived by the members of the Holy Sinod, Nicholas I and the architect Montferrand. The painting technique employed was quite idiosyncratic: oil paints were applied on the plaster covered with priming as developed by the French chemists D’Arce and Tenor. Work on painting was carried out under the direction of Vasily Shebuev, a prominent representative of the Russian academic school and the rector of the Academy of Arts.
Twelve wall paintings including “The Last Judgment”, “The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel”, “The Deluge”, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars and Groups of Angels”, “The Creator Blessing his Creation”, and “The Creation of the World” were executed by Fedor Bruni and his students K.B. Vening, P.F. Pleshanov and I.S. Ksenofontov.
The dome painting “The Mother of God in Glory” by the great Karl Brullov is stunning in its size – 816 sq.m. Considering the spherical shape of the dome and its size, Brullov employed the circular composition, leaving the extensive patches of the background visible to produce the effect of the sky saturated with sunshine.
Of great importance in the Cathedral’s painted decor are “The Miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand with Five Loaves” by E. Plushar and “The Sermon on the Mount” by P. Basin. Their colour scheme of local tones is similar and corresponds to the dome painting.
The paintings” Doubting Thomas”, “The Holy Spirit Surrounded by the Angels”, “The Resurrection Appearance of Christ to the Apostles”, and “Washing of Feet” by F.A. Bruni can be seen in the attics and on the vaults of the main dome. In the attic over the Holy doors is “The Savior Not Made By Hands” by T.A. Neff, a painting conventional in composition, yet exquisite in draftsmanship.