Vologda holds a place of its own in the history of Russia's North and its artistic culture. Splendid collections of works of art were collected first in the churches and monasteries, then in the local museums.
Vologda is fascinating in its monuments of art and architecture. No one coming to Vologda can help being impressed by the St.Sofia Cathedral and the frescoes inside it. The frescoes were done in 1586-1638 by a team of thirty icon-painters from Yaroslavl, directed by a well-known contractor and icon painter Dmitry Plekhanov. They chose a style of large-scale wall painting, the style that best suited to the size of the building. The frescoes depict the Last Judgement, the most popular theme in the 17th century. The Vologda frescoes portray the world cataclysm - "The trumpeting angels are truly gigantic... The golden trumpets seem to rend the air with a deafening sound in response to which the land and the sea obediently give up their dead." They flock hastily to the throne of the Judge.
The most ancient icons of the Vologda Oblast date back to the thirteenth century. Kyrill Belozersky did his utmost to establish one of the first icon-painting studios in his monastery. In 1502 the famous Moscow icon-painter Dionisy and his sons created the unique ensemble of frescoes in the Ferapontov Monastery.
The earlier works of Russian art to be found in the museums of the Vologda Oblast have much in common with Novgorodian art, Moscow, Rostov and Suzdal schools. The icon of St.Demetrius Prilutsky (16th century) is one of the most perfect of all the icons with border scenes. The custom of painting border scenes to illustrate the life of the saint goes back to Bysantium. But this type of art acquired the features of an independent work of art only in the hands of Dionisy and the artists of his school. The size of the central panel is in strict proportion to the size of the border scenes. Each scene is portrayed in a simple lucid manner. The majority of personages are depicted in the characteristic poses of people engaged in a friendly interview. The viewer has an impression that he is watching the saint talking to the people. The artist favours smooth, rounded contours and the linear rhythm of his figures evokes musical associations.
For a long time northern masters improved their skill by acquiring the techniques of the art of Novgorod and Moscow. The icons of the Deesis Range in the Kornilyevo - Komelsky Monastery (1515) are an illustration.
The expositions of the oblast's museums display icons painted by artists coming from Belozersk, Veliky Ustyug, Vologda, Kirillov, Tot'ma and Ustyuzhna. To some extent the influence of the Moscow and Tver schools can be found in their works, but at the same time these works display greater concreteness, closeness to the world around, delicate colour range.
Official, full-dress portraits hold a special place in the eighteenth-century Russian art. Portraits depict people of different classes - the nobility, the merchants, and the clergy. They tell us about their characters and predilections. Family portraits of Vologda residents and their children were usually painted by local artists (sometimes by serfs) and exhibited in their houses and mansions.
The great battle-painter Vasili Vereshchagin who was born in Cherepovets made a tangible contribution to the Russian art. Such artists as N.Dmitrevsky, I.Varakin, F.Vakhrushov, V.Sysoev, N.Tusov and E.Shilnikovsky are considered to be the fathers of graphic arts on the territory of the Vologda Oblast (the 1920s). In the 1970s Vologda became a centre of the Russian graphic arts, its painters displayed their works in Moscow and abroad. Original and distinctive are the graphic works of the Burmagins. In their woodcuts the painters put high workmanship, and their productions acquired the value of genuine art.
Nowadays the paintings of Vladimir Korbakov, Alexander Panteleyev, Dzhana Tutundzhan, Mikhail Kopyov, Yury Voronov and the pictures of Genrietta and Nikolay Burmagin are well known far beyond the borders of Russia.
The ceramic panels of Tatyana Chistyakova are kept in many Russian museums.
The works belonging to the brush of Vologda's artists are displayed in the State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow), the Russian Museum (St.Petersburg), the All-Russian Museum of Arts and Folk Art, and other collections throughout Russia.