Mention the word “fresco” and magnificent, historic cathedrals of Europe might come to mind. Suburban Melbourne probably would not…
In fact the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Brunswick – Holy Protection Cathedral – is a breath-taking example of frescoes, created right here in Australia! Much of the fresco work has already been completed, but there is one final stage to undertake. Russian Ethnic Representative Council is raising funds in order to complete this project, scheduled for mid-November, 2019.
Frescoes in Russian churches have been in existence since the country’s conversion to Christianity in 988AD. Byzantine in style, the art form has barely changed over the past 1000 years. Holy Protection Cathedral frescoes continue this tradition, at the same time incorporating elements from the local Australian landscape in use of colour and form. The frescoes depict biblical scenes in vivid imagery. To stand inside the Cathedral, surrounded by the awe-inspiring work, is to feel transported from everyday life into a different realm.
The fresco technique is a rare art form in Australia. World-renowned iconographer Tonia Ganin, was born in Harbin, China, to Russian parents, and migrated to Australia with her family in 1961 at the age of 13. She was inspired by frescoes she remembers seeing in church during her childhood. The emigre Russian church couldn’t afford to have frescoes done in the traditional way, so the local iconographer used a process of painting on huge rolls of canvas and attaching them to the walls and ceiling. The Harbin artist has long since passed away, so Tonia went on a mission to the US to find a certain iconographer who had learnt from him. She was able to track him down, and then spend time studying the fresco technique with him, in order to bring it to Australia. Tonia has adapted this technique further; instead of painting each scene separately within a border, as is usually done, she paints continuous scenes. This gives the frescoes a sense of spaciousness, letting the eye travel more gently across the images. It also adds a significant degree of technical challenge to the artist.
The Holy Protection frescoes are unique and artistically magnificent. The whole Church building and the cultural works inside (and outside) are a testament to the beauty and richness of Russia’s artistic heritage, created here in Australia. The donations raised through the ACF will enable the frescoes to be completed. The frescoes will take their place of importance in Australia’s own multicultural fabric and heritage. We look forward to your help in making this happen.
The frescoes will be seen also in the context of all the other cultural Russian-Australia artistic and folk craft work already done at the site, including metalwork on the candle stands and chandeliers, traditional wood-carving, gold domes and gilding work. The architecture of the building was chosen to be a blend of the local Brunswick Victorian heritage greens and 17th century Russian Yaroslavl style.
Find out more on the website www.rerc.org.au, www.pokrov.com.au and www.facebook.com/rerc.org.au