Russian culture started from that of the East Slavs, with their pagan beliefs and specific way of life in the wooded areas of Eastern Europe. Early on, the culture of Russian ancestors was much influenced by neighbouring Finno-Ugric tribes and by nomadic, mainly Turkic, peoples of the Pontic steppe. In the late 1st millennium AD the Scandinavian Vikings, or Varangians, also took part in the forming of Russian identity and Kievan Rus' state. Kievan Rus' had accepted Orthodox Christianity from the Eastern Roman Empire in 988, and this largely defined the Russian culture of next millennium as the synthesis of Slavic and Byzantine cultures. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Russia remained the largest Orthodox nation in the world and claimed succession to the Byzantine legacy in the form of the Third Rome idea. At different points of its history, the country also was strongly influenced by the culture of Western Europe. Since Peter the Great's reforms for two centuries Russian culture largely developed in the general context of European culture rather than pursuing its own unique ways. The situation changed in the 20th century, when the Communist ideology became a major factor in the culture of the Soviet Union, where Russia, or Russian SFSR, was the largest and leading part.
The use and making of icons entered Kievan Rus' following its conversion to Orthodox Christianity from the Eastern Roman (Byzantine)
Empire in 988 A.D. As a general rule, these icons strictly followed
models and formulas hallowed by usage, some of which had originated in
Constantinople. As time passed, the Russiansâ€”notably Andrei Rublev and Dionisiusâ€”widened
the vocabulary of iconic types and styles far beyond anything found
elsewhere. The personal, improvisatory and creative traditions of
Western European religious art are largely lacking in Russia before the
seventeenth century, when Simon Ushakov's painting became strongly influenced by religious paintings and engravings from Protestant as well as Catholic Europe.
In the mid-seventeenth century, changes in liturgy and practice instituted by Patriarch Nikon resulted in a split in the Russian Orthodox Church. The traditionalists, the persecuted "Old Ritualists" or "Old Believers",
continued the traditional stylization of icons, while the State Church
modified its practice. From that time icons began to be painted not
only in the traditional stylized and nonrealistic mode, but also in a
mixture of Russian stylization and Western European realism, and in a
Western European manner very much like that of Catholic religious art
of the time. The Stroganov movement and the icons from Nevyansk rank among the last important schools of Russian icon-painting.