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Andrei Rublev

Russian Iconographer

Andrei Rublev Photo
Movement: Byzantine Art

Born: c.1365 - Sergiev Posad, near Moscow

Died: 29th January 1430 - Moscow


Summary of Andrei Rublev

The Russian Orthodox Church has over the centuries become renowned for its religious painters but it is Rublev's exquisite icons and frescoes that rank him the most important of all the late medieval Russian masters. His name has become inextricably linked with one of the most important periods in Russian painting and he is attributed with bringing about the revival of Byzantine art following its demise under the Ottoman rule. His fine modelling, and feel for pictorial depth, offered a subtle step away from the flat hieratic traditions of Byzantine art. Indeed, Rublev challenged the severe rules and traditions of Byzantine Christian art bringing forward a wistful perception of celestial beauty and a deeply pensive and introspective dimension to his art. Rublev lived through a deeply troubled period in Russian history yet his paintings revealed, through his devotion to God, a deep compassion and calm.

Key Ideas

Whereas Byzantine painting had tended towards the sinful and cataclysmic, the "Rublev rival" (as some have called it) brought a new optimism and light to religious painting. His icons and frescoes were formed of light and gentle color bringing a new harmony to the art of Russian Orthodox iconography.
Rublev's icons possess a sense of realism that showed a level of sophistication that in some ways echoed the work of the Italian Naturalists. Hitherto, the convention of Byzantine iconography was for the subjects to engage the viewers' gaze directly whereas Rublev's subjects typically averted the direct gaze of the viewer. This strategy allowed for a more private mode of worship and it was to be duly adopted by the Moscow School of Iconography - the school allowed for a general relaxation of the severe intensity of traditional iconographic painting thereby effecting a more worldly relationship between state and church.
Rublev would often test the conventions of icon painting by doing away with a narrative plot line, preferring to focus on a single moment. He strived to do more than tell religious stories and he used painting to evoke a higher feeling. Rather than position his worshipers outside the scene, his works invited them a route into the painting through deep contemplation and spiritual reflection.
Rublev's peaceful and quiet figures are rendered in an economy of elegant lines and contours and a subtle, yet minimal, modelling of facial features. His work brought an element of authenticity and intense personal feeling that was only matched by those Italian masters; the likes of Giotto and Masaccio, who were associated with the period of the proto/early Renaissance.
Andrei Rublev Photo

The exact date and place of Rublev's birth are unknown but it is likely he was born in the mid-to-late fourteenth century and was raised in the small town of Sergiev Posad near Moscow. It is a matter of historical record however that the Russia of the 1360s was a difficult and bloody country in which to live. Russia had been occupied by Tartar invaders who pillaged towns, monasteries and churches and took peasants into slavery, state control had been pushed back to the towns of Nizhniy Novgorod and Moscow, while the passage of fleeing people led to plagues in both cities during 1364 and 1366. In 1365, meanwhile, a fire had swept through Moscow destroying large parts of the city, taking many lives. These disasters were followed in 1371 by widespread famine, and soon thereafter, in 1378, Moscow was invaded by Lithuania's Prince Algirdas. There is no evidence to suggest that Rublev was directly affected by any of these events, but they do serve as a backdrop to the times in which he had grown up and possibly hint at his motivation to create the images of heavenly balance on which his legend is built.

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