Andrei Rublev
Biography of Russian Byzantine-Style Icon Painter.

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Holy Trinity (1411-25) by Andrei Rublev.
Egg tempera on wood,
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. One of
his great religious paintings.

Andrei Rublev (c.1360-1430)


Holy Trinity Icon Painting
Other Works and Style
Selected Paintings

For the chronology of painting
and sculpture, please see:
History of Art Timeline.
For a general review, see:
History of Art.

For a list of masterpieces, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever.


One of the finest late Medieval Old Masters of Russia, and probably her most famous iconographer, Andrei Rublev is renowned for the Old Testament icon painting known as the Holy Trinity Icon (1411-25, tempera/wood, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). This exquisite work of Russian art, with its delicate modelling and greater sense of pictorial depth, marks a subtle step away from the flat hieratic traditions of Byzantine art towards the new forms pioneered by Giotto and other Proto Renaissance artists. As well as icons, Rublev executed a large number of fresco paintings, and worked on several illuminated manuscripts, including the Khitrovo Gospels. A pupil of Theophanes the Greek (c.1340-1410), Rublev assisted him with the decoration of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow and in the Cathedral of the Dormition at Vladimir.




Russians consider Rublev their greatest icon-painter, the artist whose work epitomizes all that is most excellent in Russian medieval painting of the 14th century. He exceeded all other medieval artists in the art of blending the severe rules and traditions of Byzantine Christian art with Russia's dreamier conception of beauty and with the pensive, introspective outlook evoked by the impact of Italian sentiment upon Slavic imagination. Although Rublev's Deesis, destroyed by fire in 1547, is the only icon mentioned on aesthetic grounds in medieval chronicles, almost as little is known about Rublev's life as that of Theophanes. He was born in Pskov, probably about 1370, and he is known to have painted the walls of the Cathedral of the Assumption at Vladimir, but these murals were so badly restored early in the 20th century that they now throw no light on Rublev's early manner. The first actual mention of Rublev is in 1405 when he - along with Theophanes the Greek and Prokhor of Gorodets - executed a number of panel paintings and religious murals for the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Moscow Kremlin. See also: Christian Art, Byzantine Period.

At some unspecified period in his life, Rublev became a monk of the Spas Andronievski Monastery in Moscow, but there is nothing to show whether he studied under Theophanes before taking his vows or some time after 1395, when Theophanes moved to Moscow. All that we know is that Rublev never left Moscow after entering the Spas Andronievski Monastery, and that most of his work was done in and around the city. Since his surviving works are to be found either at Vladimir or in Moscow, Rublev is often classified as a master of either the Vladimir-Suzdal or early Muscovite school, but the ingredients of his style derive mainly from the Novgorod school of icon painting.

Holy Trinity Icon Painting

Rublev's Old Testament Holy Trinity (1411-25) ranks as his masterpiece of religious art - indeed it must be one of the finest Russian religious paintings in existence. Basing it on an earlier icon painting called the Hospitality of Abraham, Rublev removed Abraham and Sarah from the scene, and through a subtle use of composition and symbolism changed the subject to focus on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Until recently it hung in the Monastery of the Trinity and St. Sergius, for which Rublev painted it, and is now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. The icon is very simple in its composition. Rublev's version of the scene is the same as that which appears in early Christian catacomb paintings. It shows the three angels seated at Abraham's table.

The left-hand angel is the first person of the Trinity - God the Father; the middle angel represents God the Son; the right-hand angel is God the Holy Spirit. All three are blessing the chalice, which contains a sacrificed calf, readied for eating. The calf signifies Christ the Saviour's death on the cross, while its preparation as food represents the sacrament of the Eucharist. Each angel holds a slender staff in a delicate hand as a symbol of their divine power, and each appears as the counterpart of its fellow, for each represents one soul thrice reincarnated. The firm, unifying symmetry of the meek yet aristocratic figures is softened by the subtle use of shape and colour. There is nothing naive or simplistic about their delicacy, nothing monotonous in the close resemblance between the angels. Their spirituality pervades the painting as they sit with their almond-shaped eyes mysteriously fixed on a world unknown to us, a world from which these creatures of the spirit, visiting earth for a mere instant, draw breath. The landscape in which they pause is marvellously well attuned to their ethereal materiality.

Other Icons, Frescoes, Illuminations and Artistic Style

Another icon almost certainly by Rublev is a Virgin, following the model of the Virgin of Vladimir. It is masterly in its delicacy, and shows a faultless assimilation of Italian tenderness. It has the same integrity and exquisite sensibility as the Trinity, and is as successful in combining grace with severity, or blending Italian naturalism with the formal idiom of icon-painting.

Rublev is known to have painted a large number of icons, and to have worked on mural decorations for the Cathedral of the Dormition and the Spas Andronievski Monastery in Moscow, but his wall-paintings await cleaning, and more of his icons are no doubt still to be discovered. When they are brought to light Rublev will emerge in his full stature as one of the greatest religious painters of all time. Among other points it will then be possible to determine whether the stylized cloud or tendril design, which appears on certain of his icons, is as characteristic of his work as the single branch or flower is of Holbein's portraits.

Rublev's painting combines two important features: a sense of asceticism, and the harmony of Byzantine mannerism. And the figures in his paintings are invariably peaceful and calm. Perhaps for these reasons, his art came to be recognized as the epitome of religious orthodoxy and iconography. At the Stoglavi Sobor (1551) Rublev's style of icon art was pronounced a model for church painting.

Like his master Theophanes the Greek, Rublev was a master of tempera and fresco as well as encaustic painting. In addition to icon and mural painting he produced a range of other works, including devotional panel paintings, miniatures, and various forms of biblical illustration, such as the Khitrovo Gospels.

Andrei reportedly died at the Andronievski Monastery in January 1430. His work influenced many other Russian artists including Dionysius (c.1440-1502). In 1959 the Andrei Rublev Museum opened to the public at the Andronievski Monastery in Moscow. In 1988, Rublev was canonized a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

For early Italian panel painting, see the Sienese School of Painting, led by the great Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319).



Selected Paintings

Works attributed to Rublev can be seen in churches and the best art museums across Russia. They include:

- Baptism of Jesus (c.1405) Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow.
- Annunciation (c.1405) Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow.
- Ascension (1408) Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
- St. Michael (1408) Iconostasis, Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir.
- St. Andrew the First-called (1408) Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir.
- St. John the Theologian (1408) Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir.
- Saviour in Glory (1408) Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir.
- St. John the Baptist (1408) Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir.
- Harrowing of Hell (1408-1410) Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir.
- Christ the Redeemer (c.1410) Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
- Deesis Range: The Apostle Paul (1410s) Tretyakov.
- Deesis Range: The Archangel Michael (1410s) Tretyakov.
- Holy Trinity (c.1411) Tretyakov.

Andrei Rublev's mantle was assumed by Dionysius (c.1440-1502) whose pictures linked the Novgorod style with the Moscow school of painting. The latter was represented by the Stroganov workshop, and the painters Procopius Chirin, Nicephorus Savin and Simon Ushakov (1626-1686). After this, attention centred on Petrine art (1700-50) at St Petersburg.

• For more about famous Novgorod and Muscovite icon painters, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important religious pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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