Buy Art Prints Now
* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Andrei Rublev was a famous Russian painter from the late 14th and early 15th century who specialized in Christian iconography, both on wooden panels and as frescoes. His life was covered in a famous biographical movie in the 1960s.
The greatest legacy from Rublev’s career would be in how his style became the approved approach for Christian paintings all across Russia. This genre dominated artistic output at this time, with most commissions being offered by religious institutions, both large and small.
It was therefore imperative for any artist to master themes such as this in order to profit from their work, and Rublev brought about a language that others could follow. His reputation would also spread across the world, marking him out as a highly significant international painter.
This impact has been recognised within Russia across the 20th century, leading to a number of Veneration being afforded to the artist in recent times.
The artist is believed to have been born in around 1360 and 1370, probably in the vicinity of Moscow, Russia. It is only when his artistic career started to take off that much documentation around his life began to appear, predominantly through payment receipts for some of the church commissions that he worked on. It is widely believed that Rublev lived at the Trinity St. Sergey Monastery in the town of Sergiev Posad, near Moscow.
He would have served as a monk under Nikon of Radonezh later on in life. His possession of a surname was unusual in Russia at the time, and very much reserved for those from wealthier backgrounds, suggesting that he is unlikely to have experienced an impoverished upbringing. Indeed, Rublev could be translated as “cutting wood”, perhaps pointing to the occupation of his family in previous generations.
The majority view regarding Rublev’s apprenticeship as an artist is that he was trained by Theophanes the Greek, whose exceptional technical ability had a significant impact on his younger pupil. Art historians have pinpointed many differences between the two, both in artistic style and personality, but ultimately they did cover much the same themes within their work.
Rublev was an intelligent young man who learnt what he could from his master, whilst also managing to incorporate his own ideas within that structure. Most significantly is in how Theophanes the Greek would bring a drama to his work which the calm, mild mannered Rublev preferred to avoid.
Indeed, one of the trademarks of Rublev’s paintings is in their serene, gentle manner. By contrast, Theophanes would demonstrate the perils of leading an immoral life, as if to threaten the viewer.
Work as a Professional Artist
He would have shown early promise as an artist before being included within a highly respected group of sculptors, painters and architects who were employed to decorate the interiors of new churches in the region. This role would have afforded Rublev some artistic freedom at that time, taking on ‘fresh canvases’ in which he had license to create and innovate, whilst remaining in the appropriate religious themes.
Whilst being part of a collective group of artists, Rublev’s name would still appear in connection to some of the projects in which he was involved. He has been described by most who knew him as a quiet, intelligent man who was committed to his religion and felt privileged to produce depictions of Christian icons as a living. In his eyes, there was much more than simply an aesthetic purpose to his paintings, with deeper meanings to be found in the themes that he covered.
The artist is recorded as having produced a number of religious artworks for the Cathedral of Annunciation in Moscow in 1405, though some of his paintings have been dated earlier than that. It was his work in this cathedral that originally alerted historians as to his relationship with Prokhor the Elder from Gorodets and Theophanes the Greek, who were named alongside him in payment receipts.
A little later, in 1408, Rublev received a commission to decorate the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, in collaboration with a number of other painters, some of whom he would continue to work with in later years. The early 15th century brought about political instability in parts of Russia, leading to some of the artist’s work being destroyed.
Additionally, a number of fires also damaged some of his other works, but these events also brought about new opportunities for the artist, as monasteries and churches required new art to decorate their interiors, once any building damage had been repaired.
Andrei Rublev’s Trinity from circa 1410-1427 remains perhaps his most famous artwork of all. This item, which resides today in the respected Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, is the only painting definitively attributed to the artist. Due to the manner in which the artist was employed for much of his life, where he would work alongside other skilled painters and sculptors, none of whom would tend to sign their work, it has been harder to discern his collaborative projects from those that he alone worked on.
This has not impacted his legacy, however, as his talents were beyond question, and in most of his signature works, he is likely to have been the main contributor. The Trinity is also notable in how the artist took an existing topic and re-imagined it in order to shift the focus.
Prior to the The Old Testament Trinity Icon, Rublev had already completed a series of notable icon paintings such as The Virgin of Vladimir (circa 1400), The Nativity, The Annunciation and The Transfiguration from around 1405 and also The Saviour from 1410. The Virgin of Vladimir captures the essence of Byzantine iconography and it is no coincidence that the artist’s own master arrived in Russia directly from Constantinople.
Accurate depictions of the Virgin would be treated with almost the same significance as the subject herself within the Orthodox Church, making work by the likes of Rublev to be extremely valuable at that time. One of the stylistic traits of the artist was to avoid direct eye contact between the subject and the viewer, and that can be seen again here, with the Virgin’s face directed to the side of the work.
Andrei Rublev died in the Andronikov Monastery, which is located on the left bank of the Yauza River in Moscow. He is believed to have passed away at some point between the years 1427 and 1430. The building has since been converted into the Andrei Rublev Museum of Old Russian Art in 1959 in order to promote the artist’s legacy. Due to the confusion surrounding his birth date, the artist may have been anything from fifty seven to seventy years of age at the time of his death.
The life of Andrei Rublev continues to be remembered, and celebrated in a variety of ways. Outside of the Christian world, he remains most famous for a successful biographical film produced in the 1960s, titled Andrei Rublev, Written and directed by legendary filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, this three hour biopic loosely tracks the life of this significant Russian painter, as it balanced historical accuracy with entertainment. Much of what we already believed about his life is visually displayed within this impressive film, such as in his relationship with his master, Theophanes the Greek.
Rublev was canonized as a saint in 1988 by The Russian Orthodox Church and his life continues to be celebrated on the feast day on 29 January as well as on the main feast day of Russian saints of Moscow, which is held annually on the 4th of July. Indeed, saints appear frequently within the artist’s oeuvre, before him later being promoted to one himself, many centuries later. Additionally, his image was included on a Russian stamp in the 1960s, marking six centuries since his approximate birth.
The artist's legacy was strong during his own lifetime, and for some years afterwards, with other Christian painters in Russia following the artistic structure that he had laid down within his own career. However, several generations later his reputation would fall out of fashion, as tastes changed, and it was not until the early 20th century that we would start to see discussion of his oeuvre re-appear once more. The artist’s use of spiritual symbolism, combined with an intelligent, complimentary use of color, would also gain favor with the modern artists of the 20th century, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
The comparison of styles between Andrei Rublev and his master, Theophanes the Greek, helps us to understand the way in which the former altered the course of Russian art. His work encouraged other artists to follow this new, brighter path in which the same Christian themes would be presented in a positive, encouraging manner rather than threatening viewers with harsh consequences for any sinful behavior. The churches adorned by his work would also become more welcoming locations as a result of this change in tone, potentially drawing in more worshippers.