Following the traces of Andrey Rublov
by Olivia Kroth
Приемная Музея им. А.Рублева: (495) 678-14-89
Факс: (495) 678-50-55
Электронная почта: firstname.lastname@example.org
105120 Москва, Андроньевская площадь, д.10
Andronyevskaya Ploshad 10 1
Metro Station: Ilytsa Ploshad
Open daily except Wednesday from 11-18h
Admission: 350 RUB
The Andronikov Monastery is home to the Andrey Rublov Museum of Old Russian Art, named after the most famous monk of this abbey. Established in 1357 by Metropolitan Alexis, its first hegumen was Andronik, a disciple of Saint Sergius of Radonezh. The icon painter Andrey Rublov spent his last years in this monastery and is buried here. From its beginning, the monastery was one of the centres of books. In the the 14th century, a monastic quarter formed outside of the Andronikov Monastery, which produced bricks for the construction of the Moscow Kremlin (1475). The Andronikov Monastery was ransacked in 1571, 1611 and 1812, when Napoleon’s army entered Moscow and burnt it down.
In the 19th century, a theological seminary and a library were installed. After the October Revolution of 1917, the Andronikov Monastery was closed. In 1947, however, it was declared a national monument. In 1985, the Andrey Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art was opened on the cloister’s premises. In 1991, the old cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Archaeological excavations on the cloister’s territory in 1993 uncovered an ancient altar.
In front of the entrance, a statue of Andrey Rublov greets visitors. The monk looks ascetic and spiritual, stern and austere. He is holding icons in both hands, one left, one right. The larger-than-life statue was created by O. Konok. We know little about the famous icon painter’s life. Andrey Rublov (Андре́й Рублёв), born around 1360, lived in the Trinity Monastery of Saint Sergius of Radonezh near Moscow. In 1405, he painted icons and frescos in the Moscow Kremlin, together with Theophanes the Greek (1330-1410). In 1408, he went to paint icons in Vladimir, before moving to the Andronikov Monastery in Moscow, where he spent the rest of his life and died in 1430.
In February, the white exterior wall and white buildings look lonely, they are covered by snow. Outside, we can here the noise of Moscow’s traffic. Inside, everything is calm and quiet. The monastery’s central church is supposed to be the oldest in Moscow, built between 1420 and 1426. Beneath the windows some faint traces of Andrey Rublov’s frescos can be seen. The museum, however, does not own any of his works. It does not matter, though, because there is a marvellous collection of Russian icons from 600 years, created between the 12th and 17th century.
Main church of the Andronikov Monastery (1420-1426):
The oldest icons of the museum are exhibited on the 2nd floor: two old fragments from 1199, showing pieces of a face, protected in glass cases. On the ground level there are icons from the 17th century, coming from various monasteries all over Russia: Arkhangelsk, Kirov, Moscow, Murmansk, Nizhni Novgorod, Perm, Pskov, Rostov, Susdal, Tver, Vladimir, Vologda and Yaroslavl. Russian icon painters often chose birch or pine wood. The preparation of the panels was a long process. Once dried, they were polished before the artists could start painting. Since they were mostly monks, they prepared for their work by fasting, praying and keeping silence.
An icon (Greek εἰκών “image”) is a flat panel painting depicting angels and saints, martyrs, patriarchs and prophets, Christ and Mary. The first icons in Russia appeared in 988, when Christianity was introduced. Russian icons are painted on wood and mostly displayed on the iconostasis of Russian Orthodox churches, the wooden wall separating the altar from the room for visitors who bow, kneel down and kiss the icon. Many religious homes in Russia have icons hanging on the wall in the krasny ugol, the “red” or “beautiful” corner, which is decorated with candles and flowers.
The typology of Russian icons follows a strict tradition. Christ, the saints and the angels have halos. Angels are depicted with wings because they are God’s messengers. Colours are important as well. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven. Blue and green are the colours of human life on Earth. Red and purple stand for the spiritual realm. Icons are considered to be sacred, a means of spiritual communion between God and the believers. Icons are venerated holy pictures, inviting to meditation and prayer in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Room 60 of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow shows some of Andrey Rublov’s major works, for example his “Holy Trinity” (1420). With symbolic use of composition, this work focusses on the mystery of the Holy Trinity. All three figures are treated the same, there is no difference between Godfather, Christ and the Holy Ghost. The painter probably wanted to stress the idea of unity, calling Russians to be united in the face of troubles. The 14th and 15th century were a time of unrest for Russia, with religious sects and attacks from Mongols. Generally, Andrey Rublov’s work shows peaceful harmony. This seems to be the ideal he tried to achieve during his lifetime. His work inspired later icon painters like Dionisy (1440-1506).
A large work of Andrey Rublov in room 60 of the Tretyakov Gallery is about three metres high and six metres wide, shoxing five panels with “Christ in Majesty” (1408) in the middle. Four figures are approaching him, their heads bent: “Archangel Michael” and “Virgin Mary” on the left, “Archangel Gabriel” and “Saint John the Baptist” on the right. Moreover, in room 60 we can admire Andrey Rublov’s “Christ the Saviour” (1408), whose face is unfortunately badly damaged. He is framed by two panels depicting “Archangel Michael” and “Apostle Paulus”. The Easter Trilogy consists of three panels: “Annunciation”, “Resurrection” and “Ascencion” (1408).
Andrey Rublov gained recognition during his lifetime and was not forgotten after his death. His fame as Russia’s most eminent iconographer survived through the centuries. In the Soviet Union, Sergey Rublov was a symbol of medieval Russian culture. In 1960, UNESCO held international events to mark his 600th anniversary. In 1988, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized him. So Andrey Rublov became a Saint in Russia. Even today, scientists are studying the collection of his icons and frescoes in the Tretyakov Gallery.
“Holy Trinity” Detail:
Lavroshinsky Pereulok 10
Metro station “Tretyakovskaya”
Entrance: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday from 10 to 18h; Thursday, Friday from 10 to 21h; Monday closed
Admission: 450 RUB
Адрес: 119017 Москва, Лаврушинский переулок, 10
Проезд: Метро “Третьяковская” или “Полянка”
Телефоны: (495)951-13-62, (499)238-13-78
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: https://olivia2010kroth.wordpress.com