Russian art historians rewrite fundamental belief about Russian painting


Pravmir, 26 June 2017


Scientific investigations have come close to proving that the painters of three icons of the Zvenigorod tier and the famous "Old Testament Trinity," which most probably was painted by Andrei Rublev, are different persons.


This was announced today to reporters in the State Tretyakov Gallery.


The director of the Tretyakov Gallery, Zelfira Tregulova, explained that work has been conducted with the use of all possible modern means of analysis of ancient Russian painting. She said that because of the new discoveries, the gallery intends to reissue its 1995 catalog of ancient Russian painting in the museum's collection, inasmuch as since that time science has moved far forward.

Tregulova promised that research will continue. The results presented today are only a stage in a complex, multi-stage work that the museum is conducting, the director added.


The research in question was conducted in 2015 and 2016 by a joint working group of personnel of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the State Scientific Research Institute of Restoration.




The remarkable Zvenigorod tier, which contains half-length icons of Christ the Almighty, the archangel Michael, and the apostle Paul, was found in 1918 near the cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin in Zvenigorod. As reported by many sources, the icons were discovered among firewood in a shed by a restorer of the All-Russian Commission on Preservation and Discovery of Ancient Russian Painting, Grigory Chirikov. But this also is an unsubstantiated legend. Whether there was a firewood shed or not has not been confirmed by documents. It is only known for sure that the icons were found in 1918 within the context of the work of the All-Russian Commission on Preservation and Discovery of Ancient Russian Painting, which collected (saved) icons throughout the country. And also that these icons were not used for liturgical purposes.


The icons are part of a surviving Deesis [Prayer] tier [of an iconostasis]; so originally there were seven or nine of them.


After the restoration of the icons, the artist and restorer Igor Grabar, the director of the Central Restoration Studios, declared: "Their creator could only be Rublev; only he possessed the artistic skill to subject all these cold, pink-lilac-blue colors to a unified harmonized will; only he managed to resolve the coloristic problems which only the Venetians could, and that a bit more than 100 years later."


In all textbooks on the history of Russian art, Rublev is named as the painter of the three icons from the "Zvenigorod Tier." Discussion only involved which church these icons came from. Were they painted for the Dormition in Zvenigorod, or the Dormition, or the neighboring Nativity cathedral of the Savvino-Storozhevsk monastery, or the cathedral in Vladimir—this question has not been resolved.


Thanks to the work of scholars of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the State Scientific Research Institute of Restoration, with the help of modern equipment, now it is precisely proven that the icons of the Zvenigorod tier were not painted by the artist of the "Old Testament Trinity." They were painted at the end of the 14th century, that is, earlier than the remarkable "Trinity," which is dated to the 20s of the 15th century.


"A historic event really has occurred. It has been proven with all possible assurance for restoration science that the icons of the Zvenigorod tier were painted by a different artist and not the painter of the 'Trinity.' Many have guessed this. Three years ago I spoke about this publicly. Now the discussion is going on: were these three great icons painted by one artist or two?" Aleksei Lidov, a historian of art, Byzantinist, and academician of the Russian Academy of Artists, says.


Lidov said that the main consequence of this discovery is "that we have found another one or two great artists who worked contemporaneously with the great Andrei Rublev and Feofan Grek."


"In addition, this is a triumph of justice. The icons found in 1918 were painted by another remarkable Russian icon-painter. What has happened is an outstanding achievement of restoration and artistic science. This discovery forces us to see the necessity of rethinking the history of Russian art of this period and to reject the mythology that we have been accustomed to since childhood," Aleksei Lidov added. (tr. by PDS, posted 28 June 2017)

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