The Enigmatic Andrey Rublev

Photo of the Cathedral of the Annunciation
The Cathedral of the Annunciation

Andrey Rublev may be Russia’s most famous icon painter, yet relatively little is known about his life.

For a start, we know only that he was born somewhere between 1360 and 1370, although we don’t know where, and that he died on 29 January 1427 … or 1430 … or 17 October 1428. But what we do know is that he is generally considered one of the greatest medieval Russian painters of Orthodox icons and frescos, whose works, such as the famous icon of the Trinity, people flock to see in their thousands.

Rublev probably lived in the Trinity-St Sergius Lavra near Moscow. The first mention of the painter is in 1405 when he decorated icons and frescos for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin in company with Theophanes the Greek and Prokhor of Gorodets. Theophanes was an important Byzantine master who moved to Russia and is considered to have trained Rublev.

Chronicles tell us that, together with Daniil Cherni, Rublev painted in Vladimir in 1408, as well as the Trinity Cathedral in the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius between 1425 and 1427. After Daniil’s death, Rublev came to Moscow’s Andronikov Monastery, where he painted his last work, the frescoes of the Saviour Cathedral. He is also believed to have painted at least one of the miniatures in the Khitrovo Gospels.

The only work authenticated is the icon of the Trinity (c. 1410, currently in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), which is based on an earlier icon known as the “Hospitality of Abraham”, illustrating Genesis 18.

The characters of his paintings are always peaceful and calm, and Rublev’s art came to be perceived as the ideal of Eastern Church painting and Orthodox iconography. His work influenced many artists and became a model for Russian church painting. Since 1959, the Andrey Rublev Museum at the Andronikov Monastery has displayed his and related art.

The Russian Orthodox Church canonized Rublev as a saint in 1988, while in 1966, Andrey Tarkovsky made the film Andrey Rublev, loosely based on the artist’s life.