2023 Author: Leah Sherlock | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-08-25 09:26
There are many cases in the history of Russia when a visiting foreigner multiplies its glory and becomes national pride. So Theophanes the Greek, a native of their Byzantium, a Greek by origin (hence the nickname) became one of the greatest Russian icon painters.
Choosing in favor of Russia
Most likely, if Feofan did not decide to radically change his life, having arrived in Russia instead of Italy in the retinue (as expected) of Metropolitan Cyprian, he would have been lost among the many Byzantine artists. But in Muscovite Russia he became the first of a brilliant constellation of icon painters. Despite widespread recognition, the dates of the artist's birth and death are given approximately - 1340-1410.
Lack of information
It is known that Theophanes the Greek, whose biography sins with white spots, was born in Byzantium, worked both in Constantinople itself and in its suburb - Chalcedon. According to the frescoes preserved in Feodosia (then Kafa), it can be seen that for some time the artist worked in the Genoese colonies - Galata and Cafe. Neitherone of his Byzantine works has not survived, and world fame came to him thanks to the work done in Russia.
Here, in his life and work, he had a chance to cross paths with many great people of that time - Andrei Rublev, Sergius of Radonezh, Dmitry Donskoy, Epiphanius the Wise (whose letter to Archimandrite Kirill is the main source of biographical data of the great icon painter) and Metropolitan Alexei. This community of ascetics and educators has done a lot for the glory of Russia.
The main source of information about Theophanes the Greek
Theophanes the Greek arrived in Novgorod in 1370, that is, a fully mature man and an established artist. He lived here for over 30 years, until his death. His performance is amazing. According to the testimony of the same Epiphanius the Wise, Theophanes the Greek painted 40 churches in total. The letter to the archimandrite of the Tver Spaso-Afanasievsky Monastery was written in 1415, after the death of the master, and has survived to this day not in the original, but in a copy of the second half of the 17th century. There are some chronicle confirmations of the facts and additions. One of them reports that in 1378, at the behest of the boyar Vasily Danilovich, the “Greek” Feofan painted the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, located on the Trade Side of Veliky Novgorod.
Beginning of the Novgorod period
The frescoes of Theophanes the Greek on the walls of this monastery became his first work in Russia mentioned in documents. They, even preserved in fragments, being in very good condition,have come down to our time, and are among the greatest masterpieces of medieval art. The painting of the dome and walls, where the choirs of the Trinity chapel were located, is in the best condition. In the depicted figures of the “Trinity” and Macarius of Egypt, the peculiar manner of writing, which the brilliant Theophanes the Greek possessed, is very clearly visible. In the dome, the chest image of the Almighty Savior (Pantocrator), which is the most grandiose, has been preserved. In addition, the figure of the Mother of God has been partially preserved. And in the drum (the part that supports the dome) there are images of the prophets Elijah and John the Baptist. And this is why these frescoes are especially valuable, since, unfortunately, the works created over the next few years have not been documented and are disputed by some researchers. In general, all the frescoes of this monastery are made in an unconditionally new manner - lightly and with wide, free strokes, the color scheme is restrained, even stingy, the main attention is paid to the faces of the saints. In the manner of writing Theophanes the Greek one can feel his special philosophy.
The ability of Russia to revive
There was no great victory of Dmitry Donskoy yet, the raids of the Golden Horde continued, Russian cities burned, temples were destroyed. But that's what Russia is strong for, that it was reborn, rebuilt, and became even more beautiful. Feofan the Greek also took part in the paintings of the restored monasteries, who since 1380 worked in Nizhny Novgorod, in the capital of the Suzdol-Nizhekorodsky principality, completely burned in 1378. Presumably, he could take part in the murals of the Spassky Cathedral and the Annunciationmonastery. And already in 1392, the artist worked in the Assumption Cathedral of Kolomna at the request of the Grand Duchess Evdokia, the wife of Prince Dmitry. Later, the cathedral was rebuilt several times, and the frescoes have not been preserved.
Moving to Moscow
Theophan the Greek, whose biography, unfortunately, is very often associated with the word "presumably", after Kolomna moves to Moscow. Here, and this is confirmed by the Trinity Chronicles and a well-known letter, he paints the walls and decorates three churches. At that time, he already had his own school, students and followers, with whom, with the active participation of the famous Moscow icon painter Simeon Cherny, in 1395 Feofan painted the walls of the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God and the chapel of St. Lazarus in the Kremlin. All work was carried out by order of the same Grand Duchess Evdokia. And again, it must be noted that the church has not been preserved, the current Grand Kremlin Palace stands in its place.
Evil fate pursuing the work of the master
The acknowledged genius of the Middle Ages, the icon painter Feofan the Greek, together with his students, begins in 1399 to decorate the Archangel Cathedral, completely burned down by the Khan of the Golden Horde and the Tyumen Principality - Tokhtamysh. It is known from Epiphany's letter that the master depicted the Moscow Kremlin with all its churches on the walls of the temple. But in the second half of the 16th century, the Italian architect Aleviz Novy dismantled the temple and built a new one of the same name, which has survived to this day.
The art of Theophanes the Greek is mostly represented by frescoes,since he painted the walls of churches until the end of his days. In 1405, his creative path intersects with the activities of Andrei Rublev and his teacher - the "old man from Gorodets", as you call the Moscow icon painter Prokhor from Gorodets. These three famous masters of their time together created the cathedral church of Vasily I, which is in the Cathedral of the Annunciation.
The frescoes have not survived - the court church was naturally rebuilt.
What is preserved? What memory of himself did the great Theophanes the Greek leave to his descendants? Icons. According to one of the existing versions, the iconostasis of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, which has survived to this day, was originally painted for the Assumption Cathedral in Kolomna. And after the fire of 1547, it was moved to the Kremlin. In the same cathedral there was “Our Lady of the Don”, an icon with its own biography. Being one of the many modifications of “Tenderness” (another name is “The Joy of All Joys”), the image is covered with a legend about its amazing help in the victory won by the army of Grand Duke Dmitry over the hordes of the Golden Horde in 1380. After the Battle of Kulikovo, both the prince and the patroness icon received the prefix "Don" and "Don". The image itself is two-sided - on the reverse side there is the “Assumption of the Mother of God”. The priceless masterpiece is kept in the Tretyakov Gallery. Many analyzes have been carried out, and it can be argued that its author is, of course, Theophanes the Greek. The icons "Four-digit" and "John the Baptist - the Angel of the Desert with Life" belong to the icon painter's workshop, but his personal authorship is disputed. To the works of the mastershis school can be attributed to a fairly large icon, written in 1403 - "Transfiguration".
Poverty of biographical data
Indeed, there are very few documented works of the great master. But Epiphanius the Wise, who knew him personally, who was friends with him, so sincerely admires his talent, the diversity of talent, the breadth of knowledge, that it is impossible not to believe his testimonies. Spas Theophan the Greek is often cited as an example of the work of the Greek school with a pronounced Byzantine style of writing. This fresco, as noted above, is the most grandiose of all the surviving fragments of the wall paintings of the Novgorod Cathedral discovered in 1910. It is one of the world-famous great architectural monuments of medieval Russia. Another image of the Savior, which belongs to the works of the master, is located in the Kremlin on the Annunciation iconostasis.
One of the great Trinity
Among the frescoes of this cathedral is another masterpiece of world significance, authored by Theophanes the Greek. "Trinity" is perfectly preserved and is located in the choir stalls. The canonical plot "Hospitality of Abraham" underlies this work, although his figure on the fresco has not been preserved, the "Trinity" deserves a still unrealized detailed study. In his letter, Epiphanius admires the many talents of Theophan the Greek - the gift of a storyteller, the talent of an intelligent interlocutor, and an unusual manner of writing. According to this man, the Greek, among other things, had the talent of a miniaturist. He is characterized asicon painter, master of monumental fresco painting and miniaturist. “He was a deliberate iconographer of books” - this is how this praise sounds in the original. The authorship of the miniatures from the Ps alter, owned by Ivan the Terrible and kept in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, is attributed to Theophanes the Greek. He is also supposed to be the miniaturist of The Gospel of Fyodor Koshka. The fifth son of Andrei Kobyla, a direct ancestor of the Romanovs, was the patron of Theophan the Greek. The book is superbly designed. Her artful headpieces and initials made in gold are striking.
The identity of Theophan the Greek
Before Theophan, many icon painters, and even his contemporaries, relied primarily on drawing (a thin outline made previously from the original) in the manufacture of their works. And the Greek’s free manner of writing surprised and captivated many - “he seemed to be painting with his hands,” Epiphanius admires, calling him “a marvelous husband.” He certainly had a pronounced creative personality. The exact date of the death of the genius is not known, in some places it is even said that he died after 1405. In 1415, the author of a famous letter mentions Grek in the past tense. So, he was no longer alive. And Feofan was buried, again presumably, somewhere in Moscow. All this is very sad and only says that Russia has always experienced a lot of troubled times, during which the enemies destroyed the very memory of the people who made up its glory.
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