Who Painted Antique Icons from the Zvenigorod Deesis Tier?

Antique icons from the Zvenigorod Deesis tier attributed to Andrei Rublev could be painted by other iconographers who worked at the same time with Rublev. This sensational statement was made by the reputable experts of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow at the end of June. According to the latest study conducted in 2015-2016, the technique of painting used for the creation of Zvenigorod religious icons differs from the one used by Andrei Rublev for the creation of his famous Holy Trinity. Although a final conclusion has not yet been reached, most experts specializing in antique Russian icons agree with this statement.

Three antique icons from the Zvenigorod Deesis tier – The Apostle Pavel, Christ the Redeemer, and The Archangel Michael – were discovered in a dilapidated shed in the Assumption Cathedral near Zvenigorod in 1918. After being examined by a Russian post-impressionist painter, historian of art, restorer, and publisher Igor Grabar, the discovered pieces were attributed to Andrei Rublev. Since then, the authorship of these holy icons has never been seriously questioned. Moreover, for almost 100 years, they have been displayed as Rublev’s works in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The so-called Zvenigorod Deesis tier created in the 1410s is one of the most beautiful assemblies of antique Russian icons. Unfortunately, The Apostle Pavel, Christ the Redeemer, and The Archangel Michael are only three of, at least, seven icons preserved to this day. Distinguished by the light color scheme and the unique manner of rendering tonal transitions, these hand-painted icons could be a part of the iconostasis of the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery or the Assumption Cathedral in Zvenigorod.

In light of recent research, Zvenigorod icons could be painted by one or even two iconographers of the Moscow school, but Andrei Rublev was very unlikely among them. However, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is not going to change its exposition of Rublev’s religious icon paintings, at least for now. There are a number of other research studies that will be done in the future, so it is too early to draw any final conclusions about the attribution of antique icons from the Zvenigorod Deesis tier. Anyway, it is truly a very important discovery that can shed new light on the development of Russian icon art and introduce to the world other talented icon painters who worked at the same time with Andrei Rublev and Theophanes the Greek.

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