The Saviour: Andrei Rublev’s Russian Icon That Was Almost Lost
Andrei Rublev is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, icon painters in the history of iconography. The outstanding Russian saint had a prolific career and gave birth to a great variety of prominent Orthodox icons. While some of the holy artworks are well-known and properly investigated by icon experts and historians, some others have probably been lost forever. There are also holy images that were almost lost and yet miraculously found at the right moment. Such is the Russian icon “The Saviour,” also known as “Christ the Redeemer.” What is so special about this piece of religious art?
The mystery of finding the icon
Despite the fact the Russian icon was found in 1918, there are still several versions of how it was actually spotted. According to the generally accepted story, “Christ the Redeemer” was discovered in a dilapidated woodshed near the Assumption Cathedral in Zvenigorod. It was Gregory Chirikov, a professional restorer and collector, who discovered the icon along with other parts of the Zvenigorod tier. Some people tend to believe that it is not true as no official reports confirmed the version.
Another mystery lies in the origin of the Russian icon. The thing is that there is a debate about this particular piece, as one group of researchers thinks that there are important differences between “The Saviour” and other icons of the tier. The official explanation of it is that the piece was created approximately in 1410-1415. What it means is that it was a pre-early period of Andrei Rublev’s career, and so the style of the icon painter was still raw and rough.
The importance of the Russian icon
“Christ the Redeemer” is the most damaged icon out of the Zvenigorod tier. The bigger part of the icon is simply wiped. If it wasn’t found at the right moment, the chances are that it would have been lost forever. Andrei Rublev depicted Christ following the traditions of Byzantium icon painting, which were prevalent back then. However, as the Russian art critic and historian Viktor Lazarev notes, the icon painter managed to make Jesus Christ’s face look less strict and more lenient, which was unusual for Byzantium art and more common for Russian iconography that would emerge as a distinct style a bit later. In some sense, it was a herald of the change in the world of icon painting.
Nowadays, the Russian icon is held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. It is still considered one of the most famous Andrei Rublev icons that you will want to see with your own eyes.