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“The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” from the Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin

(on the 575th year of the demise of the reverend icon-painter)

by Dr. Oleg Germanovich Uliyanov (Moscow)

* Recently a great number of “sensations” of a negative nature appeared regarding the name of a world-famous icon-painter of Ancient Russia St. Andrey Rublev, trying to discredit the glory of the Russian painting genius. And they say that “The Trinity” was painted not in memory of Saint Sergius, and the icons of the Twelve Great Feasts from the Annunciation Church in the Moscow Kremlin were not painted by Rublev, and the grandiose Deesis tier from the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir was not painted by Rublev. The keynote of a continuous storm of “denunciation” was struck by the article in the magazine “Science and Religion” (Nikitin A. V. Who painted “The Rublev’s Trinity.” M., 1989. №№ 8–9), where the beginning of “perestroika” was perceived as “the time to reconsider the established myths in the history of ancient Russian art, including “the myth about Rublev”, its origins being rooted in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and there was an appeal “to repudiate a fictitious “Rublev’s heritage”, since, as they said, “The Trinity” was painted by one painter, the Deesis tier from Zvenigorod—by another one, and the icons by Rublev even if they existed, they were unknown.” The article offered to readers, written by Dr. Oleg Germanovich Ulyanov, the Head of the Department of Church Archeology of the St. Andrey Rublev’s Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art, proves a complete groundlessness of such destructive statements.—Ed.

© Dr. Uliyanov Oleg Germanovich, 2005

To see the full version of article: Uliyanov O. G.The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” from the Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin (on the 575th year of the demise of the reverend icon-painter) // Makariyevskiye Readings. Issue XII: Hierarchy in ancient Russia. M., Mozhaisk-Terra, 2005. Pp. 172–223.

Dr. Oleg Germanovich Uliyanov is the Head of Department of Church Archaeology of the St. Andrey Rublev’s Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art and a lecturer of Church Archaeology and Liturgics at the Saint Tikhon Orthodox Theological University.

This article is also available in Russian: «"Деисус Андреева писма Рублева" из Благовещенского храма Московского Кремля» (in the Russian part of the site).

        In Russian culture there are the summits that are beyond the control of “the river of time” and looking at which the nation can find the way of salvation even during the hardest time. During the Great Patriotic War Russian people were given back the great names from their heroic past—Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy, and together with them the name of Andrey Rublev. In 1943 for the first time a separate edition of a creative work biography of a famous ancient Russian icon-painter, prepared by Mikhail Vladimirovich Alpatov, was published. On December 10, 1947, for the 800th anniversary of Moscow, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR I. V. Stalin signed resolution № 3974 for the creation of the reserve of history and architecture named after the Russian painter Andrey Rublev in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery. But during Khrushchov’s “thaw” the works on creating the museum-reserve were frozen and it made authoritative specialists on ancient Russian culture M. V. Alpatov, N. N. Voronin, V. N. Andrianova-Perets and D. S. Likhachyov appear with the open letter in the newspaper Pravda (№ 300, October 26, 1956).

        The first secretary of the Central Committee of the C. P.S.U. N. S. Khrushchyov, who publicly promised “to show on TV the last priest”, had to authorize after the second letter to him from academicians M. V. Alpatov and a national painter of the USSR S. V. Gerasimov an official opening of the Museum of Andrey Rublev in 1960, which was announced by UNESCO as “the year of the Russian icon-painter Andrey Rublev” in connection with the 600th anniversary of his birth.

        Soon a wide veneration of the saint icon-painter began, when his image of “The Life-Giving Trinity” became the symbol of Orthodoxy for the whole world and the zenith of Russian art. During several centuries in the depth of the Church, the decision to canonize Andrey Rublev was also ripening. Already in 1979, the glorification of St. Andrey Rublev among the saints of Radonezh was held. It is known that the Most holy Patriarch Alexis († 1970), who belonged to the ancient noble family of Simansky, venerated Andrey Rublev as a saint. In the family of Simansky, St. Alexis the Thaumaturgist, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, was also especially venerated, whose name was taken by the Most holy Patriarch Alexis at monastic taking the habit. In the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery in Moscow founded by St. Alexis, where St. Andrey Rublev worked and found the last earthly refuge, the ancestor of the Most holy Patriarch the Most Eminent Pachomiy († 1789) lay, whose relics were gained 200 years after his death. Soon after the relics of the Most Eminent Pachomiy (Simansky) were gained on July 16, 1989, the ancient cathedral of the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery was solemnly consecrated, where the frescoes by Andrey Rublev survived. (“A Spiritual Tradition of Saint Andrey Rublev” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchy [Moscow, 1990] № 1. Pp. 39–40). A year before this memorable event in June 1988 after the glorification of nine Russian ascetics at the anniversary Council of the Russian Orthodox Church St. Andrey Rublev shone in the completeness of the Church evidence.

        However, contrary to the moods of the Church concerning the spiritual heritage of St. Andrey Rublev a manifest opposition appeared from small group of people. In the textbook Russian Ecclesiastical Antiquities (Moscow, 1996), funded by the Russian Fund for Humanities and Science under the aegis of the Archaeology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Russian Orthodox University of St. John the Theologian, two doctor-archaeologists L. A. Beliayev and A. V. Chernetsov made an attempt to discredit “a scientific myth” about the great icon-painter St. Andrey Rublev: “To the number of such illegitimate warps an excessive attention should be related to, which was paid to some problems of ancient Russian ecclesiastical art, for example, to the works by Andrey Rublev. It is evident that the number of works concerned with this name is not great, and individual peculiarities of his works are poorly expressed… But the epoch demanded “to reveal” the name of the great ancient Russian painter and several generations of fine art specialists managed to substantiate it.”

        Into a campaign on discrediting not only St. Andrey Rublev, but also those courageous specialists, who in the years of atheism doughtily defended the works of the great icon-painter and related to him memorable places from desecration, even the director of the St. Andrey Rublev’s Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art entered. Doctor-art historian G. V. Popov accused the prominent Russian architect-restorer Peter Dmitriyevich Baranovsky of fabricating “a myth” about finding an inscription by him on the epitaph of St. Andrey Rublev in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery supposedly to prevent the destruction of this monument of architecture. At the same time after more than half a hundred years a unique historical document, its scrupulous scientific studying being summed up in the report at the joint meeting of the Architecture and Painting Departments of the Institute of Art History of the USSR Academy of Sciences on February 11, 1947, was called “a falsification”. The academician of architecture A. V. Shchusev, being the chairman at that meeting, assessed the scientific report of P. D. Baranovsky as “one of the most important researches about such master as Rublev, who was really the founder and pride of Russian art.” By the same importunate aspiration to cast doubt on a true scale of a creative talent of St. Andrey Rublev a recent brochure by B. N. Dudochkin “Andrey Rublev. Materials for Studying Biography and Works. Edited by G. I. Vzdornov” (Moscow, 2000) was dictated, where a number of later resources about Rublev’s heritage was categorically declared “a doubtless falsification.”

        At the same time on the pages of the articles on art studying one can find about St. Andrey Rublev undisguised confessions that “our science has not yet developed the right criterion to define the authorship of an ancient Russian painter. The peculiarities of “a painting manner”… are not enough, and we should look for other, more essential inner features, not only in the sphere of form, but also in the sphere of content, the very system of images, the world of ideas and feelings, expressed by the painter.” Moreover, a famous historian of the creative work of St. Andrey Rublev Vladimir Aleksandrovich Plugin, who had time to publish his monograph “The Master of the Holy Trinity” (M., 2001) before he untimely died in 2003, characterized the situation formed as “the crisis in art studying”, expressed in the fact, that “the group of people thinking the same way had been formed, who did not accept dissidence and new methods of research and did everything “ to put an end to the flow of empty literature,” i.e., the one they did not understand…”.

        There is no doubt that accumulated by now theoretical and popular literature brings some features of empiricism in the character of modern ideas about the creative way of a famous ancient Russian icon-painter St. Andrey Rublev. But it was possible to avoid an evident not competence of a number of newly hypotheses brought to light having a strict scientific-methodical approach and careful work with sources. Thus, the newest classification of the texts of the Lives of Sts. Sergius and Nikon of Radonezh with a simultaneous studying of the Holy Trinity Monastery’s scriptorium of the fifteenth century promotes a more exact interpretation of hagiographic monuments, being the main sources.1

1 The main theses of this work were expounded for the first time in the author’s paper “The Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin from the standpoint of the newest discoveries” at the scientific conference in commemoration of G. K. Vagner in the State Tretyakov Gallery on December 20, 1995; the additional researches were presented in the author’s paper «The new architectural reconstruction of the Annunciation Church and the fate of “The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev”» at the scientific conference «The Tsar’s temple. The sanctuary of the Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin» in the State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin on October 14–15, 2003 and also in the scientific paper «“The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” from the Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin» at the XIVth Annual Theological Conference of the Saint Tikhon Orthodox Theological University on January 21–24, 2004.

        It is quite notable that the first mention of St. Andrey Rublev as “an outstanding icon-painter surpassing everybody” and of the fact that he had painted the Savior Cathedral of the St. Andronic monastery was put in the III version of the Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh, written by the Athos regular priest Pachomius the Serb in about 1442 together with the evidence of special services in constructing the Trinity Cathedral (“he had a hand in the construction more than others”) of Prince Yury Zvenigorodsky, whose confessor was St. Sergius of Radonezh (“as he had a great power and was deserving of praises and was honored with the enlightenment from the Saint being his devout subordinate”) (The Life of Venerable and God-Bearing Father Sergius of Radonezh and All Russia the Thaumaturgist. Sergiyev-Posad, 1853. Sh. 285 r.). The analysis of historical data2 allows to relate the date of painting the Savior Cathedral by St. Andrey Rublev with a probable visiting the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery by Prince Yury Zvenigorodsky during the signing on March 11, 1428 “the agreement” with Grand Prince Vasily II (Spiritual and contractual documents of Grand and Appanage Princes of the fourteenth–sixteenth centuries / L. V. Cherepnin. M.; L., 1950. P. 462).

2 Zimin A. A. A hero at the crossroads. The feudal war in Russia in XV c. М., 1991 . P. 40.

        Painting the cathedral in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery, according to hagiographic sources, became the last work of St. Andrey Rublev (Pl. 1) it being testified by the present-day deciphering of the chronicle, discovered by a famous historian of the eighteenth century Gerhard Miller, over the tomb of the icon-painter in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery. Owing to the information of the early nineteenth century of “a consecrative monk Jonas of Kerzhen “, who was collecting during twenty years around Russia various materials for his book (the collection of Yaroslavl Museum-Reserve of History and Architecture, inv. № 15544), it became possible to define, that the holy relics of St. Andrey and his “fellow-faster” Daniel “had been buried in that Andronic monastery under the old belfry, which was recently destroyed and the place was razed to the ground, and different people and foul ones were going over it, and thus the memory about those holy relics was falling into oblivion.”3 The tradition to erect belfries over a burial place was quite common in Russian monasteries, judging by the message of Tsar Ivan the Terrible to the St. Cyril of Beloozersk Monastery in September 1573. All the more that since the name of St. Andrey Rublev was called especially solemnly at the Council of Hundred Chapters in 1551 concerning the iconography of the Holy Trinity: “icons should be painted using ancient samples like Greek painters and Andrey Rublev did it.”

3 Brewsova V. G. The vexed questions of Andrey Rublev’s biography // The studies on history. М., 1969, № 1. P. 47.

        About the ancient belfry over the tomb of St. Andrey Rublev in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery it is known that at the very end of the sixteenth century it was reconstructed by Prelate Arsenius of Elasson, who “made the belfry of stone, which was earlier wooden from the middle to top, and made it higher; and covered it with white iron and put on it the Holy Life-Giving Cross.”4 This belfry was destroyed in 1781, but Miller, already mentioned above, who died in 1783, had time to make the description of the headstone of St. Andrey Rublev.5 But unfortunately, only some letters survived on a white stone board of the size 145x116: “In year 6938…ferrer…Ignat…Theophoros…from Saturday…at night…Andrey… painted icons holy… called Rublev… scheme… was decorated …being in this...” After the first reconstruction of the epitaph made by Peter Dmitriyevich Baranovsky in 1947, some new studies of the Orthodox calendar were performed with reference to the survived Chronological indications, as a result it became possible to define exactly the date of death of St. Andrey Rublev—October 17, 1428.6

4 The foreigners about ancient Moscow. М., 1991. P. 170.

5 Uliyanov O. G. The most ancient history of the necropolis of the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery // The Moscow necropolis. М., 1996. P. 27.

6 Uliyanov O. G. The cycle of the miniatures of the illuminated Life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh // The monuments of culture. New discoveries 1995. M., 1996. P. 189.

        It should be noted that on the same day the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the commemoration of St. martyr Andrew of Crete, his name being always connected by the tradition of the Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius with celebrating the commemoration of St. Andrey Rublev. Thus, year 2003 it was the 575th year from the demise of a world-famous icon-painter of Ancient Russia, and the jubilee year turned out to be marked with another wonderful discovery in the creative heritage of St. Andrey Rublev. It is the miniature of undoubtedly Rublev’s work—the early iconostasis from the Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin. After a series of articles by L. A. Shchennikova, who cast doubt on belonging the present iconostasis of the Annunciation Church to the hand of Theophanes the Greek, St. Andrey Rublev and Prokhor from Gorodets, most modern art historians agreed that Rublev’s iconostasis was completely lost during the fire of 1547 in the Kremlin.

        To this fire of June 21, 1547 fifteen miniatures of a chronicle chapter “About the Great Fire” of the Tsarstvennaya Kniga (Tsar’s Book), created in about 1566–1568, were devoted on sheets 297–304 r. (Manuscripts Department of the State History Museum, the Synod collection, № 149). On sheet 297 r. the consequences of the fire in the Annunciation Church are described in detail, where “the Church of the Annunciation near the Tsar’s treasury in the Kremlin, the Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev, covered with gold, and the images decorated with gold and beads, precious, by the Greek painting, having been collected by his ancestors for many years and the treasury of the Great Tsar burnt down.” Being not content with the verbal description the authors of the Tsarstvennaya Kniga (Tsar’s Book) presented in detail on a separate miniature (sheet 298 r.) the very “the Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” between the pillars of the Annunciation Church, which could be easily identified due to a high ground-floor with the Tsar’s treasury (Pl. 2). Attention is attracted in this miniature by the image of four round pillars, a heightened central arch and the windows of the second tier, including round windows similar to the ones on the choir aisles of the Zvenigorod Dormition Cathedral “na Gorodke”.

        Reproduced in the miniature architectural peculiarities of the Annunciation Church are of great importance from the point of view of ascertaining the original architectural appearance of the Tsar’s house-chapel, being still the subject of a ceaseless polemics together with endless disputes about the fate of the iconostasis. In the last monographs of a prominent Russian fine art specialist G. K. Vagner “The Canon and Style in Ancient Russian Art” and “The Skill to Think in Stone” the problem of originating the Annunciation iconostasis of 1405 was considered to be perhaps the basic one, at the same time the scientist especially noticed that this problem “needs a very profound studying, including the architecture of the church.” In fact, in an extensive historiography of this theme special works about the correlation of the part and the whole—the iconostasis and the architectural space—are entirely absent. Moreover, the reconstruction of the original Annunciation Church and the questions of its dating remain discussible to present day.

        The fact that there is not an exact date of constructing the Tsar’s house-chapel in the Moscow chronicle is probably explained by a break in it. As the researches of M. D. Priselkov show, to the change on the Grand Prince’s throne there were usually timed the corresponding redactions of the Tsar’s chronicle, and it resulted in the presence of the so called “chronological stitches” in the chronicle sources. One of such boundary marks was found under 6900 (1392) in the Trinity Chronicle between pieces of news about the severance of Grand Prince Vasily Dmitriyevich and Novgorodians: “… and if you want to learn, open the book of the Great Russian Chronicle and read from Great Yaroslav to the present Prince” (Karamzin N. M. The History of the Russian State. M., 1993. V. 5. P. 282. Ref. 148). Therefore, between 1389, when the St. faithful Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich died, and 1392 the Grand Prince’s code, called “The Great Russian Chronicle” was completed and became well-known. At the same time the indicated chronological break was not only poorly provided with chronicle reports, but the reports themselves happened to be placed into different chronicles under different years.

        Besides, a modern level of knowledge about the character of Moscow chronicle writing of the fifteenth century obliges to a serious correction of the previous opinion about the reconstruction of the whole Annunciation Church, which supposedly took place in 1416, and as a result a disputable hypothesis was adduced about the dating of the Trinity Chronicle after 1416. A known chronicle article of 1405: “In spring the painting of the Church of the Annunciation on the territory of the Tsar’s palace started, not the one that stands now, and was completed that very summer”, which was part of the Moscow Grand Prince’s code of the late fifteenth century, was ascribed in a series of sources studying works, based exceptionally on printed editions, to the Moscow Chronicle book of 1479, while this Book of 1479, having survived in a separate form, according to observations of A. A. Shakhmatov, in the Hermitage copy of the eighteenth century (Russian Public Library, the Hermitage collection, № 416 б) and a parallel to it copy of the so called Rostov (Archive) Chronicle (Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts, f. 181, № 20/25), has not been published yet. In a Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles (M.; L., 1949. V. 25), which V. A. Kuchkin refers to,7 Moscow Grand Prince’s code of the late fifteenth century was published using the manuscript of the State History Museum, Uvar. 1366. When publishing in 1949 the text of Uvarov copy was not even compared for the purpose of alternative versions with the texts of the Hermitage copy and the so called Rostov (Archive) Chronicle (Russian Sate Archive of Ancient Acts, f. 181, № 20/25). Following us V. A. Plugin paid attention to the wrong interpretation by V. A. Kuchkin of the chronicle report redaction.

7 Kuchkin V. A. To the history of stone building in the Moscow Kremlin in XV c. // The medieval Russia. M., 1976. Pp. 296–297; Kuchkin V. A. The Annunciation Cathedral. The Troitskaya Chronicle. Report at the conference "The Tsar’s temple. Sacred things of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kremlin " on October 14–15, 2003 in the Museums of the Moscow Kremlin.

        For a correct scientific approach it is necessary to take into account that in the published Uvarov copy of the Moscow Book it is not the Book of 1479 but a later redaction of the 1490s, therefore, the note of the mentioned article of 1405 (“not the one that stands now”) was caused by the reconstruction of the Annunciation Church in 1484–1489. While working out the Moscow code of 1479 the code of 1472 was taken as the basis, its main source being the Sophia I Chronicle (SIC) in its ancient redaction of the protograph (using the copies by Karamzin and Obolensky) and in the later redaction (the redaction of the All Russia (Metropolitan’s) Chronicle of 1456). It is the SIC that contains the most informative article about the Annunciation Church: “In the year of 6992. In spring on May 6 the Grand Prince Ivan Vasilyevich of all Russia founded the stone Church of the Annunciation of the Holy Mother of God on the territory of his palace, having destroyed the first foundation created by Grand Prince Vasily Dmitriyevich… In the year of 6997. On August 9 at commemoration of the Apostle Mathew the Church of the Annunciation of the Holy Mother of God on the territory of Tsar’s palace was consecrated. On August 20 at commemoration of the Apostle Samuel the Church of Saint Basil of Caesarea was consecrated, the chapel of the Annunciation Cathedral” (according to the copy by I. N. Tsarsky—State History Museum, col. of A. S. Uvarov, № 248, sheets 287 r., 289 r.).

        A unique image of the Annunciation Church with the Chapel of Saint Basil of Caesarea of 1416 (Pl. 3a, 3b) was discovered in spring 1884 by the academician of painting V. D. Fartusov during the restoration of the Annunciation Church wallpainting on the west porch under the wallpainting “In Thee Rejoiceth.” As part of the composition “In Thee Rejoiceth” V. D. Fartusov was examining the opened to the left from it on the pilaster under the later figure of the Saint (according to the inscription Grand Prince Vasily Dmitriyevich) a very complicated scene. In the center of it, in the researcher’s opinion, there was “the image of the saint of the ancient Greek original type, similar to Vasily the Great, next to him there was Mary of Egypt and others, apparently, it was a family icon of Grand Prince Vasily Dmitriyevich. In the hands of the saint there is the model of the stone Annunciation Cathedral with the Belfry, the Tsar’s treasury, iconostasis, wallpainting and all the details of the interior; near the cathedral there is the Tsar’s palace, judging by the picture, it is wooden with inner rooms and inscriptions explaining their functions” (Russian Sate Archive of Ancient Acts, f. 1239, in. 3, p. 31, th. 25251, sh. 88).

        This evidence of Fartusov observed by us has escaped scientists’ attention for a long time, whereas it is extremely noteworthy, as on April 5, 1492 Moscow Tsar ordered “to dismantle the old palace and to begin the construction of the new one”, therefore, the image of the previous one could be painted only before this date. Fartusov himself considered this composition to be a family icon of Grand Prince Vasily Dmitrievich. But his wife was Grand Princess Sofia Vitovtovna, whose heavenly patroness could not be St. Mary of Egypt. Obviously, the preparatory drawings on the west porch of the Annunciation Church are the idea of the donator of the Annunciation Church Tsar Ivan III in 1484–1489 to create “a family icon” of his parents—Grand Prince Vasily II the Dark (born on March 10, 1415, named after Saint Basil of Ancyra on March 22) together with his wife Grand Princess Maria Yaroslavna († 1485), whose patroness was St. Mary of Egypt. The appropriateness of a traditional placing of a family icon of Ivan III’s parents to the left of the main west porch (from the side of the Prince’s palace) to the Annunciation house-chapel is testified by the analogous placing in the Archangel Cathedral wallpainting at the time of Ivan IV the Terrible of his father’s “portrait”—Tsar Vasily III on the side of the north-west pillar, also facing the entrance.

        At the same time the discovered by V. D. Fartusov on the pilaster at the entrance to the house-chapel image of “the saint of ancient Greek origin type similar to Basil the Great” allows to suppose the existence of a similar image also in the original wallpainting of 1405. Its program could not go without typical of that time glorification with the help of the image of the saint with the same name of a great ancestor of Moscow dynasty—“Tsar Vladimir, new Constantine, who baptized Russia” (“The Story of the Life and Death of Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich, Russian Tsar”). It is convinced by the image on the next pilaster to the left of the composition “The Miracle of Saint Jonah the Prophet” of the St. faithful Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy as the first donator of the Annunciation Church, imparting special importance to the whole composition. In “The Story of the Life and Death of Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich, Russian Tsar” the Holy Prince Dmitry Donskoy is called “a beautiful flower of Tsar Vladimir, new Constantine, and the relative by blood of new miracle-workers Boris and Gleb.” Patently expressed here the theme of the dynasty has much in common with the composition “The Root of Jesse”, which Theophanes the Greek “painted in a stone Church of the Annunciation” according to the message of Epiphany the Wise in his epistle to Cyril the archimandrite of the Savior-St. Athanasius monastery in Tver of 1415, survived in the only copy of the late seventeenth century (Russian National Library, Solov. Collection, № 1474/15, sheets 130–132).

        In the existing wallpainting of the west porch of the Annunciation Church the original connection of the composition “The Root of Jesse” and the donator’s image of the St. faithful Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy has survived. Such a strong tradition is determined by the fact that this very Tsar “was sitting on the Tsar’s throne, wearing the Royal purple mantle and crown… having received the power given to him by God, and with God ruling the Russian land…” (“The Story of the Life and Death of Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich, Russian Tsar”) having established a new order of the succession to the throne. This important milestone in the history of Moscow Grand Princes’ House fell on the Annunciation of 1389, when “Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich made peace, forgiveness and love with Prince Vladimir Andreyevich “, having come to an agreement (“they kissed their father’s cross at the metropolitan”) abolishing the former order, when nephews let their uncle have the throne. In this context it is quite reasonable to come to the opinion, that the Grand Prince’s house-chapel was erected to immortalize this memorable event. It can also be testified by a concurrent construction the Annunciation Chapel at the south-east corner of Saint Archangel Michael Cathedral in the Metropolitan’s Chudov Monastery, and also the wallpainting of the Dormition Cathedral with the Chapel of Saint Demetrius in Kolomna, “created by Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich 10 years earlier” (A Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles. V. 8. P. 62; Karamzin N. M. The History of the Russian State. M., 1993. V. 5. P. 316. Ref. 254).8

8 Uliyanov O. G. The study of semantics of Old-Russian miniature // Makariyevskiye Readings. Mozhaisk, 1996. Iss. V, h. II. P. 109; to the appearance of the Annunciation chantry to XV c. only indicates also Kuchkin V. A. according to chronicle data: Kuchkin V. A. The first stone buildings in the Kremlin by Chudov monastery // Materials and the study of GMMK. M., 1980. Iss. III. P. 7.

        It is evident that the adjacency of the composition “The Root of Jesse” and patrons’ images of Moscow Grand Princes’ House was determined by new paradigms of national consciousness in Russia. The Kulikov Battle and purposeful consolidating Russian lands allowed the Holy Prince Dmitry Donskoy to transform Vladimir Principality into a hereditary “paternality.” Since the time of securing Vladimir Principality for the Moscow dynasty, this fact being recognized by the Horde, Moscow power got the status of the all Russia monarchy, its evidence being the chasing of the title “Grand Prince of All Russia” instead of the name of the khan on Moscow coins. On a par with a Byzantine emperor the st. faithful Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy made an attempt to intronize a metropolitan on his own, this fact being reflected in the Synodal Act of 1389: “Grand Prince of Moscow (μέγας ῥὴξ τοῦ Μοσχοβίου) κύρίος Dmitry… is sending archimandrite Michael to be ordained to the metropolitan of Great Russia.”9 Giving the St. faithful Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich the title of a Tsar allowed to restore in Russian churches (the Resurrection Church of 1387–1390 in Kolomna, the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God of 1393–1394 in the Moscow Kremlin) a special “Tsar’s pew” (a niche in the south-west pillar) like in pre-Mongolian churches (the Church of the Nativity in Suzdal and others) similar to the emperor’s pew in the Holy Wisdom Cathedral (Constantinople).

9 Acta Patriarchatus Constantinopolitani (MCCCXV–MCCCCII) e codicibus manuscriptis bibliothecae palatinae Vindobonensis edita. Ediderunt Fr. Miklosich et Ios. Müller. Wien, 1862. Vol. II. № 404. P. 121; Vodoff Wladimir. Remarques sur la valeur du terme “tsar” appliqué aux princes russes avant le milieu du XV siècle // Oxford Slavonic Papers, new series. Oxford, 1978. Vol. 1. Pp. 38–41.

        Restoration of a sacral status of a Russian Tsar was expressed in introduction the so called “bogosloviye” (“By the Grace of God”) in the title and in the preamble of Tsar’s letter missives, going back to the works by Saint Dionysius Areopagitus, translated into Slavic in 1371 by the elder Isaiah Father Superior of the Russian Saint Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos.10 For the first time “bogosloviye” was written in “the agreement” of Grand Prince Vasily Dmitrievich with Tver Grand Prince Mikhail Aleksandrovich in about 1396 (Ecclesiastical letter missives and agreement letters of Grand and Appanage Princes of the fourteenth-sixteenth centuries. / L. V. Cherepnin. M.; L., 1950. P. 40), and of course influenced the appearance of the composition “The Root of Jesse” in the wallpainting of the Grand Prince’s house-chapel in 1405.

10 Uliyanov O. G. The coronation // The motherland history. Encyclopedia. M., 2000. Vol. 3. P. 55; Moshin V. The life of the old man Isaiah, father superior of the Russian monastery on Athos // Collector Russ. archaeological society in the kingdom of Yugoslavia. Belgrade, 1940. Iss. 3. Pp. 125–167.

        It was not by accident that Prelate Cyprian, who was reintronized in 1389 as the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia, after his coming back to Moscow began to call Grand Prince Vasily Dmitrievich the Tsar, and his lands—the empire. Into the Russian translation of the Diataxis by Patriarch Philotheos of the copy of the service book of the late fourteenth century (Vat. Slav. 14), where we found the autograph of Spiridony the protodeacoan of Moscow Dormition Cathedral,11 special petitions were included for “our venerable and loving Christ Prince” (on the fourth host) and began to be commemorated on the fifth host “orthodox Russian Princes” passed away. Such a tendency produced a negative reaction from the part of Constantinople Patriarch Antonius IV, who in the letter missive of 1393, addressed to Grand Prince Vasily Dmitrievich said, that “not any Prince or local ruler may take the Tsar’s title or the right to be commemorated in churches” (Russian History Library. V. VI, Ed. № 40. Col. 271–272).

11 Uliyanov O. G. The Metropolitan Cyprian and the TROPARION of the third hour // The Annual Theological Conference of the Saint Tikhon Orthodox Theological University: Materials of 2001. M., 2001. P. 99.

        Simultaneously the time of the Metropolitan Cyprian (see his letter to Pskov of about 1395 and his missal of about 1397 of the copy from the State History Museum, Sin. 601/344) the name “Tsar’s Gates” appeared for the middle altar gates of the iconostasis in Russian churches. May be, a decisive fact for such reception of succession with Byzantine in Russia became calling Russian people “holy” in the letter of Patriarch Philotheos (Kokkinos) to Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich in June 1370: “for you (the Russian), living in those lands holy Christ’s people (τὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἅγιον ἕθνος), for the fear of God, for love and faith (yours) I pray and I love all of you, as I already said more than others.”12 All these mentioned above conditions of course determined the program character of a liturgical decoration of the house-chapel of Moscow Grand Princes dynasty.

12 Les regestes des actes du Patriarcat de Constantinople / Ed. par J. Darrouzes. Paris, 1977. Vol. 1. Fasc. 5. Pp. 488–489; Medvedev I. P. Russians as "holy people": view from Constantinople of the XIV century // Verbum. St. Petersburg, 2001. Pp. 84–85.

        On “the model” of the Annunciation Church, indicated by V. D. Fartusov in the hands of a heavenly patron of Grand Prince Vasily II, despite the fact that only parts of it survived, some architectural peculiarities are clearly noticed, such as a large dome over tympanums of the second tier, another smaller dome over the Chapel of Saint Basil, moved closer to the belfry, and also the ground-floor with the Grand Prince’s treasury. For comparison we should take a miniature of Litsevoy Collection of Chronicles (Ancient Chronicle) with the image of erecting in 1404 the clock by Athos monk Lazar Serb on the territory of Grand Prince’s palace behind the Annunciation Church. On this miniature (Pl. 4) there is the church with one dome with the upper tier of tympanums and a covered porch (the chapel of 1416 as a later addition to the church is not presented, of course—sic!). Together with the drum’s windows and the apse the miniaturist showed also the windows in the upper part of the wall and in the tympanums, which was typical of the churches with four pillars.

        In this connection a hypothesis about a considerably larger size of the original Annunciation Church deserves special attention, for the first time announced in our report at the scientific conference in memory of G. K. Vagner in the State Tretyakov Gallery on December 20, 1995. The source of this hypothesis was the chronicle reports of 1482–1483, when the former house-chapel was demolished. It is evident that the fact of covering the whole foundation of the church (for the winter) with lime bast after the reconstruction works on demolishing the upper part undoubtedly testifies the intention of Tsar Ivan III to renew the Annunciation Church in its former grandiose size. But this intention was not realized because of a number of reasons, first of all, because of the lack of masters of an appropriate qualification at that moment in Moscow.

        On the basis of architectural-archaeological study of 1966–1972 we did a modern scientific reconstruction of the plan of the original Annunciation Church (Pl. 5). Of the first building the fragments of the bottom rubblework with front walls made of ashlar and limestone pieces with the addition of cobblestone between inner and outer walls have survived. The building itself was situated to the west and south-west of the church existing now. It was a white stone four-pillared church with three apses and a number of original peculiarities of the composition plan and together with them, to all appearances, of the volume. A wide arrangement of large pillars determined the domination of a central space under the dome and narrowness of aisles. It must not be ruled out that the west pillars of the Grand Prince’s house-chapel were round like in the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God of 1393 in the Moscow Kremlin, the Dormition Cathedral and the Resurrection Church in Kolomna and in much older Novgorodian monuments—the Dormition Church on Volotovo Field, Saint Michael Cathedral of the Skvortsovsky monastery and others, taking into account the prototypes in the same white stone pillars in the Bogolyubov palace’s Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God of 1158, similar to Vladimir-Suzdal architecture of the twelfth-thirteenth centuries. Judging by the decoration of the block (State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin, inv. № A-1762), found in 1966 under the south gallery of the Annunciation Church, the ornament of the band, occupying a rubblework tier of the original Annunciation Church, consisted of nine-petals palmettes alternating with five-petals lilies. This ornament served as the pattern for the band of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Mozhaisk, after the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in the Kremlin (1393) and before the Dormition Cathedral in Zvenigorod, i.e. not later than the 1390s.

        A pair of east pillars was closely moved to the altar barrier, separating a large altar area, occupying nearly the half of the whole space. The altar barrier itself, being relatively not very thick (0.8–0.9 m), was, apparently not high and based on a wider white stone foundation, projecting 0.5 m to the west from it (see our reconstruction—Pl. 5). According to the study of the wall painting fragments on the slabs of a secondary use, the altar barrier of the Grand Prince’s house-chapel could be decorated with wall painting with the images of saints. Probably, to the altar barrier of the original Annunciation Church two stones of the corner capital of a pilaster strip with the ornament of hollies and a double braid belong, laid into the stone-work of the south-west pillar on the ground-floor of the existing church. Such white stone altar barriers survived and were archeologically traced in the number of churches of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries: the Savior Cathedral in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery, the Epiphany monastery Cathedral, the Nativity Cathedral of the Savvino-Storozhevsky monastery, the Archangel Cathedral in Staritsa, the Church Sts. Jehoiakim and Anna in Mozhaisk, the Trinity Cathedral in the Holy Trinity monastery of Saint Sergius. In the first three cathedrals the altar barrier partitioned off only the central apse, being placed between east pillars, this fact allowing to suppose, on the basis of archaeological data, a similar construction under the iconostasis also in the Annunciation Church in the Moscow Kremlin. The arrangement of the altar barrier only between east pillars determines fixing the iconostasis in the pillars mortises.

        It is possible that architects’ striving for the unity of the whole inner space resulted in the changes of the system of covering and its becoming closer to a graded pyramid, formed by the second tier of tympanums and the ring of kokoshniks (false tympanums) in the basis of the dome drum, it can be judged partly by the mentioned by us miniature of the Litsevoy Collection of Chronicles. The nearest by time analogy of the reconstructed by us composition of the upper part of the Annunciation Church is the original architecture of the Dormition Cathedral of 1379–1382 and the Resurrection Church of 1387–1390 in Kolomna, and also the Dormition Cathedral of the Simonov Monastery of 1385–1405. It is important to note that a complicated proportional system of the original Annunciation Church with its pyramidal upper part consisting of two tiers of tympanums and a high pedestal, decorated with kokoshniks, was reproduced in many respects in the construction of the house-chapel of 1484–1489.

        The total length of the Annunciation Church, according to our reconstruction, was 21 m with the width of 16.5 m and the walls 2.1 m thick, which together with the appearance of the same type made it very similar to the Archangel Cathedral in Staritsa, built in 1396–1399. Their proportions are nearly the same and are in the Tsar’s list of measures (209 cm). A large space assigned to the altar also makes similar these two monuments of ancient Russian architecture of the late fourteenth century. As a rule, the altar part of this type is present in the churches which are under the state-church (metropolitan) authority (according to the G. K. Vagner’s typology), where the liturgy was ministered by a metropolitan or a Grand Prince took part in it. As Grand Princes considered themselves to be the rulers of all Russia, which became especially typical after Grand Prince Simeon the Proud, the worships in such “patronal” churches were practically equated to the liturgy of the Holy Wisdom Cathedral in Constantinople.

        According to our scientific reconstruction, the length of a stone altar barrier of the Annunciation Church, placed between east pillars, could be more than 5 meters. It is nearly of the same size as the altar part of the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir, between the cross-pieces of the pillars (5.96 m). The width of the centerpiece with five figures of the existing Annunciation iconostasis is 5.97 m, being also equal to the length of the altar barrier of the original Annunciation Cathedral. A deliberate orientation in the construction of the house-chapel of Moscow Grand Princes toward the altar of the Vladimir cathedral of 1158–1160, built by the St. faithful Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky, testified following the traditions of this Prince, who wanted “this city to become a metropolis, a great principality and the head for everybody” (A Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles, M., 1965. V. 9. P. 222).

        Having taken an artistic heritage of the founder of “Vladimir autocracy” the St. faithful Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky as the example for declaring their law of succession to the Grand Princes’ Russian throne, Moscow dynasty aimed at emphasizing their legitimacy by means of succession of Vladimir-Suzdal emblem (a panther), which even on the coins of Grand Prince Vasily Dmitrievich was exactly the same as on the relieves of the churches of Vladimir-Suzdal Principality. The same tendencies existed in the building of Moscow Dormition Cathedral of 1475–1479, when Tsar Ivan III and the Metropolitan Phillip “wanted to construct the cathedral of the same size as the Cathedral of the Most Holy Mother of God in Vladimir, built by Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky Yurievich the grandson of Monomakh” (A Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles, V. 18. P. 237; V. 25. P. 293).

        At the same time in the St. faithful Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky’s activity on building the churches, in the opinion of the architect N. N. Voronin, there was a reminiscence of traditions of St. coequal with the Apostles Grand Prince Vladimir, which was reflected in the very providing Vladimir Dormition Cathedral with the decimation from the Prince’s incomes and property. Therefore, the Annunciation house-chapel of the late fourteenth century by its proportions had to resemble not only the Vladimir Cathedral but also the Kiev one, this fact being testified by the comparison of our reconstruction with the reconstruction of the Church of the Decimation of 989–996 (according to N. V. Kholostenko), which was 42 m long and 34 m wide (the Annunciation Church was proportionally miniaturized half of this size—sic!)

        On the basis of all mentioned above observations it becomes quite reasonable to date “The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” by the time of completing the building of the Annunciation Church in 1392. Thus, for the first time not only a precisely dated work of a great ancient Russian icon-painter but also a miniature of doubtless Rublev’s work is introduced into science. It is really providential that a scientific discovery fell on the 575th year from the death of a reverend icon painter, who departed in God on October 17, 1428.

        The obedience of St. Andrey Rublev in the Grand Prince and Metropolitan’s Saviour-St. Andronic monastery in Moscow, where he had worked since the time of his confessor—Saint Andronicus († 1373), predetermined his participation with the blessing of the Metropolitan Cyprian in the creation of the iconostasis for the Grand Prince’s house-chapel. Closeness to the Moscow primate allowed St. Andrey Rublev to familiarize himself with all artistic novations, which appeared in the metropolitan’s scriptorium in the second period of Cyprian’s governing the all Russia metropolis, which explained in many respects iconographical parallels between Rublev’s Deesis and the miniature of the late fourteenth century from Vatican’s Ladder (Vat. gr. 394, p. F r.), where in the upper part of the composition there was “The Savior on the Throne” with the closed Gospel, holding in his right hand Eucharistic bread before the interceding Mother of God standing to the right of him like in the composition of the Final Judgment (Pl. 6). In the centerpiece of a full-length Deesis tier painted by St. Andrey Rublev on the miniature the same composition with the Savior “on the throne” is distinctly observable, his left hand holding a closed Gospel and his right hand blessing the interceding Mother of God, which resemble the composition “The Communion with the Species of Bread.”

        A further fate of the Annunciation iconostasis after the loss of “The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” in the Kremlin fire of June 21, 1547 is testified by the instruction of the Annunciation Church archpriest Silvestr in his “Zhalobnitsa” to the Metropolitan Macarius and “to the whole holy assembly” during the restoration works after the fire of 1547 “to take the template from the Trinity and to paint icons in the Simonov Monastery” (Readings in the Society of History and Russian Antiquities. M., 1847. № 3. Pp. 19–20). In the early 1560s ancient Dormition Cathedral of the Simonov Monastery was reconstructed, which gave an opportunity to bring to the Kremlin the former cathedral iconostasis. It was in 1566–1568 that in the Annunciation Church of the Kremlin there were large-scale reconstruction works with building new chapels and renovation of the whole artistic decoration, including creating the altar Gospel of Ivan the Terrible of 1568 per sample of the Gospel of Fyodor Koshka of 1392. Moreover the creation of the miniatures of the chronicle chapter “About the Great Fire” of the Tsarstvennaya Kniga (Tsar’s `Book), in which special attention was paid to “The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev”, also fell on 1566–1568. Therefore, the existing Deesis could be brought to the Annunciation Church in 1567 only from the Dormition Cathedral of the Simonov Monastery, typologically and chronologically close to the original Grand Prince house-chapel (Pl. 7). In addition it should be noted that all the survived Deesis icons from the Simonov monastery, saved by P. D. Baranovsky, are dated back not earlier than to the sixteenth century.

        At the same time the icon-painting workshop of the Simonov monastery could not but cooperated with St. Andrey Rublev as the Metropolitan’s icon-painter. It is indirectly testified by the fact that it was in the Simonov monastery that “folding icons, decorated with silver, painted by Rublev: the image of the Most-Pure Mother of God with the Child and Saint John the Theologian on one part” were kept, which in 1561 were given to the Volokolamsky monastery of Saint Joseph (monastery obituary). With the Simonov monastery the mention of Rublev’s icon “The Vernicle” is connected, with which in 1391 Grand Prince Vasily Dmitrievich blessed the progenitor of the prince’s family of the Khovrin-Golovin, the first donators of the Simonov monastery, Stephan Vasilievich Mangupsky, and also of the image of “The Mother of God Hodigetria”, painted by “the blessed icon-painter Rublev”, given to the family of the Golovin by Grand Prince Vasily II during the baptism of Prince Ivan Vladimirovich Golovin, who would later be consecrated a monk in the Simonov monastery. For our topic it is extremely important that the legend connects the works by St. Andrey Rublev for the Grand Prince’s house already from 1391, which confirms the dating of “The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev” from the Annunciation Church by 1392. It is clear that in the Prince’s court they could not but knew about Rublev’s icons kept in the Simonov monastery, and may be this fact explained the decision of the Tsar Ivan the Terrible to take Simonov’s iconostasis instead of the lost one into his house-chapel.

        On the basis of the foregoing we have every reason to come to a conclusion that the existing iconostasis in the Annunciation Church of the Moscow Kremlin was originally in the Dormition Cathedral of the Simonov monastery, being painted for it in 1404–1405. In its creation the Simonov monastery’s icon-painter Ignaty the Greek undoubtedly took part, and also “a wonderful famous” monk of the Grand Prince and Metropolitan’s Saviour-St. Andronic monastery St. Andrey Rublev could participate in it. Thus, the former ascriptions of the Deesis tier to a Greek master and of the seven first icons of the Twelve Great Feasts from the Annunciation Church to Rublev’s school remain in force.




List of plates

  1. Miniature of the Life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh with the image of Saint Andrey Rublev working in the Saviour-St. Andronic monastery
  2. Miniature of Tsarstvennaya Kniga (Tsar’s Book) with the image of “The Deesis painted by Andrey Rublev
  3. Image of the Annunciation Church with the Chapel of Saint Basil of Caesarea of 1416 discovered in spring 1884 by the academician of painting V. D. Fartusov on the west porch under the wallpainting “In Thee Rejoiceth”
  4. Miniature of Litsevoy Collection of Chronicles (Ancient Chronicle. Sheet 587, drawing 1175) with the image of erecting in 1404 the clock by Athos monk Lazar Serb on the territory of Grand Prince’s palace behind the Annunciation Church
  5. A scientific reconstruction by Dr. Uliyanov O. G. of the plan of the original Annunciation Church of 1390–1392
  6. Miniature of the late fourteenth century from Vatican’s Ladder (Vat. gr. 394, p. F r.).
  7. The Dormition Cathedral of the Simonov Monastery 1379–1404 (a scientific reconstruction by P. N. Maksimov after the investigations in 1930)