Climate of serenity

Daily Reading for January 29 • Andrei Rublev, Monk and Iconographer, 1430

Saint Andrei Rublev was born about 1360 and died in 1430. He was a monk throughout his adult life, first at the Holy Trinity Monastery and later at the Andronikov Monastery in Moscow, where he was buried. He is remembered as being shy and calm, devoted to divine services, meditation and icon painting. Yet artistically, he was also something of an innovator. In various ways, his icons departed from both Byzantine and Russian tradition up to that time. His were lighter, brighter, more transparent, simpler, radiating a climate of serenity, joy and confidence in God’s mercy. . . .

In the chronicles of the Holy Trinity Monastery it is recorded how on feast days, when Rublev and his assistant Daniel rested, they would “sit in front of the divine and venerable icons and look at them without distraction . . . They constantly elevated their thoughts to the immaterial and divine light.” . . .

The [Holy Trinity] icon as painted by Rublev seemed radiant, but its light slowly dimmed. As decades passed, the smoke produced by thousands of candles blackened the image. The kind of restoration we have today was then unknown. Twice the image was re-painted but each time in darker colors and with the addition of new details. Finally the whole icon except the faces and hands was covered by a golden oklad—an embossed metallic sheet. What had once been visible in translucent paint was now rendered in hard metallic relief.

It was only in 1904 that a restoration commission dared free the icon from its oklad and began the slow and painstaking removal of the overpainting that masked Rublev’s work. What their effort finally revealed has ever since amazed those who have been privileged to stand in front of the actual icon. The uncovering of the icon was a momentous event, doing much to inspire the return to classic iconography.

From Praying with Icons by Jim Forest (Maryknoll, N. Y.: Orbis Books, 1997, 2008).

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