Феофан Грек - на главную
Феофан Грек - на главную




Школа Феофана

Церковь Спаса

Иконостас БС




Feofan Grek (Theophanos The Greek)

Феофан Грек - "Иоанн Креститель", фрагмент

Among many Byzantine artists who were invited to Russia to decorate churches and paint icons, Theophan Grek (Theophanos the Greek) was by far the most important in the formation of the Novgorod school of iconography. Before he came to Russia, according to some sources, he successfully decorated several churches in Constantinople and other cities, including a Greek church in Kaffa, presently Feodosia; this earned him the reputation of being one of the top Byzantine painters. When he reached Novgorod in the late sixties of the 14th century, Theophan was already an accomplished artist who could match in style and class his countrymen who only few decades before had painted the famous frescoes of Misura and the monastery the Peribleptos. It was the novelties of the last remarkable phase of Byzantine art, which coincided with the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, that Theophan brought to Russia. With him came gradual changes in Russian painting; portraiture became more naturalistic, faces and garments softened, fresh combinations of colors were introduced, movements became rhythmic. Theophan was a great master of coloring and knew very well how to produce pleasant and bold effects. His frescos compositions were artistically distributed and each figure he painted received a natural look, strikingly different from the previous ascetic rigidity. He added to his paintings bits of real life and scenes from simple human relations. The passage that he used for background contributed to the reality of the message that his frescoes wanted to transmit. Theophane not only brought to Russia all these novelties of the reborn Byzantine art, but for the more than three decades that he lived in his adopted country, he did much to propagate them, and trained scores of young Russian painters. Under his guidance the final stage of Byzantine art was gradually absorbed, first by Novgorod and then by artists of Moscow. In the process soon new touches were added by Russian artists and distinctive native features started to appear, marking the beginning of the new independent, Russian national art.

The Chronicle praised Theophan's work and gave high praise to his talent, calling him "Refined painter," "Famous sage," and "Philosopher. "He indeed was an El Greco, great and with the traditional Greek instinct for beauty, and yet always unpretentious, who enriched art throughout the world more than anybody else.
Before he moved to Moscow in 1395, Theophan remained in Novgorod. While living there for over two decades he undoubtedly decorated several churches. The Chronicle explicitly mentioned just one, The Church of Transfiguration, as having been painted by him in 1378, leaving to guesswork who decorated the Church of Fedor Stratilat, which was built in 1360 by the mayor of Novgorod, Semen Andreyevich, and his mother Nathalie. The similarity of the style, composition, and technique, and the fact that both churches were painted in monochrome, red-brownish hues, and that the mayor of the city would most probably look for the best painter to decorate his church, prompted art historians to conclude that the Church of Fedor Stratilat was also painted by Theophan, probably at the time of his arrival in Novgorod in 1370. The frescoes of both churches, in the course of time, were damaged, repainted and white-washed before being discovered, respectively in 1910 and 1912. Their cleaning and restoration was interrupted several times, and neglected before and during the second world war humidity and dampness made more fragments crumble down.

Theophane too left his icons unsigned though he must have painted many of them. Those ascribed to him or to his school were asserted to be such after a thorough investigation by qualified persons, whose evaluation we have to accept mainly because a more valid proof does not exist. At the same time there is a feeling of easiness with which some Soviet art students rather arbitrarily ascribe certain 12th, 13th, and 14th century icons to their own masters. Their opinion could eventually be accepted if the epithet "Russian" had primarily a geographical sense. However, in the appraisal of little-documented Russian medieval art the most important fact is that Russian student-artists soon demonstrated independence as their fellow builders and craftsmen had before them. Their frescoes and particularly the icons showed, already in the 14th century, a substantial departure from the Byzantine school. Gradually experience replaced naivete, composition became more complicated and at he same time well-proportioned and finished, delicacy of lines brought enlightenment and softness to the figures and objects, and, above all, harmony of rich colors gave the new icons the refinement that some of the earlier examples lacked. Russians showed a great amount of passion for the picturesque, with many details borrowed from nature. All this made Russian students overtake their Byzantine teachers and produce, along with the Serbs, the most beautiful icons that orthodox Christianity has known. By the 15th century Novgorodian iconography developed special characteristics that made it possible to speak of its own school.

The painters basically used four colors: Blue, green, yellow (ochre) and the vermilion that became almost a trademark of Novgorod's icons. They seldom mixed their colors and used white very sparingly to soften them, particularly in the beginning. They applied the colors one next to the other, avoiding soft transitions in between. Matisse did something similar many centuries later. The rather primitive composition of Novgorod's icons, and their simplicity, does not hurt their harmony. We can even say that they are accurate and proportional, both the figures and the elements that decorate the background, though their architectural objects are massive and usually solidly attached to the ground. The economic prosperity of Novgorod prompted boyars and merchants to build and bequeath churches. There was something of a completion among them as to who would do better for this preferred saint; the Novgorodians had several that they venerated the most. Among the favorites were Saint Nicholas and Saint George, followed by Saints Elijah, Demetrios, Fedor Stratilat, Boris and Gleb, and others. Novgorod's merchants considered the Venerable Mother Paraskeva as their patroness. Their republican form of government was not without influence on Novgorod's iconography, and there are several icons of giants which look more like national heroes than biblical figures. Working under the democratic regime artists felt more close to existing life and paint the icons the way the people wanted to see them. Icons depicting Saint George killing the dragon are a good example of this trend. Saint George most often looks indeed like a young, brave Russian prince, richly dressed, with his floating cape and on a white fiery horse. Even the saddle and the harness are lavishly ornamented. With some details that strongly suggest motifs borrowed from the national folklore. We could hardly find any real Russian prince so richly dressed as was Saint George on the Russian icons.

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