Theophanes The Greek

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(c. 13401410), renowned artist and philosopher.

Theophanes the Greek began his career as an artist in the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. He worked in the media of fresco, egg tempera for panel painting (icons), and tempera for book illustration. In the 1380s he immigrated to Russia, first of all to Novgorod. An important source for his life is a letter written by Hieromonk Ephiphanius to Cyril around 1415. He states that Theophanes was an artist, a sage, and a philosopher. The stone churches he decorated with frescoes include several in Constantinople, Chalcedon, Galata, and Caffa. Altogether, he painted frescoes in over forty churches. In Russia his most important surviving frescoes are to be found in the Church of the Savior of the Transfiguration, Novgorod (1378). He worked swiftly without the use of pattern books. Nor did he mind spectators. As his fame spread, he was invited to Moscow in the 1390s. Among other projects in the 1390s, he painted a panorama fresco of Moscow (nonextant) in the stone palace of Prince Vladimir Andreevich. The most important surviving projects in Moscow are the main icons (1405) for the iconostasis of the Annunciation Cathedral, Cathedral Square, and the Moscow Kremlin. Here he was assisted by the Elder Prokhor of Gorodets and Andrei Rublev, according to the Troica Chronicle. Another separate icon attributed to him is the Bogomater Donskaya (Virgin of the Don) and on the back, the Dormition of the Virgin, 1380s (Tretyakov Gallery). A very expressive early fifteenth-century Transfiguration of Christ icon (Tretyakov Gallery) has been attributed to Theophanes as well. His figures tended to be very tall and severe, with dark faces and long, thin arms. Mystical elements in his paintings are believed to reflect the influence of Hesychasm. Theophanes was truly one of the greatest of the early Russian icon painters.

See also: dionisy; icons; rublev, andrei


Cheremeteff, Maria. (1990). "The Transformation of the Russian Sanctuary Barrier and the Role of Theophanes the Greek." In The Millennium: Christianity and Russia, A.D. 9881988, ed. Albert Leong. Crest-wood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

A. Dean McKenzie