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Ushakov, Simon Fyodorovich


(1626-1686), renowned Russian artist.

Simon Ushakov has been called the last great master of Russian painting. At the age of twenty-two (1648) he was appointed court painter and entrusted with the state icon painting studios in the Armory Palace. He not only painted icons, but made signs, did jewelers' work, embroidered, and even designed coins. In addition, he became an expert on fortifications, mapmaking, and engraving. As the head of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov's (r. 16451676) workshop, he painted several portraits of the tsar and the royal family. The tsar had a profound interest in western European culture and hired foreign actors and musicians to perform at court. Western architecture also held the ruler's interest, so it is understandable why Ushakov's westernized icon style became the most acceptable form in court circles.

Ushakov became involved in theoretical art discussions. He wrote "Words to the Lovers of Icons," which advanced his views on painting with an emphasis on naturalism. The idealization of the saints' faces in his icons led others to refer to him as a Slavic Raphael. The colors Ushakov favored included rose pink, olive green, pale lilac, occasionally sky blue, and shades of tans and brown. Western influence can be seen not only in the saints' lifelike faces but also in the use of classical architecture, as well as landscapes and scenery borrowed from German paintings and etchings.

One of themes that Ushakov painted frequently was the Mandilion (Spas Nerukotvorny or "The Savior Painted without Use of Human Hands"). Even though he continued to use egg tempera, rather than the new oil painting broadly adopted in the West, he nevertheless abandoned the traditional two-dimensional, bright-colored style that emphasized intense inner spirituality. Instead he prettified the faces, creating images that in many ways resembled the Madonnas painted by the Italian Renaissance master, Raphael. A mixed style characterizes Ushakov's work at this time. His style became the official Orthodox style, copied by many contemporary Russian icon painters.

Ushakov's most famous and revolutionary icon is the Vladimir Mother of God and the Planting and Spreading of the Tree of the Russian State, painted in 1668. This is a blatantly political icon. A huge rosebush symbolizes the Muscovite state; within it is a representation of the most venerated icon in Russia, the Vladimir Mother of God. Christ appears at the very top, directing his angels to spread his sheltering cloak. The rosebush springs out of the Kremlin; Metropolitan Peter and Grand Duke Ivan Danilovic water it. The tsarist family appears near the planting, while within the spreading branches are medallions depicting Russia's secular and ecclesiastical princes and her most famous saints.

With his mixed technique Ushakov had a very strong impact on the development of icon painting in Russia. Among his pupils who became famous icon painters were Georgy Zinoviev, Ivan Maximov, and Mikhail Malyutin. After Ushakov's time, the traditional style that had preceded him survived, but progressive artists adapted his more Western style up to the twentieth century.

See also: architecture; icons


Onasch, Konrad. (1963). Icons. London: Faber and Faber.

Hamilton, George H. (1990). The Art and Architecture of Russia. London: Penguin Group.

A. Dean McKenzie

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