A Thousand Words by Mary Elizabeth Podles
by Theophanes the Greek
In the Orthodox tradition, the first image that an iconographer "writes" is one of the Transfiguration, since every icon he will make thereafter is to be a reflection of the transfigured Christ. This Transfiguration, by the accomplished Theophanes the Greek (c.1340–1405), was surely not his first; it might have been his last. Theophanes had studied art and philosophy at the University at Constantinople, but by the late fourteenth century, that city was a good place to leave. He travelled in 1370 to Novgorod, and in 1375 to Moscow (where this icon now hangs, in the Tretyakov Gallery). In Moscow, he was a teacher to the iconographer Andrei Rublev, and an important influence on the shape of Russian icons for centuries to come.
Traditionally, the Transfiguration icon is divided into two zones, the heavenly apparition above and the earthly realm below. Theophanes observes the convention, but has unified the two halves with an overall warm color scheme of gold, reds, and earth tones, as if to say that at this moment the two worlds have become one.
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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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