Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (2 of 2)

While it is clear that an individual painter of icons is a person largely molded by his historical and societal circumstances – the very evolution of iconography attests to this reality – a given image becomes an “icon” in the theological sense only inasmuch as it participates in God: “For just as iron plunged in fire does not become fire by nature, but by union and burning and participation, so what is deified does not become God by nature, but by participation.”[5] As such, the work of the iconographer is deliberately de-personalized: he neither signs his icons nor seeks to express personal creativity, but rather conforms to canonical rules of depiction. The iconographer is not – or, in any case, should not be – an individualistic artist defined by his time and place.

It is notable that very little is known about the historical person of Andrei Rublev, and it is almost impossible to determine which of his works are “authentically” his. The popular image of Rublev as the proto-typical Russian iconographer is due to what Robert Bird calls his “constant re-interpretation”[6] from a monk mentioned in the same breath as Daniil the Monk and other iconographers, to the standard-bearer of traditional Moscow-school icon painting, to patriotic artistic hero. As such, the film shows an Andrei Rublev many times removed from the historical personage, and one who is portrayed less as iconographer and more as modern artist. Tarkovsky, naturally, was working within the confines of Krushchev’s militantly atheist Soviet Union and, as such, his positive depiction of Rublev was itself an act of bravery that lent intellectual and artistic credibility to the depiction of religion. Robert Bird, noting Tarkovsky’s awareness of the association of Soviet cinema with official atheism, argues that he deliberately avoids the depiction of Orthodox practice and experience as well the transcendent life on-screen. Instead Tarkovsky contrasts the black-and-white narrative of Rublev’s life with a color display of his icons, thereby conveying “a sense of the distance between historical life and Rublev’s transcendent icons” thereby raising “our gaze towards those icons, making their full glory visible to our limited sight.”[7]

Nonetheless, his mythic depiction of Andrei Rublev as artist and patriotic hero of the Russian renaissance, building on previous Soviet portrayals of Rublev by Il’ia Glazunov, Vladimir Prebytkov, and Andrei Voznesensky, did more to obscure the image of Rublev than to illumine it. Tarkovsky, in Bird’s words, “wholly transformed the public image of Rublev, by emphasizing the gulf that remains between our limited imagination and the reality of the icons.”[8] This creation of a new, largely secularized “icon” of Rublev can be seen in two highly symbolic moments. The first speaks of the final destruction of the real, ecclesiastical St. Andrei Rublev. During the shoot a fire caused by the filmmakers damaged the historic Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir. It was awkward, Bird notes, “that a film advertised as recovering the historical Andrei Rublev might endanger his only surviving frescoes.”[9] The second symbolic moment speaks of the replacement of the St. Andrei Rublev, the sainted iconographer of the Orthodox Church, with the image created of him by Tarkovsky himself: the statue of Rublev erected outside the Andrei Rublev Museum in Moscow depicts him as portrayed by Anatolii Solonitsyn in Tarkovsky’s film.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Bird, 18.

[7] Robert Bird, “Canonizing Andrei Rublev: Aesthetics, Ideology, and the Making of a Russian Saint” in Vladimir Tsurikov (ed.), The Trinity-Sergius Lavra in Russian History and Culture, vol. 3, Readings in Russian Religious Culture, (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Seminary Press, 2005), 138-139.

[8] Ibid., 139.

[9] Bird, Andrei Rublev, 27.

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