Remains of Russian painter found in monastery

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The Independent Online

More than 500 years after he is thought to have died, Russian experts believe they have found the remains of the inspirational medieval icon painter Andrei Rublev, and intend to use them to build up a better idea of what he looked like.

During the course of restoration work on a Moscow church located in the city's Andronikov Monastery, where Rublev is said to have died in 1430, the remains of two monks have been uncovered underneath the altar.

Experts believe it is "highly probable" that one of the men is Rublev, a monk whose icons are regarded as some of the finest pieces of religious art that have ever been created.

Scientists are now to run exhaustive tests on the bones to confirm their theory. The bones were found with a ceramic cup, the remains of small crucifixes that would have been worn around the neck, and leather sandals.

Chemical tests have shown that both men worked with paint and metal, and the leading anthropologist Elena Alexandrovskaya has concluded that one of the corpses is highly likely to be that of Rublev.

His distinctive and hauntingly beautiful work decorates the walls of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Kremlin and several other churches across Russia. His most famous work, the Old Testament Trinity, hangs in Moscow's Tretyakov Art Gallery.

Although Rublev's personal life remains shrouded in mystery, his work inspired the cult Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky to make a film loosely based on him in the 1960s.

Nobody knows for sure what he looked like, but Sergey Nikitin, one of Russia's most renowned forensic scientists and criminologists, is now to piece together his appearance from his skull, recreating his face as he would that of a murder victim. Mr Nikitin says that the skull has been preserved "amazingly well". He has many years of experience of reconstituting people's faces, having done the same with various medieval princes and princesses, and with the relatives of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

The fact that the "Rublev remains" are of a man who was around 50 years old when he died came as a surprise, since he was thought to have lived well into old age.

But historians say that his old age was a myth dreamt up by Soviet academics who were desperate to save religious relics and churches from demolition by an atheist Communist Party in the 1950s. The experts declared that he was born in 1360 so as to mark the 600th anniversary of his birth in 1960, an attempt to make it harder for Soviet politicians to sanction the destruction of world-recognised religious works of art.

Rublev was first mentioned in historical texts in 1405, and his icons are revered by the Russian Orthodox Church, which posthumously canonised him in 1988. They are famed for their simplicity, their vivid colours, and, quite simply, their "Russianness".