The early Moscow art of the 12th-13th centuries is hard to explore as the memorials of that time didn’t survive. It can be suggested, however, that the local icon-painters oriented themselves to the art traditions of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality. As Moscow struggled to establish itself as a state and spiritual leader since the 14th century, the art life of the Moscow principality was falling under a strong influence of the Prince and Metropolitan of Muscovy. Because Moscow declared itself as a successor of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality, the icon-painters were seeking to orient themselves to the Vladimir art traditions. Moreover, a very typical feature of the 14th century, and especially the 15th century, was glorification of the local saints and sanctuaries – Moscow saints Peter and Alexis, St. Sergius of Radonezh and his disciples.
The influence of Constantinople icon-painters is traceable in the dark and dramatic palette of the icon of Savior the Furious Eye (the first half of the 14th century). This icon, however, depicts Christ in a more worldly fashion, so unlike of the cold intellectualism of Byzantine icons. Moscow icons of that time are noted for their big sizes, flat images and decorative brightness of the palette.
In the second half of the 14th century (not later than 1378) Theophanes, a Byzantine icon-painter, came to Moscow from Constantinople. His artistic is noted for a special emotional tension expressed in increased dynamism of postures, gestures and wrinkles of the clothes. Theophanes’ icon of The Transfiguration and his other works are the evidence of a great popularity of this New Testament theme that was fiercely discussed at that time by the hesychasts. The ideas of the liberation from the Mongol yoke and consolidation of the Russian state are best represented in the workmanship of Andrei Rublev, Theophane’s disciple. The crown of Rublev’s artworks and the Russian medieval culture in general is definitely the icon of the Holy Trinity. Harmonious bodily positions of the angels, soft palette and round shapes create an impression of singleness and consistency. Rublev’s workmanship is distinguished for clarity, harmony, artistic transparency and softness of the images – the features traceable in the further development of his art school.
In the late 15th century Rublev’s traditions would be continued by another outstanding iconographer Dionisius. Among the distinctive features of his artistic style are deeper festivity, subtlety and even fragility of the images expressed in repeated bodily postures and artistic techniques. By decisions of the Stoglavy Sobor (1551), the icon-painters were bound to strictly observe the accepted iconographic rules, with Andrei Rublev’s works being proclaimed to be the undisputable norm. The main feature of Moscow icons are their meditative character. Smooth and barely noticeable overtones create special softness, while its light and transparent palette is predominantly composed of the shades of blue, light-green, goldish ochre and cherry-brown colors.