The year 1374 y. saw the construction of the Church of Our Saviour of the Transfiguration - in - Elijah - Street in the Market Side. This is the most elegant of all Novgorodian fourteenth - century buildings. Its interior was painted by the great Theophanes the Greek. Restored during the Soviet period, this church is one of the most famous show places of Novgorod. The chronicler gives us the names of the persons involved in its construction and decoration. They were "the noble and God - loving boyar Vasily Danilovich and men of Elijah Street", evidently men of fine artistic taste, for it was on their invitation that Theophanes came to work in Novgorod.
The Church of Our Saviour of the Transfiguration - in - Elijah - Street was created in an atmosphere of artistic emulation, typical of the Novgorodian life of the period and reflected even in the town chronicle. With its characteristic terseness, that source never omits to mention the names of church builders, and to record the exact date when a church was constructed, or underwent alterations, or had its walls painted.
In size and overall design, the Church of Our Saviour of the Transfiguration is close to St. Theodore Stratelates', but it greatly excels its predecessor in the elegance of proportion and richness of exterior decoration. The walls and the dome are adorned with beautiful bands of triangular indentations and of semi - circular niches, with rows of sawtooth motifs, and with inset votive crosses - gifts of the parishioners. All this ornamentation reminds one of folk carvings in wood and bone. It is not, however, overabundant in small detail, but is simple and so skilfully proportioned that, while being easily discernible from a distance, it does not weaken the impression of monumentality. The effect of plentiful and varied decoration is achieved by the use of a very few well - chosen devices.
The interior of the church, as we have already said, was painted by Theophanes the Greek, a great fifteenth - century artist who played a role of no small importance in the active cultural life of Novgorod. Before his arrival in Russia, Theophanes had already decorated "with his own hand" quite a number of churches in Constantinople, Chalcedon, Galata, and Kaffa (now Theodosia in the Crimea). As far as we can say, it was while at Kaffa that he received an invitation to Novgorod. Russian chronicles repeatedly mention Theophanes. In 1378 y., he painted the Transfiguration Church - in - Elijah - Street in Novgorod; his other commissions (in which he was assisted by some of his pupils) included the decoration, jointly with the artist Simeon Chorny, of the Nativity Church with its Chapel of St. Lazarus in the Moscow Kremlin in 1395 y.; of the Archangel Cathedral, also in the Moscow Kremlin, in 1399 y.; and of one more church in the Kremlin, the Annunciation Cathedral - a work executed in collaboration with Andrei Rublev and Elder Prochorus in 1405 y. This was, however, only part of the body of work he left behind him. We know from Epiphanius the Wise (d.c. 1420 y.), a Russian writer of considerable talent and wide culture, and a great admirer of Theophanes's genius, that the artist decorated close on forty churches (as Epiphanius relates in his letter to Bishop Cyril of Tver - a letter containing enthusiastic encomiums of Theophanes).
Theophanes the Greek spent over thirty years of his life in Russia, teaching much to Russian painters but at the same time learning from them. Like many other foreign artists who came to Russia after him, Theophanes fell under the spell of the Russian artistic tradition, which he, in turn, enriched with much that was new and vitally important, from the stock of his rich Byzantine experience. In speaking of Theophanes, Epiphanius the Wise makes use of the term isographos (from the Greek words isos, equal, and graphein, to draw), which may be broadly rendered as "one who is perfect in depiction". He notes as a remarkable feature Theophanes's gift of ready invention, which enabled him to paint without using models, or resorting to pattern designs specially prepared for painters to copy into their work, which was the approved practice of the period.