Cost of works
From the biography of Paphnutius of Borovsk we learn that already in 1477 Dionisy’s talent was highly appreciated. Upon the completion of the wall painting of the St. Paphnutius Belozero Monastery the elder Mitrophan and Dionisy were considered to be the most renowned in the field.
Dionisy’s art was esteemed by major hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church such as Archbishop of Rostov Vassian Rylo, a trustee of Ivan III, and the brilliant theologian and publicist Joseph of Volotsk.
They greatly contributed to the flourish of the painter’s talent. The Lvov chronicle of 1481 reports that “the same year the Archbishop of Rostov Vassian gave one hundred rubles to the icon master Denisy and Pope Timothy and Yarets and Kon for painting the Deesis in the new church of the Mother of God”. Dionisy’s name is the first which implies that he was senior both in terms of age and position, and, apparently, in charge of the artel.
The biographer of Joseph of Volotsk retells that the stone monastery church of the Assumption was laid by Joseph in 1484 and consecrated in 1485. “And some years later it was painted by the ‘crafty’ painter of the Russian land Dionisy and his sons Vladimir and Theodosius and monk Pasey and two brothers of Joseph’s monastery monk Dosifey and monk Vassian”. In an epistle addressed to Boris Vassilievich Kutuzov St. Joseph mentioned that the church cost him “together with the wall painting, icons, books, vestments and church vessels over a thousand rubles.” Out of which a part (around 100 rubles) was paid to Dionisy’s artel.
To put the actual value of this amount (100 rubles) into perspective, one should consider that at those times a village with a large plot of land could be bought for 20 rubles.
The Pskov chronicle mentioned that in the 15th century bread prices oscillated between 87 and 250 poods (one pood is 16.38kg) for 1 ruble. According to the chronicle, in 1465, 80 workers were hired to put up a wall and were paid 175 rubles for three-year work, which is a little more than 2 rubles each. Decorated helmets used by Russian horsemen at the end of the 15th century were very expensive and they were bequeathed in wills with an indication of the price. Thus at the beginning of 16th century the helmet cost 20 altyns, whereas the chain mail was pawned for 70 altyn (over 2 rubles in silver).
So one can unambiguously conclude that “one hundred rubles” paid for the work done by Dionisy’s artel was a very high price and a real acknowledgement of the spiritual and artistic genius of the painter.
Another curious fact from the biography of St. Joseph of Volotsk compiled by Savva, the Bishop Krutitsky, relates to the quarrel between Joseph and Fyodor of Volotsk, the nephew of Ivan III. As a token of reconciliation Joseph sent to the prince icons by Rublev and Dionisy. This confirms that Dionisy’s work was rated highly by his contemporaries.