Famous Religious Icons, Icon Painters, and Collections

Although religious icons were already used for prayer in the first centuries of Christianity, Eastern Orthodox iconography as part of Byzantine culture reached its highest popularity only in the period 850-1250, and as part of Russian medieval art – in the period 1050-1450. Unfortunately, for today, we have very few examples of religious icons from the early period, as most of them were destroyed by iconoclasts, Ottoman Turks, and Venetians at different times. However, there are still genuine antique icons that can be viewed in the world’s best museums and monasteries. Some of them were created by the world-known artists, while the authors of others remain unknown. So let’s make a list of the most famous religious icons, iconographers, and collections existing today.

Famous icon painters

Most icon painters, especially when it comes to antique icons, are unfortunately unknown. However, some of them can still be named. Thus, the most prominent iconographers are:

  • a Byzantine Greek artist Theophanes the Greek (1340-1410);
  • the greatest Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev (1360s-1430);
  • Rublev’s friend Daniil Chyorny;
  • a head of the Moscow school of icon painters Dionisius (c.1440-1502);
  • Ivan Ievlevich Saltanov also known as Bogdan Saltanov (1630s-1703);
  • Simon Ushakov (1626–1686), another leading Russian iconpainter of the late XVII century.

Most famous religious icons:

  • The Theotokos of Vladimir or The Holy Virgin of Vladimir (The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia). This amazing representative of antique Russian icons came from Constantinople to Kiev at the beginning of the 12th century. It is probably the most recognizable Orthodox icon, mainly due to the fact that, according to the legend, it was created by saint Luke himself.
  • Old Testament Trinity or the Trinity (The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia) created by Andrei Rublev circa 1414.
  • Antique icon of the Archangel Michael (Tesoro di San Marco, Venice, Italy) created circa 950-1000.
  • Peter the Apostle (Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai, Egypt) created circa 550.
  • The Virgin Hodegetria (was displayed in the Monastery of the Panaghia Hodegetria, Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey, but today is considered lost). It is believed that this amazing sample of Byzantine Orthodox icons was also created by saint Luke, hence the enormous popularity of its copies among Christian believers.

Famous religious icon collections

The most famous religious icon paintings and mosaics are currently held in the best museums and monasteries all over the world. Thus, the most unique antique icons can be found in:

  • The State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow, Russia);
  • The Monastery of St. Catherine (Mount Sinai, Egypt);
  • Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior at Nereditsa (Novgorod, Russia);
  • Cefalu Cathedral (Sicily, Italy);
  • Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello (Venice, Italy);
  • The monastic Church of Christ in Chora (Istanbul, Turkey);
  • Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey);
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, US);
  • The Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK);
  • The British Museum (London, UK);
  • The Museum of Art (Novgorod, Russia).

It is also worth noting that early Eastern Orthodox iconography had a great impact on both, Western religious icon art and Russian art of the later period. No wonder, there are lots of modern religious icons today created by talented artists that are additionally available at very attractive prices. Nevertheless, you can still find authentic antique icons for sale too. Just browse our collection to see some of these rare masterpieces!

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