Icon Studies: Wonderful History of Russian Iconography

Icon Studies: Wonderful History of Russian Iconography

Iconography is a type of religious painting, based on the tradition of the Christian Church and the Sacred Scriptures. Icon painting dates back to the apostolic times. By the tradition of the Church, in the 1st century after the birth of Christ, the Apostle and Evangelist Luke painted the first icon on a simple wooden tabletop. From the first centuries of Christianity, even during the persecution, Christians portrayed celestial images based on their faith, which is evidenced by the paintings in the Roman catacombs survived to this day. The centuries-old tradition became the basis for numerous icon studies conducted throughout the world.

This direction in religious art survived the period of iconoclasm. In the 8th-9th centuries, the persecution of the Holy images continued. The icons were declared idols, and people who were worshipping them – idolaters. The iconoclasm ended in the barbaric destruction of sacred artworks, frescoes, mosaics, and the altars in many churches of the Byzantine Empire. In 842, the Church of Constantinople restored the veneration of icons and condemned iconoclasm. After that, a Church celebration was arranged, which fell on the first Sunday of Lent. In memory of this event, the Church established the feast of restoration of icon veneration, called “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.” It also led to the appearance of many iconographic schools offering icon painting classes.

As for the Russian icons history, traditional iconography in Russia was borrowed from Byzantium. The first teachers of icon painting were invited from there. The Baptism of Russia marked the occurrence of iconographic art in the 10th century. Iconography was the leading church-related art in Russia until the 8th century, when other forms of visual art gradually replaced it. Yet, icon painting schools started to appear in various principalities, performing both icon studies and painting sessions. Each school was characterized by an individual style of painting.

In the 17th century, Russian icon art began to experience a period of decline. Sacred images were painted only on order. In the 18th century, the traditional tempera technique was gradually replaced by oil painting, which applied the methods of Western European art school. Icon studies show that religious art pieces of that period were as close to the portraits as possible.

After the so-called “discovery of the icon” at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a great interest in old Russian icons. The era of Holy images’ scientific study began mainly as a cultural phenomenon, in complete isolation from its primary function. Today, a considerable number of icon painting workshops can be found both online and offline.

Experts of Russian Icon have extensive experience in the field of icon studies, high-quality restoration, advisory on the purchase/sale of religious masterpieces, and collection management. If you need any assistance in the related matters, our specialists will be there for you at any time.