Interesting Facts about Russian Icons

Interesting Facts about Russian Icons

Russian icons are truly unique pieces of religious icon art. They differ from their counterparts largely due to the unusual way of painting used by iconographers. One may say that Russian icon paintings don’t look natural or, what’s more, look like they were created by people who know nothing about the rules of portrait composition or have no idea about the proportions of the human body and face. However, they are wrong. Russian icon painters do it deliberately. This was true centuries ago, and it still is. The fact is that Russian religious icons of saints are not physical portraits, even if they look like them at first sight. In Orthodox Church religion, Russian icon paintings represent spiritual portraits intended to show the soul rather than the appearance of the depicted person, hence the unusual way of painting. Russian icons actually have a number of distinctive features that set them apart from others. Here are just a few interesting facts about these beautiful creations.

1. Russian icons may seem repetitive. The reason is that Russian iconographers have been replicating the “original” image for centuries, and there is nothing shameful or weird about that. They simply are not expected to be original, as Eastern Orthodox iconography is initially based on the canon. However, Russian icon paintings are still not all the same. They differ from one another by the genre and the school of painting that depends on the geographical area. After all, each monastery or era has its own distinctive style.

2. Russian icons are typically painted on wood panels. Most of them are rather small, but there are also large church and monastery icons that can be of very large sizes. It is also worth noting that some Russian icon paintings are made of copper or even precious metals like silver.

3. Russian icons are steeped in tradition. They are still created the same way they were created centuries ago. Moreover, contemporary icon painters even try to use the same materials and technology, so it’s not surprising that modern religious icons do not differ much from their predecessors. After all, the secrets of painting icons have been passed through generations for many years.

4. Russian iconography is also distinguished by some specific images of persons and events that you won’t find in other religious icons. Thus, in addition to the traditional Byzantine and Greek images, Russian icons may also depict regional saints, Russian historical events, local churches and monasteries, and so on.

5. Most antique Russian icons are painted by unknown iconographers. We don’t know their names or where they come from. Instead, such icons are described only by the type of the depicted image and the regional style or school of painting. Anonymity has always been typical for Russian icon painters.

For today, Russian icons play a significant role in the life of Russian people. They are displayed not only in churches, cathedrals, and monasteries but also in many Russian households. The rich and poor, all share veneration for these amazing pieces of religious art. No wonder, they are called “windows into heaven.”