Main Differences between Russian and Greek Orthodox Icons

Orthodox Church icons… There are actually lots of them that can be found in Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and some other countries. However, most of the antique religious icons available for sale today, especially when it comes to the U. S. market, will be either Greek or Russian. It’s interesting that the art of painting religious icons in Greece had already existed for nine centuries by the time of Rus’ christening in 988. Moreover, the first Russian religious icons that appeared after the baptism of the sovereign of Kyiv were painted not without the help of Byzantine masters. Thereby, both Russian and Greek religious icons share a common history and may seem quite similar, which makes it rather difficult for novice collectors to differentiate these two types of Orthodox Christianity icons. Despite this, they are not the same. Let’s highlight the main differences between Russian and Greek religious icons so that you could make the right choice.

  1. Russian religious icons are labeled in a very old language, predating modern Cyrillic, known as Church Slavonic, while Greek Orthodox icons employ Greek. Besides, antique Russian icons are also distinguished by specific abbreviations used in them.
  1. Russian icons generally show members of the Holy Family and Saints as narrow-shouldered and long-limbed persons with big eyes, while Greek religious icons usually depict individuals with normal proportions of the body so that, in most cases, they look like common people. However, the unusual appearance of Holy personalities in the Russian icons is still inspired by preceding Byzantine Orthodox icons.
  1. The Greek style of painting religious icons is more naturalistic. Thus, saints depicted in Greek religious icons resemble philosophers in their appearance. As for the Russian style of painting icons, it can be called expressionistic. This is clearly seen in the emotional appearance of apostolic figures and Evangelists, bowing deeply in humility before the figure of Jesus Christ.
  1. Russian iconographers are draftsmen, while Greeks are color mixers. The latter use the light or different shades of the ground color to indicate the prominent places, such as shoulders, knees, and hips. Russian icon painters, on the other hand, give the color a subordinate role, being focused on the multiplicity of lines.
  1. Greeks use radiant and bright colors that often contrast sharply, and Russian iconographers usually use restrained and subdued colors. In fact, most Russian Orthodox icons are painted in pastel tones. Some of them are even executed almost entirely in one color. In addition, the ground color of the large color field in Greek religious icons is painted opaquely, while the ground color of the same color field in Russian icons is transparent and shows the white priming through it.

In this way, although Russian and Greek Orthodox icons may seem similar at first glance, in fact, they are not the same. The truth is that each of them is unique in its own way! Just take a closer look, and you will see the difference!

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