Russian Icon Art

Russian Icon Art: Main Themes and Features

Icons play an incredibly important role in Russian culture and religious life. Since ancient times, these relics have been not only displayed in churches and monasteries but also kept in nearly every household of the faithful, regardless of a family’s social status. Russian icon art has never been based on the master’s imagination, and icons have never been painted from nature. The role of the sacred icon lies entirely in its connection with the divine world. Icons are canonical and, therefore, are not so multifaceted in their subjects. Let’s take a closer look at Russian iconography and its main features and themes.

Main features of Russian icons

The basic techniques and practices of iconography were inherited by Russian masters from Byzantium. Icons could only be painted by righteous people since the very process of creating such a shrine was seen as a spiritual deed. Besides, Russian icons were not usually signed, as the main thing was always the image itself, not the artist.

As mentioned earlier, Russian icon art has its consistent canons. Among them are the following:

  • reverse perspective;
  • flat depiction of the images;
  • distinct symbolism of colors (e.g., gold means divine presence, green stands for eternal life, etc.);
  • use of tempera paint in icon creation.

Russian icon art and its major themes

  1. One of the main themes in Christian art, including Russian Orthodox art, is the depiction of Jesus Christ. The main types include images of Christ Pantocrator, the Image of Edessa, and the Savior on the Throne.
  2. The images of Christ are followed by the images of the Mother of God. There are many Theotokos iconographic types. Eleusa (Tender Mercy), Oranta (Praying), and Hodegetria (Guide) are just some of the most common.
  3. The feasts are also some of the main themes in Russian icons. They include major events from the lives of Christ and the saints. For example, the most important feasts depicted in the icons are the Nativity of Christ, the Theophany of Christ, the Annunciation, and certainly the Resurrection (Easter), among others.
  4. Images of angels and archangels are quite popular as well. These include, for example, icons of the Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael.
  5. Finally, among Russian religious icons, there are many icons of saints, martyrs, prophets, apostles, and other people who were glorified for their service to God. 

Russian icon art is meaningful and powerful, so it is no wonder that it has such a great influence on world iconography. Learn more about Russian icons and Christian art on our website!