Russian Orthodox Icons of Boris and Gleb

Russian Orthodox Icons of Boris and Gleb

Religious icons are a very important cultural and historical treasure that has always been an integral part of the Orthodox Church. Icons of saints are particularly revered by the faithful, as they are not just images of righteous people, but a reflection of history behind them. For example, Russian Orthodox icons of Boris and Gleb depict significant events from the past. Keep reading to learn more about the saints’ lives and the peculiarities of the Orthodox icons dedicated to them.

The first Russian saints Boris and Gleb

Church tradition says that Boris and Gleb were the younger sons of the Kyivan Prince Vladimir the Great. However, discussions about the true origin of the saints are still ongoing. Boris, the elder of the brothers, ruled in Rostov, while Gleb reigned on the throne of Murom. Both were just and merciful, and both suffered for their beliefs.

According to historians, the princes of Kyiv were killed by their brother Sviatopolk (which earned him the nickname of the Accursed) in 1015 during the battle for the throne. Later, by order of Yaroslav the Wise, Boris and Gleb were canonized in Constantinople. The brothers became the first saints of Kyivan Rus’.

Russian Orthodox icons of Boris and Gleb

Russian Orthodox icons of Boris and Gleb are some of the earliest examples of Russian icon art. The iconographic style of these shrines is concise and displays no particular dynamics, which was traditional for the icons of the 13th-14th centuries. The proportions are light and refined; the colors flow smoothly from one to the other. Due to these characteristics, it can be noted that the strict iconographic canons of that time were well preserved in the Moscow icon painting technique.

Softness is the distinctive feature of the Russian Orthodox icons of Boris and Gleb. Usually, they represent frontal, full-length images of the princes, which seem to float in the air. The faces of the saints are somewhat sad but display concentration and kindness. In their hands, they hold the attributes of martyrdom and princely authority: crosses and swords. Boris and Gleb are dressed as princes with fur hats on their heads. The color palette, especially in antique Russian icons, is distinguished by richness and consistency.

As you probably know, many Russian Orthodox icons have a golden background that symbolizes divinity and majesty. This feature is found in the icons of the Kyivan princes as well.

It is needless to say that Boris and Gleb, the martyrs of God, are incredibly important to the Orthodox Church. They are highly venerated in Russia, and their icons are believed to help strengthen the faith and find the true path of life.