Schools of Russian Icon Painting. Part II

Schools of Russian Icon Painting. Part II

Kievan Rus’ conversion to Christianity marked the beginning of the Russian icon art era – a cultural and spiritual phenomenon in the Eastern Orthodox iconography. Although the tradition of painting religious icons in Russia has its roots in Byzantine art, Russian icons are still very distinctive. The reason for this is largely thanks to the development of independent regional icon painting schools that appeared throughout the vast territories of the Christianity’s new homeland. We already wrote about some of the major Russian icon painting schools in our previous article, but there are actually many of them worthy of notice. Thus, except for Pskov, Novgorod, Moscow, Palekh, and Vladimir-Suzdal schools, the most important techniques of religious icon painting are the following:

Yaroslavl school

Yaroslavl school of Russian icon painting is based on the local artistic tradition that existed in that region in the XIII – XV centuries. It reached its highest popularity in the late XVI – XVII centuries, the final period of Eastern Orthodox iconography development in Russia. This unique technique is distinguished by a rather challenging yet free style of painting Russian icons, clear colors, and emphatically decorated images.

Tver school

Tver religious icons with their rough yet expressive faces, rich and heavy coloring, static composition, and big figures are marked by originality and, at the same time, versatility of the creative research and painting solutions. Their stylistic features, formed in the Principality of Tver in the XIII – early XIV centuries, were reflected in the development of the XIV-century Moscow art and later in the artistic life of the Upper and Middle Volga Region. Unfortunately, the early examples of antique Russian icons from that area were destroyed or lost over time.

Rostov school

Although religious icon paintings appeared in that territory in the X – XI centuries, the first Rostov icons were created only in the XIII century. Bearing the traces of pre-Mongolian art, the early iconographic images were distinguished by bright brushes, elongated figures, olive and dark colors of faces, and untypical to Byzantine religious icons large eyes. Since the XV century, Rostov icons were painted in a specific greenish-silver palette composed of soft colors, which is now considered one of the main features of antique Russian icons created in that period.

Vologda school

Vologda school of Russian icon painting appeared in the XIII – XIV centuries in Vologda and its surrounding areas. Formed under the influence of Novgorod, Rostov, Tver, and Moscow artistic styles, this school reached its independence and highest development in the XV – XVI centuries. For today, Vologda religious icons are recognizable thanks to the exquisite color palette, sophisticated yet classical style of painting, as well as the predominance of cold and slightly faded colors in architectural details and clothes.

Except for these icon painting schools, there are also famous Old Believer iconographic schools, school of Royal Masters, Stroganov school, and many others – each with its own distinctive features and unique style of religious icon painting and decorating. Therefore, once you decide to start collecting Russian icons, it’s better to work with a professional dealer able to help you with your choice!