Russian religious icons

The Science Behind the Fabrication of Russian Religious Icons

The world of Russian religious icons knows no bounds. The icon market indeed flourishes but in a way that many people don’t suspect. Over the years of development, it has become the place where you can either buy rare authentic icons or be deceived by amateur and professional forgers.

Forgery is not unique to the market of religious art, and yet it swarms with fraudsters and copyists. What is the science behind the fabrication of antique Russian icons, and how can you protect yourself against falsifiers? Let’s try to figure it out.

How & why do people fabricate Russian religious icons?

The reason behind icon forgery is as simple as ever – money. Even some not very popular sacred images may cost up to thousands of dollars, to say nothing of icons by famous icon schools. There are tons of ways how one can try to fake an icon. Some methods are rather blunt and work with people who know very little about Russian religious icons. At the same time, some workshops specialize in forging the antiques. In this case, only icon experts can distinguish between original and fake items.

To know the ropes, take a look at some of the most popular ways to hide the truth from buyers.

  • Artificial oldness: some fakers work in groups to paint new icons with history. To create age, they make images look as if they were used in the past.
  • Refreshing old icons: using modern supplies, swindlers breathe new life into old icons. It is not the same as icon restoration since restorers do not try to create an image of a well-preserved piece of art.
  • Sweet lies: some people just make up stories, myths, and legends to persuade malleable buyers.
  • Copying original icons: copies are not fakes until they are posed as originals. If someone wants to sell you a copy at the cost of an original icon, you have met a crook.

Who are the victims of forgery & how to protect yourself against fakes?

No one is safe from icon forgery. Even dedicated collectors can take the bait and fall into the trap. What can you do to protect yourself if you want to buy Russian religious icons? First and foremost, educate yourself and learn some basics on how to spot a fake icon. Second, request a certificate of authenticity from sellers every time you buy a new piece. If there is none, then hire an icon expert who can analyze an icon and give a verdict.


As you see, buying Russian religious icons may have some substantial nuances that you need to know in order not to get scammed. Be careful, trust your hunches but rely on professionals!