Old Russian Icons (старинные русские иконы)

What Makes Old Russian Icons So Special?

When standing in front of a Russian icon in the Russian icon museum, have you ever thought where such kind of masterpiece takes root? We will probably not surprise you by saying that its predecessors are old Russian icons originated at the times of Kievan Rus, which provided an opportunity for the art of the icon painting to grow and become one of the most valuable cultural values of many countries.


The appearance of old Russian icons stems from 988 when the prince of Kievan Rus, Vladimir the Great, converted the whole state to Christianity. Along with such changes, the culture of the country appeared to be under the enormous impact of the Byzantine Empire, which brought such a craft to the folks.

Plots of the old Russian icons

Exploring the meaning and importance of ancient images, icon studies proved that the internal structure of the icon is very complicated due to the fact that the icon painters of the time were thinking much differently, using other categories to perceive the art than we are using now.

The primary aim of the icons was to describe the excerpts from the Gospels; that’s why this craft was leaning toward the religion. And like nowadays icons of Russia, they had a religious plot, making them inalienable attributes of the church.

Icon as a bearer of deep symbolism

Every icon is made following the so-called icon painting canon that sets the stringent rules about the proportions, figures scales, lines, and other characteristics of the icons. The most crucial one is believed to be a color as it contains the symbolism that helps understand what is depicted in the icon.

As an example, white symbolizes the purity and chastity, green is the eternal life, and red incarnates the power and authority. Hand gestures of the depicted figure also play a major role. The hand pressed to the chest means empathy, while the raised hands imply the request for help. As you see, icons have a special language that one should know to understand the intrinsic meaning of the image.

Most frequent images

Talking about old Russian icons, we cannot but mention two key images that are most prevalent for this kind of art. These are the images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. They are presented in different postures and settings, so you can find many distinct variants. The most popular ones are Our Lady of Vladimir and Savior Made Without Hands, also known as the Image of Edessa.

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