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Over the past three decades, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, ever increasing s of Russian icons have been seen in Western countries like the United States. Much research has been done on ancient icons but very little is available on Russian icons of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century.


Whether they are collected for their spiritual and historical ificance or simply their unique beauty and charm, one fact remains certain: a flourishing collector's market in Russian icons is sweeping the country. What was once a field reserved to a few well established dealers with more customers than merchandise has blossomed into a veritable free for all, with Russian icons popping up in flea markets, auctions, antique shows, and galleries coast-to-coast.

While much has been published on ancient icons, until recently very little has been written on Russian icons of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, the period from which comes the vast majority of icons in today's market. Unfortunately, this means there is little to help the fledgling collector navigate through the maze of misinformation and shenanigans which plague today's market.

Icon evaluations

Ikona, or Russian icon, derives its name from the Greek eikon, meaning image. After the mixture of Greco-Roman and Syrian art that gave birth to icons was Dating antique icons in Byzantium, that tradition was passed on to Russian when it converted to Christianity in A. The traditional Russian icon is a religious image painted on a prepared wooden panel.

However, icons were produced in cast metal and carved relief, too. From the 18th through early 20th centuries, icons could be found literally everywhere in Russia. There were icons in churches, homes, hospitals, ships, stables, roide shrines, and even in prisons. Icons comforted a mother giving birth, were received as gifts at marriage, accompanied armies going Dating antique icons battle, and were part of funeral ceremonies.

There were icons to protect cattle, icons to drive away the toothache, and even icons to prevent house fires. Every church had an icon screen containing many icons separating the congregation from the altar. Every Christian, which means nearly every Russian, had a patron saint. Anyone who could afford it had an icon of his or her patron saint. All this simply means is, a tremendous of icons were produced, which s for the enormous of icons still in existence today.

It is true that in the early days of Christianity in Russian, monks did paint most of the icons. For them it was a ritual process requiring special prayers and fasting. Later, however, the production of icons resulted in the creation of workshops manned by ordinary people with skill in painting.

In icon shops, one could purchase ready-painted icons, or one could special order. Big workshops could produce hundreds of icons per day, which were then shipped to other distribution and sales points throughout Russia. There were many small time painters scattered about Russia who did all the work themselves, without having each task ased to a different person. Sometimes they would their work on the back, with the name and date, and sometimes the reason for which the icon was painted. But as a general rule, most icons are not ed. The vast majority of the antique icons one sees in today's market were originally produced for home use.

At home, icons were generally placed in the "beautiful corner" of the house, on a shelf or hung on the wall. To show the icon honor and veneration when praying, a light was often kept burning before the image.

An icon coated with the usual linseed oil-resin mixture would darken as the years went by. An icon can darken substantially within 50 to 75 years of being varnished. When an icon became so dark that the painting could no longer be easily seen, there were two main options. Either the painting could be scraped off down to the wood and a new painting created on the panel, or another new icon could simply be painted on top of the old one.

There are many myths that prevail about icons. We have already seen that they were painted, not only by monks. Other myths involve elaborate symbolic interpretations of the icon's symmetry and color usage, which is appropriate for those from the very early days of icon painting in Russia, but can be safely ignored for later works. On the whole, however, the ificance of Dating antique icons in icon painting is that each saint is ased specific colors for his or her garments.

These Dating antique icons were detailed in the old painters' manuals, called podlinniki. One can say that iconography is more an art of reproduction than of originality. The manuals told the icon painter what colors to use when depicting various saints and also described what certain saints looked like, such as " Miracle Workers While icons were produced displaying innumerable biblical scenes and saints, icons of Mary and the Infant Christ were among the most popular.

There are many icons depicting Mary holding the infant Christ Child, which are commemorated during the church year as chudotvornaya, that is, "miracle-working. A miracle-working icon is one that at some point in its history is believed to have begun working miracles. It may be miraculous from the time of its discovery, like the Kazan Mother of God, or it may go many years with nothing unusual about it, and then suddenly it may begin to work miracles. It is said that the prototype or original Kazan icon was dug up in the city of Kazan in by a girl named Matrona and her mother after the Virgin appeared repeatedly in the girl's dreams, telling her of the buried icon.

About icons and iconography

The girl's mother told a local cleric about her daughter's dream, but they were ignored. Finally out of frustration, the mother accompanied her daughter to the place she was told the icon would be found. In the ashes of a destroyed house beneath the stove, the icon was found wrapped in cloth. The mother and daughter then took the icon to the local Bishop of Kazan, and together they placed it in a local church. As the story spread about the discovery, many pilgrims came to the church and were cured of many illnesses. One of the two most famous icons in Russia, it accompanied soldiers freeing Moscow from the Poles in and was with the troops fighting Napoleon in The Kasperov icon also performed miracles.

It was so old that the varnish had darkened greatly, but suddenly in the yearthe darkness disappeared, and the painting became fresh and bright again. After that, the icon began to work miracles of healing. When it Dating antique icons known that an icon had begun to "work miracles," news spread rapidly, and many people wanted a copy of the miracle-working icon. The more famous an icon became, the more people wanted a copy.

It is important to remember that the prototype, that is the first icon from which all the copies are made, is the one considered "miracle-working.

Icon evaluations

When we think of icons, we generally think of images painted on wood, but there were other types as well. Cast metal icons were also very popular. Many sizes and types were created, some with single images, others combined into diptychs two painted panels hinged togethertriptychs, and quadriptychs.

Metal icons could conveniently be taken along on a journey because they survived rigors of use that would have quickly damaged a painted icon. Dating icons It is fair to say that, in general, icons are more difficult to date than art of the West. That is because icon Dating antique icons is by nature a conservative art based on reproduction of the original. It is far more difficult to distinguish a traditionally painted 19th century icon from the same type painted in the 18th century.

The evolution of style is subtle and requires considerable experience to differentiate. There are also differences in such elements as the construction of the panel on which the images are painted that help in dating. Earlier icon painters were generally careful to select cuts of wood that would minimize warping over time. Later painters in the 18th and 19th centuries were not quite so careful, and it is very common to find icons from that period with a convex shape due to the wood warping.

Dating icons by the panel alone can be very misleading because panels were often reused. There are certain general panel characteristics useful in dating, but they must be used with caution. For example, around the middle of the 18th century, the recessed area on the panel in which the image was painted began to give way to flat-surfaced panels.

About russian icons

In general, one can say that a flat-surface panel should date from that time or later. However, some large icons before that time have no recessed area, generally because they were set in an icon screen, and some icons throughout the 19th century and even many in the early 20th century have the recessed area that was largely abandoned in the 18th century. So such guides are only rough, and other factors must be considered as well in dating.

In general, the more decorative the outer border seems, the later the icon is likely to be.

Russian icons

This tendency toward ornament extended also to the gold backgrounds of the icon and to the halos. Dating is a complex subject and cannot be adequately covered in a brief period, but it is helpful to know that in general, all aspects of an icon must be considered in dating it: the nature of the panel, the style, the proportions of the figures, the type of calligraphy, the appearance of the background and border, and of course, the subject.

Sadly, that is no longer true. Because of the sudden increase of interest in icons of the 18th to early 20th century, there has also been an increase in the of "doctored" icons and outright fakes. A doctored icon is one which, though authentic, has suffered damage sufficient to lower its monetary value. To raise the value, lost paint is replaced, sometimes skillfully, sometimes crudely.

The intent is often to deceive the buyer into thinking that the icon is relatively undamaged. Sometimes, icons sold are more than 50 percent repainted.

How to examine and evaluate, key features, how originals were made

They may look great, but they are no longer to be considered old. The difference between restoration and doctoring is that restoration is done with honest intent to preserve an old icon. Doctoring is done to deceive for monetary gain.

Not only are new icons made to look old, but old icons are altered to make them look even older! Ornamental metalwork added to icons called "oklad" or "riza" is also part of this unfortunate trend.

New riza are being placed over icons to disguise damage and increase value. Riza are also being electroplated to add a thin layer of silver or even gold. Old riza are sometimes added to new icons of the same size and image, a practice made possible by the standardization of patterns and size common in Old Russia.

So an icon of the "Kazan Mother of God" may be a new forgery covered by an authentic old riza. New cast metal icons are also a problem. Cast from old examples, they are very difficult to distinguish from authentic pieces.

Some are created legitimately to sell at fair prices as new religious objects, but the unscrupulous will offer new casts as antiques. Out of the hundreds of icons our firm receives each year for conment, well over 50 percent are rejected due to the problems ly mentioned.

So when it comes to buying, collectors must be very cautious about with whom they deal. An itinerant Russian immigrant with no phone or permanent address is not a good bet.

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Regular auctions of these unique and special items engage collectors both new to the items and veteran collectors.


Early Russian painting was one of the most ificant achievements of national art and culture.


Here is an expert from We can think of this as paralleling the movement in France from the Baroque-rococo manner in the reign of Louis XV to the antique Greco-roman influences that begin to appear in the Louis XVI period and gain increasing strength through the Directoire period and into the openly classical antique-revival Empire period.


An icon is an image of a holy person or event, created by an iconographer who follows the strict standards of the Orthodox Church.