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The art of Icon Painting in Russia

Икона (an icon) is a painting representing a person or an event related to religion. In Greek, “eikon” means “image” or “likeness”. It refers to the fact that God became visible in Christ and could be depicted.

The first icons were brought to Russia from Byzantium when Vladimir adopted Christianity in the late tenth century. Kiev soon became Russian's main icon painting centre until the Mongols conquered it in 1240. In later years, influential schools were founded in Novgorod and the Vladimir area.



The Moscow school has its greatest period in the 15th century, when Andrei Rublev and other renowned painters were at work.

If icons lost some of their importance when Peter the Great started his reforms, it has known a rebirth in the beginning of the 20th century.

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Who are the artists?

Icons were used by the Russian Orthodox church for worship as well as a teaching material. Icons are often repainted, because the content of them has always been more important that the style. It was believed that icons hold the power of the saints they were representing.

Icon painters considered themselves as believers who dedicated their artistic talent to serve God. For that reason, they would never sign their work. As believers, they would never improvise, but rather respectfully follow the dictates of church tradition.&llt;/p>  


How to make a icon?

Traditionally icons are painted on wood. All wood can theoretically be used to make boards, provided they are dry. The preparation of the piece of wood on which the painter will work on is very important. It needs first to be smoothed with a adze (a sort of an axe with the blade set in line with the shaft) and then covered with a layer of gesso (a white paint mixture made of plaster and glue). Once the gesso gets hard, it needs to be polished to create a shinny surface.

Painters start working on the background before painting the main subject with a mixture of natural or animal pigments mixed with egg yolk and water (a technique similar tempera painting). For the visible parts of the body (face, hands ...) the iconographer first poses an ocher background dark from which it highlights the traits.

Once the painting is over, it is covered with a preparation of linseed oil, and if the icon should be enlighten with gold, this is the time to carefully add it. Only the name of the saint or holy figure depicted appears on the icon.



What is an Iconostasis?

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The wall separation the nave from the sanctuary of the church is called иконостас (the iconostasis). This wall is also considered as a separation between the temporal and spiritual world. The icons on that wall are arranged in tiers which depict the biblical history of the church. If the number of tiers can vary (usually 4, 5 or 6), the order of the icons does not change. The lower centre part of the iconostasis is reserved only for the representation of male figures. The icon to the left of the doors is that of the Virgin, and the one on the right of the doors is that of the Saviour.


Икона (an icon) is a painting representing…