Icon Painting

972 artworks, 228 artists
Icon painting is a kind of easel painting, in which artists create paintings for religious rites. Eastern Christian traditions use the Greek word εἰκών (icon, likeness, image) to define sacred paintings, frescoes, mosaics and miniatures. The art theory calls icon painting depicting of persons or events on a church, religious theme by artists on wood or metal in strict accordance with the canons. Vivid examples of icon painting have become a hallmark of Christian culture — the masterful icon painting is present in both Orthodox and Catholic rites, and it inspires the viewer to appeal to the revered saints. Icon painting became a separate genre of fine art, as well as a “mediator” between the earthly and heavenly worlds. The works of icon painting have artistic, cultural and moral value; they evoke emotional experience, and contribute to ethical and moral education.

Researchers do not have reliable information about the time of appearance of the first icon-painting example. Tradition says about the Christ’s apostle, Saint Luke, who first painted the image of Mary with the Baby, and how the Savior wiped his face and left the Image Not-Made-By-Hands. The first examples of Christian iconography are wall paintings in the Roman catacombs of the 4th century and images of religious content on wooden plates of the 6th century. In the 8th century, a trend of iconoclasm arose in Byzantium, which contrasted the worship of religious images with social and cultural norms and called for the destruction of patterns of “idolatry”. The heyday of ritual religious painting came in the Middle Ages, when the church organized schools of icon painting in all European countries. During this period, Andrei Rublev (1360—1428) and Theophanes the Greek (1340—1410) created their works. During the Renaissance, oil painting replaced icons, but in Ruthenia, the development and improvement of techniques and schools lasted until the end of the 17th century. In the 20th century, samples of icon painting interested society again as a cultural and spiritual heritage, a historical monument and collectors’ passion.

Icon painters create images in accordance with religious canons and dogmas. The subject matters disclose the life of Christ and biblical events, present the characters from the Holy Scripture: the Mother of God, the Holy Trinity, angels, martyrs and apostles. Art critics distinguish between regional, technical and aesthetic stylistics of one master or icon painting school. Theologians divide icons according to the power of religious manifestation into myrrh-streaming, miraculously acquired and healing icons. Bright colours, rich shades and a bold interpretation of the subjects distinguish the art of Catholic icon painters, the works resemble everyday scenes with the elements of religious subjects. Angels and saints are endowed with earthly bodies and emotions, and interiors and landscapes have volume, rich colors. Orthodox icon painters strictly observe the canons: their painting is laconic and even sketchy. The images are flat, they contain reverse perspective, there are no light sources, colors of clothes remain unchanged, figures and faces are disproportionate and elongated. The work presents a number of scenes from the Holy Scripture, which often do not coincide chronologically. Traditional materials of Orthodox icon painting include wooden base with a depression and glued cloth, gesso (chalk or alabaster soil), mineral or animal paints, and gilding. An artist creates an image, puts a signature for a ritual connection with the prototype and covers the icon with a protective layer of oil varnish. In the 20th century, artists violated the technological process of icon painting and the works lost their color after 20—30 years, and in the 21th century icon painting gave way to “printed painting”.

Famous icons:
Madonna and Child (The Stroganoff Madonna, Stoclet Madonna) 1300 by Duccio di Buoninsegna; Annunciation 1333 by Simone Martini; The icon of the Savior the Zvenigorod deesis tier 1410, Nativity of Christ 1411, Trinity 1421 by Andrei Rublev; The Adoration of the Magi 1423 Gentile da Fabriano; Altar of St. Peter the Martyr 1428 by Fra Beato Angelico; The Mother of God with the Christ-Child 1794, The Saviour 1815 Vladimir Borovikovsky.

Famous icon painters:
Cimabue (Cenni di Pepo), Andrei Rublev, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Fra Beato Angelico, Simone Martini, Carlo Crivelli, Gentile da Fabriano, Vladimir Borovikovsky.