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A Treasure Trove of Russian Art and Culture

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Antique Russian IconRussian icons are an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church and have a rich history that dates back to the 9th century. They are not just religious artifacts but also reflect the cultural, social, and artistic history of Russia. Collecting Russian icons has become increasingly popular over the years, with antique and collectible pieces commanding high prices in the art market.

The History and Significance of Russian Icons

Russian icons are paintings on wood or metal panels, depicting religious figures or events, often embellished with gold, silver, or precious stones. They are used as objects of veneration and prayer in the Russian Orthodox Church and are an essential part of the Orthodox Christian faith. The earliest Russian icons were influenced by Byzantine art, but over time, Russian artists developed their distinctive style, incorporating local traditions and customs.

Russian icons have played a significant role in Russian history and culture. During the Mongol invasion of Russia in the 13th century, icons became a symbol of hope and resistance for the Russian people. They were used to rally the troops and inspire the populace to fight for their country and faith. Later, during the Soviet era, when the Orthodox Church was suppressed, icons were hidden or smuggled out of the country to protect them from destruction.

Today, Russian icons are prized for their beauty and historical significance. They are collected by art enthusiasts, historians, and those with a deep appreciation for Russian culture and tradition.

Types of Russian Icons

Russian icons come in many different styles and sizes, and each has its unique characteristics and significance. Some of the most common types of Russian icons are:
  • Virgin Hodegetria: This type of icon depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child on her left arm and pointing to him with her right hand. It symbolizes the role of the Virgin Mary as the guide and protector of humanity.
  • Christ Pantocrator: This type of icon depicts Christ as the ruler of the universe, with a stern expression and a halo around his head. It is usually placed in the center of the iconostasis, the wall of icons separating the nave from the sanctuary in Orthodox churches.
  • Saint George: This type of icon depicts Saint George on horseback, slaying the dragon. It is a symbol of the triumph of good over evil and is often used as a talisman for protection.
  • Old Believer: This type of icon is associated with the Old Believers, a sect of the Russian Orthodox Church that broke away in the 17th century over liturgical reforms. Old Believer icons have a distinctive style, with elongated figures, bright colors, and intricate details.

Collecting Russian Icons

Collecting Russian icons can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby, but it requires knowledge, research, and care. Here are some tips for collectors:
  • Learn about the history and symbolism of Russian icons: Before you start collecting Russian icons, it's essential to understand their history, symbolism, and significance. You can read books, attend lectures, or consult with experts in the field.
  • Authenticate the icons: Authenticating Russian icons can be challenging, as there are many copies and fakes on the market. Look for signs of wear and age, such as cracks, patina, and fading. Check the back of the icon for inscriptions, stamps, or labels that can help identify the artist, workshop, or date of creation.
  • Buy from reputable dealers: When buying Russian icons, it's essential to deal with reputable dealers who have expertise and experience in the field. They can provide you with a certificate of authenticity, provenance, and a detailed description of the icon's condition and history.
  • Take care of the icons: Russian icons are delicate and require proper care and maintenance to preserve their beauty and value. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight, high humidity, or extreme temperatures. Clean them gently with a soft brush or cloth and avoid using chemicals or water.
  • Display the icons appropriately: Russian icons are works of art and deserve to be displayed in a way that highlights their beauty and significance. You can mount them on a wall, place them on a stand or shelf, or create a small icon corner in your home for private devotion and meditation.

The Value of Antique and Collectible Russian Icons

Antique and collectible Russian icons can be valuable investments, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars, depending on the rarity, condition, and provenance of the icon. Some of the most expensive Russian icons ever sold at auction include:
  • The Savior Not Made by Hands: This 17th-century icon sold for $4.5 million at a Christie's auction in 2010. It depicts Christ's face imprinted on a cloth and is considered one of the most significant examples of Russian iconography.
  • The Virgin of Vladimir: This 12th-century icon sold for $3.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in 2013. It depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child and is one of the most revered icons in Russian Orthodox Church.
  • The Mother of God of Kazan: This 17th-century icon sold for $2.5 million at a Christie's auction in 2006. It depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child and is considered one of the most iconic images in Russian Orthodoxy.


Antique and collectible Russian icons are not just religious artifacts but also works of art that reflect the history, culture, and traditions of Russia. They are valuable investments that require knowledge, research, and care to collect and preserve. Whether you are a collector, art enthusiast, or historian, Russian icons offer a fascinating glimpse into the spiritual and artistic world of Russia.

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