The Russian icon: revelations of the XXI century

The recent years have seen a marked increase in the popularity of the Orthodox art. In particular, icon-painting is enjoying a true boom. Both legal and counterfeit.

The revival of church life, growth of the number of parishes and paprishioners will with renewed strength call for the icon-painting art…

Enormous the popularity of Russian icons is also in the West. Perhaps, in some way it even does damage to the tradition and quality the Russian icon-painting art. But numerous drawbacks at the junction of domestic atheistic obscurantism and western commercialism are quite explicable and, one would hope, will gradually wane.

So far it is premature to judge as to how profoundly and seriously this process will be oriented towards the "Rublev's truth". But that the post-Soviet Russian icon-painting art has left the underground and grown out of the botched street-stalls of the "perestroika" times can be definitely maintained.

So what is it like - the new Russian icon at the turn of the centuries?..

Now the arrangement of icons is not so rigidly tied up to the frame structure of the iconostasis, to its construction. It is in a greater measure correlated with the integral idea of the space where an icon is to be situated, will this be a church or the red corner at home. Even outwardly this only-just-surfaced feature of the modern spiritual life of society, - the icon going beyond the actual church walls and gradually entering into everyday life, growth of its influence on the people's spiritual life, shows in a noticeable interest in painting the so-called "pyadnichnye" [i.e. palm-sized - from the Old-Russian pyad' - palm. Trans. note] icons, prayer-icons, that is images of personal piety whose size in height normally falls within the range of 5-6 to 15-25 centimeters.

Is icon-painting becoming a craft? - Possibly, but it doesn't stop being an art. There are signs of departure from direct copy-making which is still abused by many masters and which inevitably engenders the feeling of falsehood, absolutely incompatible with the icon. Disappearing is (though slowly and not among all masters) the division of the icon into significant elements - regarded as such is, first and foremost, the image itself, and secondary ones - the background, lateral margins, their ornamentation, inscriptions.

The range of styles pursued by masters has markedly expanded. Conspicuous is for example artists' orientation towards different social strata of potential customers and buyers. Some icons executed in a somewhat cheap popular and decorative style, meet the tastes of wide strata of believers whose everyday life is firmly associated with the life of their church, parish. Of such icons one can make up an entire iconostasis intended for the red corner of a big house or a small rural church.

And here are pieces created at a Moscow icon-painting workshop representing specimens of exquisite aristocratic taste, most delicate refined workmanship making you remember the creations of icon-painters at the court of the Czars Fyodor Ioannovich and Boris Godunov in Moscow who later executed commissions by the famous Stroganovs. What strikes you about them is a most subtle intoning of movements, most profound meaningfulness of gestures, poses, looks. The look is what yet recently contemporary icon-painters would only rarely manage to convey. The icon looks into the world and he who is in prayer can enter into a dialogue with the image.

Elena Knyazeva,
art director of the Moscow icon-painting center "Russian icon",
member of the Moscow Union of Artists © 2001-2018 Moscow Icon-Painting center «Russian Icon»