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The art of icon painting is inherited by Old Russia from Byzantine after conversion of Russians to Christianity in 988 by Prince Vladimir. In the XI century church construction was actively carried in Kiev. The first cathedrals were constructed in other cities of Old Russia. Icon-painters from Byzantine were actively invited by Old Russia. That is why it is difficult to differentiate artworks of guest and local masters in pre-mongolian art period. Original features of the Russian icon-painting scarcely could have strong display.

Generally  fresco painting, icon-painting and miniature painting of the XI-XII century are similar to one or another style tendencies of Byzantine. It is known that invited Byzantine artists had worked in Kiev, Veliky Novgorod, as well as in Pskov and in Old Ladoga in the XII century. Vladimiro-Suzdalskoe principality had also employed services of the best Byzantine icon-painters.


The Russian icon-painting reached its highest prosperity for the first time ever, got rid of  studying dependency and became quite original and the Russian in XV century.


Andrei Rublev (presumably 1340/135017.10.1428) is the most well-known and honoured master of the Moscow icon-painting school, bookish and monumental painting of the XV century.


Oblivion, devastation, including icon-painting reached Old Russian culture. This had happened not as the result of foreigners conquer but at the time of the Russian national identity’s the supreme rise under the rule of the Peter I. Peter I reforms rejected the cultural heritage of Old Russia. Russian painting after reforms of Peter, I as well as canonical painting, was based on the new west-european principles. Gradually all this paintings as also the pre-Peter the Great olden times were buried in oblivion.

The Old Believers argued actively against innovations. They defended traditions of the Russian and Byzantine icon painting.  In polemical writings of archpriest Avvakum concerning the icon-painting was pointed the aspect of the Catholic origin of “new” icons and was severely critisized “vivid likeness” in works of contemporary to his age icon-painters.

In big Old Believers’ centres were founded independent icon-painting schools.

As probably in every type of art in the Old Believers’ icon-painting school or to be more exact – studios. There were their own best masters due to the fact that an icon was a teamwork product. The best icon-painting school rigorously followed old cannons, reissued or copied exemplum of icons from Stroganovsk studios, and they kept old principles of icon-painting technology.  

In Estonia at the turn of XIX-XX century existed own icon-painting studio.Gavriil Frolov (1854-1930) headed the icon-painting studio in the village Raya

Among G. Frolov’s students were P. M. Safronov, M. G. Solntsev, F.A. Myznikov, D. N. Polyakov, N. Gluhov. They took direct participation in decorating of the Old Believers’ worship houses in Kikita, Rayushi, Mustvee, Tartu and in other Old Believers’ worship houses in Estonia. Frolov’s summit of icon-painting creative works is the Old Believers’ worship house in the village Raya.Building of the worship house was generally financed by Gavriil Frolov and was decorated in co-work with his students.  

Frolov opened school for the Old Believers’ children besides the icon-painting school in the village Raya. There were taught Church Slavonic literacy and kryukovoe chants in the school.

G. Frolov was the teacher and indisputable authority for the icon-painter P. M. Sofronov (1898 - 1973).

In the beginning of 1930th P. M. Sofronov moves to Paris where headed the icon-painting school of Old Russian painting and the icon-painting studio. For some time he also lived in place Ame-syr-Mez (Belgium) where taught the icon-painting, and created several icons.  He taught the icon-painting in Prague after Paris. Since 1933 decorated churches in Yugoslavia, in 1939 – 1941 in Vatican. During the World War II lived in Itlaly. In   1947 moved to the USA where took part in decorating of many Russian Orthodox churches. Passed away in 1973, the 16th of May and is buried in the graveyard of Melville (the USA).

An icon customizing.

The tradition of an icon customizing and rules of its writing ascend to Byzantine. Approximately in VIII centurywas used tempera painting on wood alongside with other techniques. Dry colours were mixed with egg and wine in order to get colours.  Icons were painted only on the basis of natural materials.

1.      Woodboard preparation.

 Icons are painted on woodboards that are perfectly dried and do not have knots. To prevent the woodboard casting it is strengthened by veneer (on the backside are made slots where narrow planks in forms of daps are put). An “ark” was chosen on the front side. In the Greek culture icons were painted on cypress and linden trees, in Russia were used lenden and pine trees.

2.      Ground laying.

The layer of fabrics is gessoed on the prepared woodboard, after that it is grounded by levkas  (the mix of chalk and glue). Dried  ground is to be polished untill shine. The best gesso is concidered to be the one made of fish floats and animals’skin subcutaneous layer.

3.      Application of a drawing onto woodboard.

In order to apply a drawing “patterns” are used (schematic linearс drawings) that copy the oldest and the most valuable icons. Patterns’ drawing lines are pierced with a needle. Pattern are placed on the ground and the drawing is stuffed onto the woodboard with a fabrics sponge in which a coal or sienna is placed. Then lines are scratched in ground.

4.      Application of a colour layer.

Natural dry colours are mixed with eggs emulsion (yolk, water and vinegar or white wine). As soon as the tempera is transparent colour, it is applied in several layers. Thus colour’s bottom coating shines through the top ones.  

An icon painting has the definite order. First of all background and clothes are painted, then – skin open areas. After that precisely are painted details and lightened places in clothes, holy faces and in other parts of the image.

5.      Application of an oil.

The last step of the work – an oil or a varnish coat is to be applied onto the icon.  This layer freshens the icon, protects colours and makes them shine. The darker an icon  – the older it is as the oil is getting darker in 80-100 years.




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