How to Distinguish Russian Icon From Greek, Western Christian, and Other Schools.
Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian Orthodox icons and icons from Ukraine may seem very similar to an untrained eye. As you look closer you may find a very simple way to tell them apart. Four things that can help you to spot Russian icon are scribe language, human body shape and style, overall icon composition, and icon emotion/mood/feeling.
One – scribe and signature language.
Take a look at the writings on the front and the back of your painting. Greek icons are labeled in Greek. Russian icons employ Church Slavonic, an old language predating modern Cyrillic.
Often in Russian icons, it is difficult to read the named saint as the name may be abbreviated. There seem to be few standardized abbreviations used on old Russian icons.
Two – human body style.
Russian icons commonly depict saints and members of the Holy Family as big-eyed, long-limbed, and narrow shouldered.
Three – composition and color.
In Russian tradition icon not only considered to be a door to God with all the regal colors of the earth but the magic entity in itself, that has independent power and holiness, hence Russian icon style was unchanging through the years in color and style.
For centuries, orthodox icons from Russian workshops have been painted with colors, shapes, and postures according to church law. For example, an icon of St. Nicholas painted in the late 12th century compared with one painted in the 19th century would show him with the same beard, hairline, and posture.
Four – feelings of otherworldliness.
Greek icons generally show individuals with regular body proportions, e.g., they look like everyday people though they may be performing heroic tasks.
Russian icon commonly conveys a mysterious appearance perhaps drawn from Byzantine predecessors, and it always has almost an El Greco-like otherworldliness.
When you are ready to start your own collection, look through Russian Art sales at Christy’s and Sotheby’s to understand the size of Russian Icon market, and refer to these books at Amazon to understand the history, value, and prices of current offerings.