Icons...Writings of The Gospel as Art
Mistakenly, for years I thought of icons solely as works of art. I prized them for their beauty. I later learned this is antithetical to what icons represent spiritually. It is not the icons themselves which are venerated. It turns out, icons are spiritual portals leading to deeper understandings of the bible. That they are beautiful is secondary.
In Russia, icons are thought to date back to about the year 990 AD in the time of the Kievan Rus. From the begining in Russia, icons as inspired by the Byzantines follwed proscribed models and formulas. And since that time, through war, famine, and chages of empire, icons changed very little. They are said to be written, not painted. Each is an act of faith about faith.
My guess is they may have been used as non-literate teaching tools. Many people did not read, and because icons were "Painted Gospels" this allowed the faithful visual access to biblical narratives.
In the 1000 years icons were made in Russia, many millions must have been created. They were made for churches, chapels, and shrines as well as to occupy the Krasny Ugol, or Beautiful Corner of many homes. They were handed down over the centuries, no one thought to sell them, until the Soviet Era.
Today, the export of Icons over 100 years old from Russia is illegal, although I am sure this occurs from time to time. Collectors should take note of the sources of the icons they are considering for purchase. Purchasing from reputable establishments is advisable for more reasons then that they may have been exported illegally. There are many fakes and forgeries of these precious artifacts. Serious collectors know the differences between what is a true antique and one that is fake.
The good news is that, many of these knowledgeable collectors have written extensively about how to assess the age and quality of icons. So, study the experts, go to antique shows or auctions where these items are on display, and educate yourself.
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