You will often read that icons are not signed, that a painter was expected to be humble, just a tool for recreating sacred objects. But historically we know that painters were often not too humble to sign their works. Though we find that very old icons generally are not signed, nonetheless there are signed icons both from the Byzantine period and after the fall of Constantinople, for example the series of icons signed by the Georgian monk Ioannes Tohabi, whose works (generally dated to the late 11th-early 12th century) are found at the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. Further, there are Sinai icons ascribed to the iconographer Peter, and signed Δε[ησις] Πετρου ζογραφου (Deisis Petrou Zographou) “The prayer of Peter the iconographer.” For more information see the article The Artist’s Signature in Byzantium: Six Icons by Ioannes Tohabi in Sinai Monastery (11th-12th Century) by Maria Lidova in Opera Nomina Historiae; Giornale di cultura artistica, 1, 2009. In the late byzantine period and following centuries we find (among others) signed Cretan, Serbian, and Russian icons. By the time we get to the 19th century, signed icons were not at all uncommon. It is not only human nature to want some kind of recognition for accomplishment, but it is also a kind of advertisement for others who might want to find an icon painter they like. In any case, there were signed icons, and pictured here is a Russian example, which has its inscription on the reverse. Many, however, were signed on the front of the icon, often along with date of completion and any other appropriate information.
The icon shown above has this signature inscription: ПИСАЛЪ СIЮ ИКОНОУ М. ИВ. ДИКАРЕВЪ — PISAL SIIU IKONOU M. IV. DIKAREV: “Painted this icon M. IV. Dikarev,” which of course means “M. Iv. Dikarev painted this icon.” That refers to Mikhail Ivanovich Dikarev (pronounced “Dee-car-yov”), who was actually a painter from Mstyora/Mstera, one of the cluster of three famous icon villages in Russia: Mstera, Palekh, and Kholui. Of these three Palekh was most noted for quality. A number of Dikarev icons are known from the last quarter of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th. He set up a workshop in Moscow.
But my point in this posting focuses neither on Dikarev nor on this icon in particular; rather it is that numbers of icons were signed, and such signed icons are not rare.
As mentioned earlier, the Greeks sometimes signed icons, a practice that became very common with time. On Greek icons one may find either the word Χειρ — Kheir — meaning “The hand [of]…” or else Δια Χειρος — Dia kheiros… — meaning “Through the hand [of]…”; each of these will be followed by the name of the painter. Usually such an inscription is somewhere at the bottom of a Greek icon. So one finds inscriptions such as “The hand of so-and-so” or “Through the hand of so-and-so,” and again, one finds Greek signature inscriptions beginning Δεησις… or Δεησις του… (“The prayer of…”). Frangos Katelanos, an iconographer of the 16th century, signed one of his works
ΧΕΙΡ ΕΥΤΕΛΕCΤΑΤΟΥ ΦΡΑΓΓΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΚΑΤΕΛΛΑΝΟΥ ΕΚ ΘΗΒΩΝ ΤΗC ΒΟΙΩΤΙΑC
Kheir Eutelestatou Frangou tou Katellanou ek Thebon Tes Boiotias
“The Worthless Hand of Frangos Katelanos from Thebes of Boeotia.”
I should not finish this without mentioning that in the icon pictured here, the three saints are, from left, the Unmercenary physician Panteleimon, the monk Gennadiy of Kostroma, and the martyr Trifon/Triphon. Panteleimon holds his customary medicine box and spoon; Gennadiy wears his monk’s robe; and Trifon holds his traditional bird that stems partly from the story that he was once a gooseherd, and partly from the Russian legend in which St. Trifon appeared in a dream, riding a white horse and holding the bird — originally a falcon in the tale. So just as Panteleimon is the patron saint of physicians, Trifon is the patron of birds and geese and those who raise them.
Those who have been reading this site for a while will recognize the smaller image at the top of the icon as the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus on a cloth. Some painters used this in preference to the image of Gospod’ Savaof — Lord Sabaoth — God the Father painted as an old man.