QUICK AND INEXPENSIVE — BUT PLEASANT

I have discussed folk icons previously, but here is a little review of one particular kind of icon — a very popular and widespread kind.

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

Yes, it is one of those “Red” icons — a краснушка/krasnushka (plural краснушки/krasnushki).  Huge numbers of these icons were produced for the peasant and worker market.  The krasnushki were folk icons, now generally attributed to “untrained” folk painters in the village of Kholuy (Холуй), in Vladimir Province.

Krasnushki are easy to recognize because of their predominant reddish-orange coloring.  Usually only three or four colors were used in painting the icon, and the figures were commonly brushed on quickly in fluid, black outlines, as here.  Another distinctive characteristic of such icons is the silver background, which originally was commonly tinted with a yellow varnish — giving the silver somewhat the effect of gold leaf.  But often these  icons are found now with darkened varnish, and all too often it has been removed, leaving the bare silver — which was not the original intention of the painter.  Also characteristic of these icons is the use of broad foliage patterns on the garments.

It was only a few decades ago that these icons were looked contemptuously down upon by collectors, but now folk icons have gained more appreciation — though they still tend to be less expensive on the market than more skillfully-painted and detailed icons.

We can learn a lot, even from this simple image.

On looking closely, for example, we can see that the painter had a preliminary pattern to follow that consisted of lines of punched dots, visible here:

The black image lines were brushed in so quickly that often they only roughly follow the dotted pattern.  That is something often seen on this kind of icon.

If we look at a damaged corner, we learn something else interesting about these icons:

We see no evidence of a pavoloka beneath the painted surface — the cloth that was glued to the board to provide a base of the gesso ground on which the image was painted in more expensive icons.  So in krasnushki, there is generally no pavoloka or if there is one, it is only thin paper.

If we look at the title inscription, we can see that like the lines of the image itself, the inscription was very quickly and cursively done:

The inscription reads:
ВЛАДИМИРСКИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЙЫ
VLADIMIRSKIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“‘VLADIMIR’ MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

Now as you know, icons of the “Vladimir” type were among the most popular in Russia — and that is another characteristic of krasnushki; they generally represented the most common and popular icon types — those with the widest appeal.

Now if we put all these characteristics together, we can see that krasnushki were deliberately painted cheaply so that they would appeal to the taste and budget of the masses, and so they were produced in large numbers — and that is why so many of them have survived.

Unfortunately the term krasnushki is often applied today to other inexpensively-produced folk icons that are not “red” like this example, and that rather confuses matters.  So when I used the term, I use it only for icons like the one on this page.