I have talked in previous postings about how olifa — the linseed oil mixture used to “varnish” icons — initially makes them bright and colorful, but darkens over the years, eventually obscuring the painted image to such an extent that one is left with a black board. The old practice in such cases was to paint another icon over the darkened image — and sometimes there are several such overpaintings in very old icons.
Here is a 19th century Russian icon.
In the left top corner we see an area that has been cleaned of varnish; much of the rest remains as it was, so you can see how the darkening of the olifa affects the image over time.
The icon is signed on the reverse:
It tells us that this icon was painted in the Moscow Gubernia (now called an Oblast), in the Bogorodsky Uyezd, Zaroporskaya Volost, in the village of Antsiferovo by the Ikonopisets Ivan Anikin Mironov.
Now one often encounters the italicized terms in Russian iconography, so you should know what they mean:
A Gubernia (Губерния) literally a “Government,” was a major subdivision of Imperial Russia; it was under the authority of a governor. The system of “Governments” was begun by Peter the Great, and the number of Gubernias was later expanded..
An Oblast (Область) is the term used for administrative divisions of Soviet (now Russian) republics. The word existed earlier, but came to replace the old Gubernia system.
An Uyezd (Уезд) is a smaller and secondary subdivision, rather corresponding to an American county.
A Volost (Волость) was an even smaller subdivision, consisting of several villages.
And I hope you know by now that an ikonopisets (иконописец) is an icon painter.
The icon is painted in the old stylized manner. As you know, that was the manner preferred by the Old Believers, who kept that traditional way of painting alive into modern times.
That this icon was painted in Antsiferovo is significant, because that village — located some 50 miles from Moscow — was largely populated by Old Believers, and at one time it had some 25 icon painters. Icon painting in the village is said to have begun as early as the 1730s. In addition to painted icons, cast metal icons were also made there. And oddly enough, the area was also known for counterfeiting money! Antsiferovo was part of the so-called Guslitsy region, a big center for Old Believers and their crafts. The main icon painting villages in the region were Antsiferovo, Gora, and Davydovo.
If you are a long-time reader here, you should be able to identify every element of this icon.
The presence of Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) with the Holy Spirit as a dove confirms that this is a “Priested” Old Believer icon.
Everything about this icon is very traditional, including the inscriptions. At upper left we see “The sun darkens,” and at right “The moon becomes as blood.” And you probably noticed the “snail” shapes used to form the clouds, something we often find in Old Believer icons.
You will also recall that the cloth-covered hands of the angels are a very old sign of reverence.
Aside from the central Crucifixion, we see at left the image of Svyatuiy Nikola — St. Nicholas:
At right is the “Unburnt Thornbush” image of Mary:
At the base is a Deisis image:
I won’t go through every detail of this icon, because I have explained all the main images and inscriptions used here in previous postings, and all that information can be found in the archives. As you can imagine, after some 10 years of writing these postings, one gets a bit tired of being repetitive. And of course I want to encourage new followers here to read the archives from the beginning, which is an excellent way to become a self-made icon “expert.” I often say that students of icons will find more practical information on icons on my blog than can be found in any printed book at present.