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Multimedia CD-ROM

Yaroslavl Icon Painting

Multimedia CD-ROM: Yaroslavl Icon Painting
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A distinctive feature of Russian Medieval culture is the scarcity of written sources that depict the intellectual processes of ancient Russian society. The famous expression of Georgy Florovsky "intellectual silence of ancient Russia" has been used to characterize the epoch from the 10th through the 15th centuries because of the scarcity of manuscripts reflecting the philosophical and moral problems occupying Russians.

That is why monuments of art have become invaluable sources expressing the ideals, hopes and intentions -- the whole complex of ideological problems of Russia's Medieval period. An integral part of pictorial works of art of ancient Russia is their artistic elegance and expressiveness of figural language. All of this accounts for the revival of interest in ancient Russian icon painting and aspiration to make these works of art, now kept in various museums and cities throughout Russia, accessible to anyone interested in them.

The multimedia CD-ROM Yaroslavl Icon Painting is dedicated to monuments of easel painting of Yaroslavl, a city with nearly a one thousand year long history. The city has passed through many convulsions of native history together with Russia since it was founded by Yaroslavl the Wise in the 11th century. Yaroslavl added lively pages to the history of ancient Russian painting. The collection of icons in Yaroslavl museums numbers about four thousand. Restored icons are the subject of intense interest of experts and a main attraction for city tourists. The legacy of Yaroslavl icon-painting is unevenly distributed through the centuries. This is a result of the events of Russian history that the city took actively part in.

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This multimedia presentation on compact disc contains information about icons starting from the 13th century, when Yaroslavl became the capital of an independent principality in 1218. Early icons produced in Yaroslavl have not survived. This is explained by the fact that Yaroslavl was a small wooden fortress on the Volga River at that period. Characteristic is its description in the chronicles recorded under the year 1152 when the town was besieged by Volga Bulgarian: "a small town”.

At the beginning of the 13th century Yaroslavl had a short, but impetuous flowering broken by the Tartar-Mongolian invasion. The chronicles mention that the fire of 1221 had destroyed 17 churches. The first prince Vsevolod later erected three stone temples.

Yaroslavl art of the 13th century is represented nowadays by five icons. They are all well preserved and of a remarkable artistic achievement though created in different historical times. Our Lady Orans, intended for the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior, and Christ Pantocrator, a personal family icon of the Yaroslavl princes, are masterpieces of Pre-Mongolian icon painting of the early 13th century. It should be noted that in the world there are only 25 icons of this period, i.e. from the beginning of the 13th century until the year 1237. Our Lady Umilenie Enthroned and Archangel Michael were painted at the end of the 13th century during the time of the Mongolian-Tartar yoke. Icon painters of various workshops on the orders of princes created all of them.

Feudal domestic wars and the frequent forays of the Golden Horde's people favored neither the creation nor preservation of monuments of Yaroslavl icon painting of the 14th century. Nevertheless examples of icons from this century have survived to the present day. It probably was the political and cultural stabilization, which came after the victory of the Russian army on Kulikovo Field in 1380 that favored their creation. The troops of Yaroslavl, Mologa and Kurba, took part in the battle on Kulikovo Field.

Not rich in icons is the 15th century when Yaroslavl was an active participant in the war waged by Dimitry Donskoy’s successors. However such icons as Elijah the Prophet in the Wilderness are witness to the fact that the brush of Yaroslavl painters created “divinity in colors” as this icon reflected the complicated images of liturgical poetry. The surviving icons of the 15th century are testimony that the processes in Yaroslavl art were common to the entire Russian culture. The 15th century was also a time of the formulation and evolution of the tall, multi-tiered iconostasis -- a specific form of decoration distinctive of Russian orthodox churches.

After the great fire of Yaroslavl in 1501, Moscow masters erected new stone churches and installed in them monumental icon paintings. Yaroslavl icons of the early 16th century were also painted by Moscow painters. Yaroslavl painting of the middle and second half of the 16th century strikingly reflected original local features and the democratic tastes of their commissioners -- the towns people of Yaroslavl.

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Among the icons of the 16th century a special place is taken by the images from the iconostasis of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior. The experience gained from the co-operative work of Muscovite and local painters enriched Yaroslavl artistic tradition as well.

The expansion of the circle of painted saints, sophistication of compositions, reflection of new church ideas -- all these are the characteristic features of Yaroslavl icon painting of the second half of the 16th century. The image of St. John Chrysostom, the heavenly patron of Ivan IV, that was produced in the 1560s, is a salient monument of civic art. The end of the 16th century is the beginning of the formation of the Yaroslavl icon painting school, which has its prosperity in the 17th century.

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Features Video Narratives
of Icon Paintings

The 17th century is the Golden Age of Yaroslavl culture. Many masterpieces of Russian art of this century were created there. The overwhelming majority of Yaroslavl icons having survived to our days were created in the period from the first third of the 17th century to the beginning of the 18th century. This is due primarily to the large scale building of stone churches that began in Yaroslavl after the fire of 1658.

During the second half of the 17th century, 15 churches were built in Yaroslavl. For them Yaroslavl icon painters painted more than two thousands icons.

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As a rule Yaroslavl icons are notable for their large size, intricate and dynamic composition, abundance of figures and vivid action. The distinctive coloring produced by paints that were prepared from local pigments gives icons of this period a festive appearance.

Beside local masters, painters from other towns such as Simeon Spiridonov from Kholmogory, Jury Nikitin from Kostroma, Fyodor Zubov from Usolye Kashskoye took part in the work. The icons by these painters often became examples for Yaroslavl masters who tried to combine scope and monumentality with refinement and abundance of details.

Unfortunately, the authors of most Yaroslavl art remain unknown. The names of some Yaroslavl icon painters are known from books, however the lack of information about where, and in which temples these painters worked, deprives us of the opportunity to connect the names with particular icons.

The 17th century concludes the epoch of ancient Russian art. And it is Yaroslavl that played an important role in this period thanks to its intensive artistic life.

The 18th century signifies the beginning of the New Times in Russian history. As a result of socio-political reforms considerable cultural changes took place. Church religious art was not the only one determining the Russian artistic process any more. Quickly and steadily secular culture was supplanting the religious one. Church architecture was greatly affected by such styles as Baroque and Classicism.

In the 19th century, icon painting became a type of artistic mass production. Even in big towns and villages there existed icon-painting workshops where icons were painted both for churches, and mostly for private patrons.

The 20th century is the most difficult and dramatic period in the history of Russian religious art. The beginning of the 20th century was marked by many advancements in our understanding of Russian Medieval art when many ancient icons were restored to their original appearance. This created an immense interest in icon painting both the among the circle of scientists and lovers of art. However, since the close of the 1920s to the end of 1980s, religion itself and the art related to it were considered to be the ideological enemies of the new regime. Painters were forced to change their profession and develop, in particular, the art of varnished miniatures. Whereas hordes of icons were destroyed during the Soviet period, many ancient monuments were preserved in museums where they were studied and restored.

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