Yaroslavl Icons: Overview


A distinctly Yaroslavian style of icon painting  emerged in a troubled period of Russian history. The early 17th century was the time of dynastic change, and it fully deserves it name – the Time of Trouble. But the merchant elites of Yaroslavl chose sides wisely. Their unique contribution to the establishment of the House of Romanov brought prosperity and boosted the artistic life of the city. Merchants and wealthy artisans competed in piety and public generosity building new stone churches. Local and visiting artels of icon-painters lavishly decorated their interiors with frescoes and icons that covered the entire walls.

Yaroslavian icons of the 17th and 18th centuries retain the festive mood of a prosperous merchant town. Their compositions are dynamic and busy as probably the streets of Yaroslavl were in the mid-17th century. The distinctive Yaroslavian reds and greens weave into rich textures of embroidered garments, the like of which were sold by enterprising Volga merchants. The kingdom of heaven that emerges on Yaroslavian icons has a Russian accent.

The fifty-four icons presented here belong to the collection of the Yaroslavl Art Museum. They were rescued from monasteries and churches doomed for destruction after the November 1917 Revolution. The Bolshevik takeover wreaked devastation on the art treasures of old Russia. Icons, or “holy images” as they are often called, became the primary target. In the early 1920s, a small group of museum workers and art restorers managed to rescue some of the treasured images. Not until 1970 could the yaroslavl Art Museum show the rescued icons to public. Now they are here to provide a glimpse into the magnificent art of 17th century Russia.

Pictured below are photographs of some of the churches where these icons were first placed.