Recognize real and fake icons

The question of dating and stylistic analysis is often followed by the question of whether the icon is real or fake. In the case of icons, one must speak of a forgery when an attempt has been made to copy an old style in order to simulate an old icon. There are hardly any known forgeries of Russian icons. In Greece, on the other hand, certain schools of painting have achieved great perfection in forgery in recent times. Even museums could be fooled until recent times.

If parts of the old icon are still preserved, -but others have been added later, without explicit reference to this restoration in the catalog or by the dealer, it is called a partial forgery. It also sometimes happens that an old icon has received a young basma, made in the old style. This cladding is a good way of concealing edge damage, for example. Again, it should be explicitly mentioned that this is not an original plasma.

A professional with great experience will usually be able to determine very quickly whether it is a real or fake icon. But various criteria can acquire even the layman:

The reverse side shows whether the wood was hewn with an axe, as is the case with very old icons. The age of the icon can also often be inferred from the way the cross braces, the “sponki”, are inserted on the back. Wormholes do not always show the true age of the icon. To deceive, in the 20th century icons were painted on old wood, which already had wormholes. Artificially created wormholes have straight passages unlike the irregular natural worm passages. The craquelure, the cracks in the layers of paint and varnish, also often indicate the approximate age of the icon. But even here you are not safe from deception. Indeed, when recently painted icons are exposed to great heat, cracks appear, but their shape is different from those caused by natural aging.

In all cases of doubt, consult a specialist or institutes and research laboratories that determine the age and authenticity of art objects by examining materials. When buying an icon, you should definitely insist on a certificate of authenticity (expertise). It should first of all indicate the provenance of the icon. For some icons it is possible to determine the school from which they originated. This is especially the case with those from the Palekh, and often with those from the Moscow and Novgorod schools. But it does not affect the value of an icon if the origin is indicated only as “Russian”, “Greek” or “Bulgarian”.

The approximate age of the icon should also be listed in the certificate. However, since a subject has been represented in the same way down to the details over a long period of time, two centuries are not uncommon as a possible date of origin, and in exceptional cases the period is even longer. Also, an indication of when the icon theme in question arose will often be possible.

Finally, the certificate should describe the subject in detail and list the persons depicted by name, possibly including their name days. A reputable art dealer specializing in icons and a knowledgeable collector will generally be able to issue an appraisal that meets the requirements.

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