What are orthodox icons worth?

In any case, it’s not age alone, because most collectors value appearance – and that’s usually not as decorative in antique pieces as it is in works from the 19th century. At present, icons of all subjects are in great demand, the oklad (the metal covering that covers the surroundings of the painted figures in some icons) is made of gold or silver and is decorated with enamel, pearls or precious stones. Such icons were created mainly in and around Moscow in the 18. and 19th century manufactured. It is of great importance that hallmarks and masters’ marks are present, special emphasis is placed on the insignia of famous silver and goldsmith masters. Another important point is the state of preservation of the icon. Many of the remaining antique icons are in very poor condition, mainly due to their storage, but if the icons were carefully stored, usually by collectors, the value increases enormously.

The following factors are important:

  1. Painting quality: For icons – just like for paintings – the most important thing is the painting quality. One must therefore ask: is the icon particularly finely drawn? Perhaps painted with a magnifying glass? What is the significance of it? Is the icon made on canvas and with gold background?
  2. Radiance: The colorfulness and gold background of an icon, this usually in conjunction with a silver base, give the icon a very special expressiveness. Painting quality and charisma are understandably closely related.
  3. Age: The age of an icon, as with a painting, is important, but not the sole determining factor. Just as a painting of the 19th century can be classified more expensive than one of the 17th century, the age of icons is to be considered in the price determination only in connection with the mentioned criteria.
  4. Patina: In connection with age, patina is of great importance because it is precisely it that gives a peculiar charm to an icon with or without a gold background.
  5. Provenance: The origin of the icon is also important for determining the price. Russian icons today are priced about % higher than Greek icons. Russian icons show a calming aura due to their brownish base coloration, in conjunction with the wide border they usually have. Greek icons are often more cheerful, with a bluish ground color and thinner border; also, Greek subjects are usually more loosely drawn on, perhaps in keeping with the Southern temperament. In the case of most icons on sale today, their exact origin can only be roughly distinguished, e.g. from northern Russia, central Russia, southern Russia or the Balkans. On the other hand, if the classification is correct, it is possible to determine their school exactly only for less than 5% of the icons offered.
  6. State of preservation: The condition of the icon is often determined by the way it was kept, i.e. whether it was part of an iconostasis or was in the icon corner in a private house, whether candles were constantly placed in front of it, leaving traces, or whether it was taken to the procession, kissed and frequently touched. Older icons in particular are often heavily rubbed, especially if they have been improperly restored and overhauled – which, by the way, is also a reason why the older icons are not always the more valuable ones. Finally, the condition of the wood also plays a role, especially if the wood is infested with worms, which usually eat away at the wood itself, that is, the back and not the colored surface.
  7. Size of icons: While the normal size of the icons is about 30 x 35 cm, the icons from the iconostasis are often much larger, reaching up to 2.50 m in height. In addition, there are also wooden icons in postcard size or even smaller. Although the painting quality is decisive in the difference in size ratios, dimensions cannot be disregarded in pricing.
  8. Rarity of subject: The choice of subject must also be taken into account when determining the price. The most frequently encountered of all the approximately 12,000 saints venerated by the Orthodox Church is Saint Nicholas. Likewise, among the approximately 250 different motifs of the Mother of God, some themes are quite rare, others are frequently transmitted (Mother of God of Kazan, etc.). At present, icons with St. George (“Fight with the Dragon”), as well as with the saints of doctors and pharmacists, Cosmas and Damian, and St. Panteleimon are particularly sought after.
  9. Restoration: In principle, an icon should be restored as little as possible, that is, only as far as absolutely necessary. If the restoration is done professionally, it generally does not affect the price determination unfavorably. Basically, it must be assumed that especially icons, which have played a great role in the life of an Orthodox Christian, have had to “suffer” over the years. They were not just wall decorations, such as a painting. They were often taken in hand, not only in the procession, and in daily “use” are often darkened by incense or candlelight. If the restorer managed to professionally repair the damage, such an icon is definitely preferable to a damaged one.
  10. Conservation: The ongoing conservation of icons should also be left to the professional. A thin coat of varnish every few years is enough to prevent the icon from drying out. The same varnish can be used to protect paintings.

In summary, it can be stated that the price valuation of icons is more difficult than one would initially assume. In any case, not only the age is decisive for the price of icons, as one often hears erroneously, but a number of equally important factors, such as in particular the charisma and painting quality of an icon in connection with its condition, colourfulness and patina.

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