An icon is an image of a holy person or event, created by an iconographer who follows the strict standards of the Orthodox Church. Most of the objects in the Museum’s collection are created with paint on wooden board; icons can also be made in other materials, including mosaic, fresco, embroidery, and metal. To the Orthodox believer, icons are considered to be a window or portal into the holy. The faithful pray with, or venerate, the icons. Neither the icons nor the Saint pictured are worshipped, but rather are seen as a “window” into the heavenly realm. Since the Orthodox Church considers icons to be primarily functional (sacred) objects, they are traditionally unsigned.

Icons range in size from very small (used in the home) to large (used in cathedrals). An iconographer carves out the surface of the wood to create a self-contained border. Several layers of gesso, a paste prepared by mixing whiting with size or glue, is applied and the image is etched onto that surface. Egg yolk and crushed mineral pigment are mixed to form tempera paint. The tempera is applied to the board in layers from dark colors to light. The completed paintings are usually sealed with linseed oil.

Iconography is a living tradition, and icons today are painted in the same way that they have been for hundreds of years. The Museum collection includes both very old icons (dating to the 15th century) and new icons (painted in the last few years), with the majority dating from the 17th to 19th centuries.


The Museum is no longer offering assessments on a walk-in or private appointment basis. For icon evaluations by a Museum staff member please come to a Take it to the Curator session. The next opportunity is on Friday,February 7, 2020. $20 per object, limit four objects per 20-minute time slot. Registration is required. Call 978.598.5000

The assessment includes the approximate age of your icon, where and how it was made, and for what purpose it was made. Find out if your icon is a Church icon or an icon for domestic display, and receive information on conservation and appraisal services.

Please note that as a non-profit organization. The Museum of Russian Icons is not legally permitted to provide monetary valuations of objects. Instead, we recommend contacting one of the following auction houses:

Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers
Jackson’s International Auction House