Icons play a crucial role in the worship and culture of Byzantine Christianity. They embody symbolically the presence of God and Saints on this Earth, creating a veritable link between the human and the Eternal.
Icons are a necessary feature of Byzantine architecture, with several of them being displayed in each Church on the screen (iconostasis) separating the nave from the sanctuary. Each Church hosts icons of Christ and of the Virgin Mary, often associated with complex cycles of iconographies representing groups of Saints and the various feasts of the Christian year. Each Orthodox is also supposed to own a number of icons for their private worship, making these beautiful artefacts a vital component of the daily lives of millions of people.
Russian icons are an interesting class in the wider group of Byzantine iconography. Stemming originally from the canons of the Palaeologan Renaissance at the core of the Byzantine tradition (Constantinople and Mount Athos in particular), the Russian style incorporates a number of external inputs, especially from the 18th century onwards, when Saint Petersburg attracted artists from all around Europe as one of the main cultural centres of the Old Continent. These artists influenced the style and craft of Russian icon painters, who developed a harmonious and elaborate iconography.