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  • Marc Melich-Mautner

What is an icon worth? What determines the value of an icon?

In any case, it is not age alone, because most collectors value optics - and that is usually not as decorative with antique pieces as with work from the 19th century. At the moment, icons of all subjects are in great demand, the oklad (the metal cladding that covers the surroundings of the painted figures in some icons) is made of gold or silver and is set with enamel, pearls or precious stones. Such icons were mainly made in and around Moscow, in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is of great importance that hallmarks and maker's marks are available, special emphasis is placed on the insignia of famous master silver and goldsmiths. Another important point is the state of preservation of the icon. Many of the still existing antique icons are in very poor condition, mainly due to their storage, but if the icons have been carefully guarded, mostly by collectors, the value increases enormously.

The following factors are important:

  1. Painting quality: With icons - just like with paintings - the most important thing is the quality of the painting. So you have to ask: is the icon particularly finely painted? Maybe painted with a magnifying glass? What expressiveness is in it? Is the icon made on canvas and with a gold background?

  2. Radiance: The colors and the gold background of an icon, usually in connection with a silver base, give the icon a very special expressiveness. The quality of painting and charisma are understandably closely related.

  3. Age: As with a painting, the age of an icon is important, but not the only decisive factor. Just as a painting from the 19th century can be classified as more expensive than one from the 17th century, the age of icons is only to be taken into account in connection with the criteria mentioned when determining the price.

  4. Patina: In connection with age, patina is of great importance because it gives an icon with or without a gold background a peculiar charm.

  5. Provenance: The origin of the icon is also important for determining the price. Russian icons are now priced around% higher than Greek icons. The brownish basic color of the Russian icons has a calming charisma, combined with the wide border that they usually have. Greek icons are often more cheerful, with a bluish base color and a thinner border; the Greek themes are also usually drawn more loosely, perhaps in keeping with the southern temperament. For most of the icons that are offered in stores 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 classified correctly, it is only possible to determine your school exactly for less than 5% of the icons on offer.

  6. Conservation status: The way in which the icon is kept is often decisive for the status of the icon, i. H. whether it was part of an icon wall or was in a private house in the icon corner, whether candles were constantly set up in front of it that left traces, or whether it was taken to the procession, kissed and often touched. Older icons in particular are often badly worn, especially if they have been improperly restored and overhauled - which is also a reason why the older icons are not always the more valuable. After all, the condition of the wood also plays a role, especially if the wood is infested with worms, which usually corrode the wood itself, i.e. the back and not the colored surface.

  7. Size of the icon: While the normal size of the icons is around 30 x 35 cm (11.8 x 13.8 in), the icons on the icon wall are often much larger, reaching a height of 2.50 m. There are also wooden icons in postcard size or even smaller. Although the quality of the painting is decisive given the differences in the proportions, dimensions cannot be disregarded when determining the price.

  8. Rarity of the topic: The choice of motif must also be taken into account when determining the price. Of all the 12,000 or so saints venerated by the Orthodox Church, Saint Nicholas is the most common. Likewise, among the approximately 250 different themes of the Mother of God, some themes are quite rare, others are often passed down (Our Lady of Kazan, etc.). Icons with Saint George ("fight with the dragon"), as well as with the doctor and pharmacy saints Kosmas and Damian, as well as with Saint Panteleimon/Panteleon, are particularly popular at the moment.

  9. Restoration: Basically, an icon should be restored as little as possible, so only to the extent that it is absolutely necessary. If the restoration is carried out professionally, it generally does not have an unfavorable influence on the determination of the price. Basically, one has to assume that icons, which played a major role in the life of an Orthodox Christian, had to "suffer" over the years. They weren't just wall decorations like a painting. They were often picked up, not only during the procession, and in daily "use" they are often darkened by incense or candlelight. If the restorer has succeeded in properly repairing the damage, such an icon is definitely preferable to a damaged one.

  10. Conservation: The ongoing conservation of the icons should also be left to a specialist. A thin coat of varnish is enough every few years to prevent the icon from drying out. The same varnish can be used that is used to protect paintings.

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

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