The desire to capture the image of gods and creatures close to them was planted in the hearts of people at all times. The monuments of art and architecture of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and ancient Rome are testimony to that. With the advent of Christianity, there appeared a new type of painting, called "icon painting" – creating sacred images that are used for prayer.
As legend has it, the first great icon painter was Luke the Evangelist. Following in his tracks, other artists who joined the new religious movement began painting images of the Savior. The most ancient icons, preserved to our times, are images from the 6th century, found in the Sinai Monastery.
Until the 8th century, there were no universal canons in icon painting. Icon painters of those times expressed their vision of biblical events on canvas and wood – each of them worked in their own manner, depicting the same story in different ways, which complicated its perception by ordinary people. As time went on, a special sign language was developed, which included main graphic techniques that were used while depicting sacred images. This made the images of the saints and the depicted scenes from the Bible easily recognizable.
At the end of the 10th century, Christianity came to Ruthenia, bringing iconography with it. It remained the main art form in Old Ruthenian culture for eight centuries. The images created by old Ruthenian icon painters are strikingly different from the works of European masters: the faces of the Ruthenian saints are distinguished by excessive asceticism and detachment. This technique was used to emphasize the saints' dissimilarity to ordinary people, their uniqueness and belonging to the other world.
Icons were the main decoration of temples and houses: a variety of shades were used to create them, turning the image into a bright, eye-catching painting that mesmerized with its hidden meanings and play of colors. In peasants' huts and merchant houses, the icons were hung in plain view – in the so-called "red" (icon) corner. They were not only evidence of devoutness, but also a certain symbol of wealth: commoners used inexpensive images, bought at the fair, while the rich decorated their houses with commissioned icons.