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The Meaning of Colors in Religious Icon Art

Religious icon art has its origins in the early days of Christianity, when the first and one of the most famous icon painters, Luke the Evangelist, created this unique craft. The art itself flourished at times of the Byzantine Empire. While Byzantium masters were prone to paint icons using austere style, their successors from Kievan Rus took another approach to the style and colors in particular. From that time on, icon painters started to attach great importance to distinct colors of the icon. Thus, colors in old Russian icons became a powerful bearer of symbolism that we will try to decode today.

The Meaning of Colors in Religious Icon Art

Color Meanings in Religious Icon Art

To start with, color symbolism stems from many peculiarities. However, it does not imply that we cannot classify them. After all, there were general beliefs prevalent for the vast majority of the population and religious icon art of that time. Let’s discover the basics.


White is a symbol of light and purity. It belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven, reflecting the sanity and chastity. We can often meet this color in many masterpieces of religious art depicting the righteous as their attire is mostly painted white.


By contrast, black acts as an opposing color to white. It is the color of evil, the Hell, and caves that are the symbols of death. Besides, as you might remember, monks wear black garments, which shows their relinquishment of pleasures of normal life.

Golden and yellow

Golden has a special place in religious icon art. It symbolizes the most valuable in the spiritual world. That is why the aureole around the saints, the Blessed Virgin, and the Savior is golden. This color means constant light. The yellow color is the closest to golden and sometimes works as its substitute.


Green demonstrates the power of life and nature. It is the color of grass, leaves, youth, and hope. It is often present in the Christmas scenes. 


Icon painters used brown to depict bare ground, the ashes, and everything temporal, thus reminding people of their mortality.


Red reflects the warmth, love, and living energy. This color is quite strong as it is simultaneously a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus and His sacrifice.


The last color on our list symbolizes the infinity of the sky and eternal peace. Blue is the color of the Mother of God, which connects the heaven and the earth.

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