Parsuna – The First Secular Representation of The Traditional Russian Icon

Takushinova Bella (1)
(1) Department of Architecture and Industrial Design, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, Italy, Italy


The second half of the 15th century in the Russian Church history marked a strong decline of spiritual life, which naturally found its reflection in the icon painting. The feeling of integrity of an image, its depth were lost. At the same time, the weakening influence of the Orthodox Balkans and the Byzantine Empire gave way to the influence of the Catholic West with its profoundly different principles of religious art.

In this transitional period of the Russian cultural life, characterized by the transformation of the medieval worldview and the formation of new artistic ideals, appeared parsuna (a rough Russian transliteration of the Latin word “persona”) - an early secular portrait of a lay person in the iconographic style that represents an important transition in Russia’s art history. The first pasruna were painted, most probably, by the iconographers of the Moscow Kremlin Armoury in the 17th century. The painters of these portraits were usually monks that tended to be anonymous, showing a humility.

Although the stylized forms used in parsuna reveal a lack of concern with preserving the actual features of a person, but rather their overall image (special attributes and signatures allow to define represented), it still can be viewed as one of the very first attempts to look at person not only through the rigid iconographic canons, but also through a prism of psychological interpretation. Thus, this transitional image may be concerned as the initial fundamental step on the way to the further introduction fo the European portrait tradition in Russia.

In this study, we would like to consistently trace how parsuna, thanks to its completely new stylistic value, can be considered one of the earliest stages on the way to the secularization of the Russian art in the early 17th century, which led to the separation from the strict iconographic religious canons and, consequently, to the rapprochement with the European art.

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Takushinova Bella
takush[email protected] (Primary Contact)
Bella, T. (2019). Parsuna – The First Secular Representation of The Traditional Russian Icon. Resourceedings, 2(3), 01–5.

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