Old Believer iconography dates back to the church reform introduced by Patriarch Nikon in the mid-17th century. The Old Believers divided into popovtsy (with priests) and bezpopovtsy (priestless). The latter refused to recognize church hierarchy and zealously opposed any iconographic innovations. Defining the extent to which Old Believer iconography spread in Russia is very hard due to the lack of clear distinctions between the Old Believers and the local Russian, sometimes foreign, Orthodox population. There were three Old Believer iconographic centers: in Russia’s North (the Vygo-Leksin community), Guslitsy (a region now lying within Orekhovo-Zuevsky Yegorevsky districts of the Moscow region) and the last one in the city of Neviansk in the Urals.

The largest center of bespopovtsy in the second half of the 17th century was the Vygov Pustyn, founded in 1695 by Danila Vikulov on the river Vyga near the village of Povenets. The center was also famous for the St. Daniil Monastery, which lent its name to the iconographic style of the icons produced by the pustyn icon-painters. Soon after its establishment, the Vygov Pustyn turned into a refuge for Old-Believers and peasants, discontented with the reforms introduced by Nikon and later by Peter the Great. In 1706 the female population of the monastery was transferred to a convent on the river Leksa. With the growth of the community’s population so began the building of schools for adults and children, including an iconographic school. The most distinctive artistic feature of the Danilov icons is an appeal to traditional Russian iconography which generally represented the Holy Virgin, John the Theologist, the Final Judgment, the Russian saints Zosima and Savvatii of Solovski, Barlaam of Khutyn, Alexander Oshevensky, Sergius of Radonezh, and many others. During the first stages of the school’s development, the masters imitated the Solovki icons, and later, the Stroganov style of iconography. The icons created in the second quarter of the 18th century are notable for their predominantly white faces, which at the end of the 18th century were painted in red-brown colors; the pozyom (ground) is depicted as a line of low spruces resembling a mossy forest. The icons created in the 19th century are distinguished by their gilded and richly ornamented vestments, elongated proportions and ochreous faces. Apart from painted icons, the Old Believers also produced cast bronze icons that were unacceptable to Orthodox canonic iconography. It is also worth noting that the icons created by the Vyg community masters were extensively imitated by icon-painters from the neighboring regions of Kargopol, Pudozh and Medvezhyegors.

The next Old Believer center was the village of Guslitsy situated along the river Guslitsa. The Old Believer popovtsy began to settle in this place during the late 17th – early 18th century. By the 19th century Guslitsy had grown into a big religious center; this period was marked for the highest development of the Guslitsky iconography, closely associated with handwritten books and lubok (cheap popular prints). Guslitsy icons are notable for painting executed using a small set of artistic techniques and contouring. The dark color scheme is distinguished by predominantly brown, olive and ochreous shades, combined with crimson, dark-blue and emerald-green colors. Attaching much importance to book-printing, the Old Believer masters often depicted scrolls and books on the icons. Many Guslitsy masters worked far away from home, according to sources dating back to the 1840s.

The Nevian icon-painting school in the Urals covered the period from the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The Nevian icon-painters also worked in many other Russian cities. The icons created in Moscow’s Armory, Yaroslavl and, possibly, in foreign Old Believer schools, influenced local iconography in this period of its development. The icons created by the Nevian icon-painters carry distinct features of the Ural’s rocky landscapes. In contrast, the icon characters lack realism and true-life details, looking stylized and generalized. Perhaps for this reason, the Nevian icons are sometimes called “white-faced.” The icon color scheme contains the shades of red, green and blue, combined with ochreous, golden and brown colors. By the late 18th – early 19th centuries the masters began to add industrial pigments to their palette.