Signatures were worldwide
Temple and Morsink on the new-found and signed Anastasis-icon of Angelos Akotantos:
"And he is unique in that we know his name and the circumstances of his life. He was the first icon painter to break the tradition of anonymity and sign his works".
These two icon traders are not well informed: In the 11th century, in Byzantine times, you have the Georgian Tohabi who signs on 6 icons in Egypt. There is also the famous Crucifixion, in a so-called Crusader Icon Style, which says ΧΕΙΡ ΠΕΤΡΟΥ, by the hand of Peter, 14th century. Furthermore, the Macedonians signed extensively from the 14th century. These are the facts. After that Angelos comes (approx. 1400-1450), but how far is that true? If the missing icons of his unknown teachers are signed, what then? If a name is left on the back of older icons on the wood (which also happens today), it will disappear sooner than a name under the varnish and it will not bite. Morsink and Temple have to blame themselves on their ignorance and it also appears in the newspaper NRC. Ridiculous! Coldery.
After the Georgians, Crusaders, Macedonians (so Serbs) and Greeks, the Russians signed. Details can be found on David Coomler's blog Icons and their Interpretation and in Irina Gorbunova's book The Icon: Truth and Fables.
And the story continues. With Simon Morsink-Temple's comment (Angelos' first signing) I still presume that they know about the Greek tradition of signing but not about the earlier worldwide signing. The signing, of course, continued, even in Russia until the 19th century, even by some Old Believers.
Many, and I suspect also the authors without mentioning, express their disapproval of this signing, and think that the icons are so sacred (they are of course) that signing is not allowed (they call it the tradition of anonymity). In our time, signing is going off. The Serbian Todor Mitrovic says: "Iconographers refrain from putting their signature on icons due to piety and fashion - not because icons have no author." The Old Believers have been saying since the 17th century that the iconpainter must remain anonymous. According to them, only men are allowed to paint icons, so you can see which unworldly ultras are. In Paris there is a priest who says that only priests can paint icons. Come on!
The Orthodox Church has made icon painters such as Rublev especially saints and did not want them to remain anonymous. The Byzantine Theophanes the Greek was known in Constantinople before he went to Russia, made a name as Feofan Grek and became the teacher of Rublev. The church has not erased or crossed out the names of the painters in the contracts of the commissions and the annals of the monasteries and churches. What is also logical is: if the patron wanted his name on the icon or on the fresco (not to be resisted), why not mention the painter? I assume in the present this is happening in Russia, but I am still waiting for information.
Where does the preoccupation with the anonymity of the icon painters come from? We have mentioned the Old Believers. Even some of their icons are signed. One can also think of an icon in a Russian icon studio in the 19th century if it was made, painted, eh sorry written by 4 or 5 men - what name should be on it? So no signature. One can also imagine in time so many signatures on the back have vanished that it seemed nothing at all was ever signed. So it should be forbidden but it wasn't as we know.
There is no tradition of anonymity. It is an idea. Idealistic people who think icons were not sold for money have this idea. People who trade icons adhere this now.
Finally, I would like to point out to the reader that it is a modest and respectful tradition of the Greeks to sign with "by the hand of", because the inspiration comes from above, right? Read more about this in my article at www.iconen.nl "Are the Greeks signing?" In Dutch.