The first Eastern Slav state, Kyivan Rus’, was established on the territory of present-day Ukraine around 880. Although its boundaries have been everchanging throughout history, Ukraine, situated at the intersection of major water trade routes, has always been a crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures.

Centuries after the Apostle Andrew was said to have visited Kyiv, Christianity was adopted as the official religion in 988 by then-ruler of Kyivan Rus’, Volodymyr (Vladimir) the Great. Alongside the adoption of Christianity came the introduction of Byzantine icons and icon painters to the region. After the defeat of the iconoclasts in the 9th century, icons were deemed the archetypal artistic expression of Christian faith in the Byzantine world. They became a central part of the Holy Liturgy and held a special place in the act of worship due to belief in their miracle-working abilities.

In 1051, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, home to most of the icons and all the liturgical objects featured here, was founded, and soon after formed its own icon painting workshop. Students were trained by Greek iconographers from Constantinople, and over time, they came from throughout Europe to study at the renowned studio.

After the decline of Kyivan Rus’ in 1240 due to the Mongol invasion, independence was not regained until the 15th century. Byzantine-inspired icons, already popular in Ukraine (as it was named by then), remained the predominant style until the mid-16th century, after which time elements of Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque styles informed Ukrainian iconography. Icons went from being highly stylized to more dramatic, colorful and three-dimensional in appearance. Elements of Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism co-mingled to form a uniquely Ukrainian iconographic style.