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A large icon of the Mother of God of Smolensk, a subject revered in Russia since the mid-12th century, caused the biggest surprise. Although of 16th century origin, the 21 x 16in (54 x 42cm) icon had been vastly overpainted in the 20th century, so that only a few traces of the original decoration remained and it was priced accordingly at €600-700.

The state of the icon did nothing to deter a handful of bidders, including a Russian collector, who eventually claimed his prize at €13,000 (£11,205).

There was also a flurry of bids for a 20th century version of Hetoimasia, the Preparation of the Throne of Christ, painted in the style of the 16th century. In orthodox theology this is a representation of the throne, made ready for the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment.

The auction house had set its guide at €1500-1600, but the successful Russian bidder was taken to €12,000 (£10,345) before he shook off his competitors.

The auction on May 14-15 was not a solely Russian affair: a rare, late 17th century Geek icon of the Ten Martyrs of Crete was knocked down to a Greek collector for the lower estimate of €9000 (£7760).