This article presents an integrated approach for the authentication of five Russian icons through the study of their paint materials (elemental composition and stratigraphic mapping), state of conservation and artistic technique. The results of the applied analytical protocol, involving optical and scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry and Fourier transformed infrared spectroscopy/microspectroscopy, led to the conclusion that the five icons belong to the same group and iconographic school (from Northern Russia) and date from the end of the 16th century to the beginning of 17th century. Because of massive overpainting, the icons "suffered" a change in iconographic style and significance, and restoration treatment brought to light the original painting and its attribution. Identification of the composition of the original chromatic palette used by the iconographer, the stratigraphic mapping and the conservation state of the painting materials, along with the features of the original artistic technique, furnished key elements for the icons' authentication. Here, we present the first experimental data concerning the identification of the authentication characteristics, being part of a large project that has as its final aim the evaluation of the effectiveness and effects of the cleaning agent on the paint layers. Microse. Res. Tech. 72:755-765, 2009. (C) 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.