The question is as simple as the title. I am simply wondering, ‘When is the earliest recorded date of this tradition?’
- Anybody can ask a question
- Anybody can answer
- The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
According to Gibbons:
It appears that the creeping in of images was long before the schism that brought about the RC and EO traditions -- so though your question apparently concerns post-schism timeline, I hope this answer is relevant.
See also the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Council of Elvira/Elliberis/Illiberis for arguments on dates.
The oldest icon I can imagine would be the one written by St Luke of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus regardless of whether you give any merit to the tradition that it was indeed done by him who was undoubtably the most well aquatinted man in the early Church with the Blessed Virgin Mary, excepting maybe St John the Evangelist, it is certainly an old picture and has been in the keeping of the St Mary Major for a very long time (~1700 years)
As long as we're talking about using icons in worship and not worshiping icons: The very earliest written account of icons in general that I'm aware of comes in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History written in the early 4th century before and during the reign of Constantine (it is regarded as the very first history of the Christian church ever written):
Note that Eusebius seems to dislike icons although records that God works miracles through the statue mentioned here.
The oldest archaeological evidence is in the Dura-Europas I believe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dura-Europos). That Wiki article states that this is the earliest preserved Christian church known (at least until ISIS destroyed it) and that it did contain icons.
So, as far as we can tell, icons were present in at least some localities from the very beginning of the church's recorded history. As mentioned in another answer, St. Luke is regarded as the first iconographer in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition, but this Wikipedia page states that the first known reference to Luke writing the icon is found in the 5th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icon#Luke.27s_portrait_of_Mary). Although I wouldn't endorse believing everything found in the church's tradition (especially stuff from the dark ages): I would also suggest 400 years is not too long to be fairly certain of where a painting comes from.