9. Icon with the Deesis and Five Saints. Crusader, late 13th century. Tempera and gold on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt. 9. Icon with the Deesis and Five Saints. Crusader, late 13th century. Tempera and gold on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.
10. The Annunciation. Byzantine (Constantinople), early 14th century. Tempera on wood. Icon Gallery, Ohrid, Macedonia.10. The Annunciation. Byzantine (Constantinople), early 14th century. Tempera on wood. Icon Gallery, Ohrid, Macedonia.
11. Icon with the Baptism. Crusader, third quarter of the13th century. Tempera and gold on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.11. Icon with the Baptism. Crusader, third quarter of the13th century. Tempera and gold on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.
12. Icon with the Anastasis. Crusader, ca. 1280s. Tempera and gold on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.12. Icon with the Anastasis. Crusader, ca. 1280s. Tempera and gold on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.
13. Icon with the Ascension. Moscow, first quarter of the 15th century. Tempera on wood. State Tret'akov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. 13. Icon with the Ascension. Moscow, first quarter of the 15th century. Tempera on wood. State Tret'akov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
14. The Virgin of Vladimir. Byzantine, 11th century. Tempera on wood. State Tret'akov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. 14. The Virgin of Vladimir. Byzantine, 11th century. Tempera on wood. State Tret'akov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
15. Icon with the Virgin Hodegetria. Byzantine, last quarter of the 13th century. Tempera on wood with relief ornaments in gesso. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt. 15. Icon with the Virgin Hodegetria. Byzantine, last quarter of the 13th century. Tempera on wood with relief ornaments in gesso. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.
16. Icon with the Enthroned Virgin and Child. Byzantine, late 13th century. Tempera on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt. 16. Icon with the Enthroned Virgin and Child. Byzantine, late 13th century. Tempera on wood. The Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai Egypt.
17. Icon with the Shroud. First half of the 18th century. Oil on panel. National Museum of Ukraine Art. Kiev. Ukraine. 17. Icon with the Shroud. First half of the 18th century. Oil on panel. National Museum of Ukraine Art. Kiev. Ukraine.
18. Icon with in Thee Rejoicing. Moscow. Tempera on wood. State Tret'akov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. 18. Icon with in Thee Rejoicing. Moscow. Tempera on wood. State Tret'akov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
ICONS AS CULTURAL, SPIRITUAL, AESTHETIC AND SCIENTIFIC PHENOMENA
In this chapter I will discuss: about the definition of icons; historical approach in the culture of icons; theological understanding of it; the iconography as a separate science and one of the keys for reading icons as a text.
2.1 Icon: specification of definitions and transference of meanings
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
The culture of icons is, probably, one of the longest living religious and art traditions in Europe. Literally we can say that the first millennium AD. was used for the formation of the “holy images” and that in the next millennium icons exist in the tradition. Over the centuries their meaning became deeper and broader, and richer in impression.
It is an interesting task to observe the culture of icons, like a medieval testament which still keeps orthodox rules and has special keys for reading and understanding their texts. It is also a big challenge to show and explain the specific language of icons in the context of the historical development in the East European culture.
The question about different attitudes to Christian art in general, and icons as part there of, has been the focus in theological debates several times (see 2.3). The consequence of these discussions reveal a cultural phenomenon, since in the Protestant church images have been far less importance than in the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. In the Christian art of Northern Europe from the 15th century the main role is played by engravings and prints. These forms of art are much more connected to the dominated role of the word, not to the image itself. Thereby can be seen the realization or the main transcription of the mentality in the period of the Reformation and the time thereafter.
In the Roman Catholic Church the meaning of the “holy image” developed in the direction of a “realistic image” and even in the portrait. Here the way went from abstraction symbols till the realistic or even naturalistic impression. For the realization of this it was used the oil painting on canvas as well as sculpture. Both of them have the same main characteristic – the creation of the illusion in space. Three-dimensional images came close, as much as possible, to a realistic description of the materialistic visual version.
In the Orthodox Church the “holy image” still exists in the version of “icon”. Icons are typically tempera painting on wood. Icons are considered to be miraculous and were said to “appear”. (Russian: yavlenie, явление). Appearance in an icon is its supposed miraculous discovery. “A true icon is one that has 'appeared', a gift from above, one opening the way to the Prototype and able to perform miracles”(Klevaev 2007, 51 [my translation]). Hence the icon is understood both to reveal some of God’s glory and mystery, as well as being in God’s service. It has a theological message as well as a divine role to play.
When people are married in the Protestant Church they often get a Bible, as a present. In the Roman Catholic Church it is a Bible and an image, but in the Orthodox Church – only an icon. Although all married couples receive gifts in the form of texts – printed or painted –, the three examples show significantly the differences of mentality in the different branches of the Christian church. And in the Orthodox church the icon as a holy image is a mystical text, reflecting indirectly the glory of God as well as aspects of Christian faith.
In order to have a clear discussion it is fruitful to make a specific definition of “icon(s)”. The definition is, of course, itself a product of history or reflection of a given historical time. The most acceptable method in scientific research is to arrive at a position where definitions are not subject to dispute, but reflect consensus. And icons, like any other cultural phenomenon, undergo transformation of meanings during the history.
My suggestion is, therefore, to start with a definition of culture: “Culture is the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior. Culture thus defined, consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies” (“Culture”. In New Encyclopedia Britannica 1987, 3:784). If we narrow down the first sentence it also comprises “Christian culture”; all three components – (patterns of) human knowledge, belief and behaviour are all used to define “Christian culture”, as well as they are part of Christian culture itself. The second sentence reveals that almost all the elements of which culture consist have some connection to the icon.
Turning then to ‘icons’, it is a matter of fact that icons exist in tradition and that it is possible to recognize them as the reflection of time in a historical context. In this sense it is possible to analyze the questions how “past” relates to “present” and also, how “present” collaborates with realities. Here we have a connection with the theory of “cultural dynamics”.
Cultural dynamic is a process of interpretation of the individual in a social interaction. Culture in the hermeneutic sense is understood as a frame of interpretation that is always challenged and always in the midst of a process of change; one that cannot be separated from the individual and the local context where the interpretations are created. Culture – “invisible threads in the back of our heads” – is dynamic and not static (Dahl 2004, 11).
Icons keep the idea about the historical memory like a version of lively tradition. The main function of this tradition, if we look upon this from the historical perception, is not a demonstration of a conservative or static mind, but the demonstration of the wish to preserve the idea of the prototype. It is the wish not to be lost in the dynamical time of the stable element – a basic message which came by the word and the image. Icons in Greek and several Slavic languages speak as if they have been "written", because in these languages (like Greek, but unlike English) the same word (pisat, писать in Russian) means both ‘to paint’ and ‘to write’. This reflects also the unity of meaning between text by words and text by images in the old church history.
As a fact, the Orthodox icon tries to save the historical memory together with the collective mentality. This is an important element of the icon tradition, which has one of the oldest roots in church history. The oldest extant formulations of western and eastern creeds are provided by Rufinus and by Eusebius of Caesarea. The first line of these creeds are as follows:
I believe in God…. We believe in one God…(Grant 2004, 281).
Here we can find a distinction in essence, when the Western church applied to the individual, and the Eastern church – to the collective system of thinking and doing.
When understanding the icon as a cultural phenomenon it is practical to follow the idea that phenomena are the objects of the senses as contrasted by but also apprehended by the intellect. Of course, as thinking human beings we cannot exclude the intellect from participating in any of our functions. According to W. James: “Mystical truth resembles the knowledge given to us in sensations more than that given by conceptual thought” (James 2001, 15).
“Greek Φαινόμενον (“to seem”, “to appear”) – does not indicate whether the thing perceived is something else than what it appears to be” (Pokrovskij 2000, 17 [my translation]). Here we can understand how close the old meaning of icon and phenomenon was, which both are consistent with the function “appear”. Sensual contemplation and sensual comprehension of the phenomenon/a was the main forms of communication with the God-world in the medieval period, where the icons played the role as a bridge between human reality and human belief.
When icons are introduced they are often phenomenologically understood as an appearance which combines reality and unreality. “Two worlds – heaven in the heaven, as a voice of Creator and heaven visible on earth, as liturgy, have meeting points in the icon tradition” (Trubetskoy 1916, 116, [my translation]). For the correct understanding of reality, as a context of the world of the traditional icons, we need to use their own philosophical and theological context. “What is considered metaphor for us (‘heaven above’) was for our ancestors a matter of deliberate and literal belief” (Davies 2004, 25).
The characteristics of icon painting has principal differences with the modern art. It can be understood only through a teaching about icons which was formulated many centuries ago by the originators of the Orthodox Church dogmas. In fact, the icons are the presentation of Church dogmas in visual images. There is no reason to doubt that there therefore also existed a cult of icons as sacred objects.
Icons are considered to be the Gospel in paint, and therefore careful attention is paid to ensure that the Gospel is faithfully and accurately conveyed. On the other hand, icons can also be compared with the apocrypha, not only because artists often drew their inspiration from these Gospel narratives (for example, the Nativity of Christ or the Assumption). In the same way painters frequently created pictorial apocrypha. This is the most poetical aspect of early icon painting.
Certainly an icon is not a (mere) picture or photography; the icon does not represent what the painter sees before him, but a certain prototype that the painter has to follow. “Reverence of an icon stems from reverence for its prototypes. Icons are kissed, they are expected to heal and work miracles. They are worshiped because they are representations of Christ, the Virgin and the Saints. Icons play a part in the Church ritual. Icon painting is a certain degree a ritual art” (Alpatov 1973, 7).
We can approach icons as to old and modern cultural phenomena. It is possible to recognize the transformation of their meanings, when the aesthetic values of icons grow and the ritual function diminish. The definition “worship icon” is seldom used in the Orthodoxy theological context. Like in the testament from the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (787 AD.) we find “veneration icons” used. But in modern Orthodoxy theology this function of icons is recognized mostly as old and so not actual now.
If human culture is understood as a corporate undertaking in which people succeed in establishing a distinctive style of living based on common values, it can be seen that much of what is distinctive in Christian faith emerges from its dialogue with it. This dialogue is inherent in it’s relationship and takes place not only between Christians and those who do not share their faith but also among Christians themselves (Jenkins 1983, 137).
One of the important functions of icons is to make dialog, dialog-prayer and monolog-prayer between the person and God. This function of the icon as a dialog is developed by the priest Pavel Florenskij. His life and service was a heroic deed. He shared destiny with a lot of honest, noble and well-educated priests and died in 1937 in the first Soviet camp GULAG in Solovky monastery. Florenskij appeals to the concept "mystical return perspective" which in the theological conception was the way to show the icon as the temporal, permanent and internal dialog. According to him, the icons are visual explanations of the “primary body of all”. In many ways he based his own transcription of icons on the philosophical and theological ideas by Aristotle, Basil the Great and Thomas Aquinas. He wrote: “Icon appear as a light from heaven. It is opening the ability to see by spiritual sight. Then we read in them the message from the Gospel in the reverse form from Ω to Α. This reading brings for us the possibility to follow deeper and
deeper the idea of highest beauty and in the end of this to come close to the idealistic beauty of the light of God” (Florenskij 2001, 35 [my translation]).
In the western scientific resources the definition of icon(s) is some times different from the resources which are in use in the East tradition and have a narrower understanding. It shows the small comprehensive analysis, which I suppose to do. One needs the interaction between two or more linguistic systems in order to find each concrete situation for the adequate reading.
“Icon is a painting by a Greek or Russian Orthodox (1) believer (2) on panel (3), generally of a religious subject strictly prescribed by tradition, and using an equally strictly prescribed pattern of representation (4). An authentic icon can be of any age from the 6th century to the present day” (Dictionary of Art Terms 2003, 116). I would like to comment on and make some corrections to this definition, which may in turn help us to find compromises in a common understanding of the main subject of discussion – the icon. (The numbers show which part of the definition which are discussed). The books Dictionary of Art Terms (2003), The Oxford dictionary of Art (1988) and The Oxford Companion to Art (1970) in the definition “icon” all have the references just for Greek or Russian churches.
The term “Orthodox Churches” (1) in it’s conventional historical sense designates those Churches of the Christian East that: accepted and have maintained the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon, hold on to the historic ecclesial and liturgical traditions of Byzantium and are in communication with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (Maloney 2003, 10: 679). The fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD.) used the term in formulating the definition of the hypostatic union: of Christ’s human and divine natures.
The structure of Orthodox Churches consists of many national churches which have different statuses. Among them is Ukrainian. (Some times Ukraine is confused with Russia, the more powerful neighbour in the north).In Ukraine, like in all Orthodox Churches the icon plays an important role. From historical approach the icons tradition came from Byzantium to Kievan Rus in the 10th - 12th centuries, which now is Ukraine. Afterwards this development moved further north in Russia with the center in Moscow in the end 14th -16th centuries. In Ukraine we have long tradition for using icons in liturgies, have good and rich collections of icon paintings in the museums and also we have our own solid scientific school which has worked with this subject since the beginning of the 20th century. For this topic I use three books Ukrainian authors: Art of Kievan Rus (Aseev, 1989); The Ukrainian Icon. Spirit of Ukraine (Hordynsky, 1992); The Story about Icon (Ovsijchuk, 2000).
The role of the icons in the Orthodox Church is much wider than only the liturgical one. A lot of people belong to the Orthodox Church without (actively) believing (2) or practicing their faith. This situation is common for most modern churches. According to this the following is not a correct statement: “Icon is a painting by … believer”.
Yet, icon is a painting on panel (3). But the panel is only the material, not more. It is just surface. “Icon is the outline of the phantom. Icon coincides by the outline with the holy image and in our consciousness it creates the image. Outside the image and without our ability to imagination – icon is panel” (Florenskij 2001, 15 [my translation]).
Icon is first of all the theological idea about incarnation. It is a big mistake therefore to think that orthodoxy believes in icon and worship panels. The Orthodox believe in God. The mistake is the thinking of icons as the description of God. The Orthodox do not read and recognize the icon directly. The main aesthetic position of icons has connection to Antique ideas. In the old Greek tradition was the link: body, mind and spirit which had a linear constitution. The Orthodox idea about images was based on this principle, but this system has developed into an abstract circle.
And the last correction of this definition is: “Icon …a pattern of representation (4)”. The representation has the meaning of function here. The classical Orthodox theology designated the main function of icon. Among them the function of representation does not exist.
This proves that it is necessary to search for a mutual interaction and a joint understanding of certain terms.
The icon painting is a holy art. It is an art spiritual in its essence and its aim. It has seven functions: to enhance the beauty of the church with a beauty which is holy; to instruct us in issues belonging to the beliefs of the Orthodox Church; to remind us of this belief; to show us the prototypes, the gallery of holy characters; to help us imitate these character’s good qualities; to help us reshape ourselves; to serve as means, to come to the dialog-pray to God and value his saints (Ware 2009, 225).
In order to find a common definition of “icon(s)” I suggest to follow the next statements. Firstly,
Icon, from the Greek eikon meaning image, is a word now generally applied to paintings of sacred subjects or scenes from sacred history. As established in the Byzantine Orthodox Church icons were a liturgical art, theology in visible form. By presenting the physical appearance of a holy figure the icon itself became embued with the sanctity of its divine prototype, serving as an object of religious contemplation and as a conduit for the prayers of the faithful (Jones 2003, 7:278).
The icon has a double definition. The primary one is function: icons are images venerated as holy in the Orthodox Church. But to modern viewers the icon also implies a specific form: icons are panel painted on a golden ground. The icon as definition in functional terms has been integrated to Orthodoxy since at least 843, the end of the era of Iconoclasm; on the other hand, the relation of holy images to the painted panel is far less clearly understood, and the assumption that the Orthodox image was always embodied in this medium should be resisted. Medium, like shape and themes, was a means by which the icon negotiated the demands of historical change (Carr 2004, 143).
In the eyes of every Orthodox Christian, holy icons are more than artful and historical objects. They are a vital entity and a vibrant presence in the liturgical life of the Church, which is the very context that sanctioned and fostered their creation, existence, and use from early Christian time. When seen in this light – the icons’ multifaceted dimensions and intrinsic meaning can be approached, assessed, and revealed with a new fullness of significance, and the creative act of the gifted individuals responsible for their facture becomes a part of the act of the living Church, proclaiming the truth of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God (Damianos 2004, 335).
Between the definition of “icon” and the form of its translation into English – “image” – is a huge gap. This distance was measured by time and its philosophy. When we speak about the phenomenology of icon, it is practical to remember, that this definition was developed and established on the background of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies and that the discussion took place in the Byzantium in the 6th – 9th centuries. But the discussion about the definition of ‘image’ had as background the philosophy of Francis Bacon, David Hume and John Mills.
In this situation it is possible to compromise: in the more restricted sense in which “icon” is generally understood , it is a holy image to which special veneration is given. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite wrote in the early 6th century: “Icon is visual transforming of mystery and supernatural sight” (Lihachova 1981, 22 [my translation]). “Icon puts on the Angels robes”, this is an old Slavic saying. “Icon is the window in the World of God” (Florenskij 2001, 6 [my translation]). All the time icon as a object is bigger than itself, if it is the appearance from above, or smaller than itself – if it is the painted panel.
2.2 Historical causes for establishing icons
The body of the church is the loftiest, most rich, and most beautiful that can be seen in whole world…so great is the edifice, and the wonderful works in the church are so numerous, that they take a long time to see.
Rue Gonzales de Clavijo Castilian envoy to Constantinople in 1403
Searching roots is always exiting and comprises dramatic moments. To search the special roots which during the time were transforming the cultural tradition is therefore a real challenge. Here we can try to frame the problem of origin and development of the icons in Early Christian period. For approaching this problem it is better to start with making an attempt to find the historical, philosophical and artistic context of the early icons.
Christianity is not a simple religion of spirit, but it is a religion of the Holy Spirit. This is a very important difference in the definition. Its ideal is not the action of the personal creative energy, but confession and way for conscience sake. Ideas about this dominate in the Eastern Church as the collective activity in the Christian life which was recognized in the church as a “body of the Heaven on the earth”. Probably, therefore, in the very beginning Christian art applied to community and in the first functions was social.
Liturgy became the metaphoric way if locating heaven from the physical universe into the visible earth. “The liturgy cycle ensured that the passage of ‘ordinary’ time is constantly overtaken by eschatological, or what we might even call ‘cosmic’ time” (Davies 2004, 21). Art plays a huge role in the realizing of feeling, which was associated with the liturgy and sacraments of the church.
The early Christian world was full of reminders from antique time. It was really a big historical pot, which reflected the new Christian creation. New ideas demanded new forms and methods of doing new things. But at the same time, the world was permeated with the ideas of Plato. The knowledge of the artists and the abilities of the craftsmen had the previous epoch as background. Very often new ideas were presented by the old forms of art. Proof of Roman superiority in the art crafts declared by the special style that they mixed themes from Christianity and pagans views. This was the time for collaboration and the creation of a new language of art. In many ways in these early years the amount of pagan art was dominating, but during the few first centuries the proportion of correlation was changed to the side of Christian art.
Search for the new ideals in art had a secondary character and was dependent of the ideals, as the philosophical category. Specially revealing is the definition “ideal” which was used for the first time by Martianus Capella. His study about “The Seven Liberal Art” made in the 5th century, had a big impact on the Christian art even until the Renaissance.
While western Christianity was in its deepest humiliation, the Eastern Church was enjoying its greatest strength. Byzantine culture, the creation of the church, was in full flower, and Constantinople combined the intellectual glory of ancient Athens with the military might of Rome (Volz 1997, 72).
Constantinople’s Church remained the most civilized religious organization that the world had known so far. The language of verbal allegories and symbols was transformed by the Early Byzantium to the visual identification. The system of the symbols of hierarchy spheres got its explanation.
Mentally Constantinople was established as a symbol of Christian Glory. This Glory was made from Constantinople’s Church highest sphere. Hagia (Saint) Sophia cathedral became the symbol of the incarnation of the highest beauty on the earth. During time ideas about the ideal of the hierarchical sphere of beauty got the written formulation by Abbot Suger. “…metaphysics of hierarchy also supported a program of symbolic interpretation which constituted a return through material things to the source of all in heaven” (Davies 2004, 25). The system of hierarchy of the spiritual spheres and the symbol of three times beauty – Constantinople, Constantinople Church and Saint Sophia – had its place together with the dogma of the Trinity. It was reflected as the glory of the new belief.
This dogma had a very special place in the theological discussion during the entire medieval period. Gamma as the third letter of the Greek alphabet was one of the oldest conventional symbols of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity as a dogma of Christianity is not mentioned in the New Testament, although the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all found there. The concept of the Trinity was used by Teofil from Antiochia the first time in the 2th century. His manuscript “Message to Avtoliky” is preserved as a text which dates to the 11th century. “…three days, which were before the creation of planets, they are the essence of the image of the Trinity. They are the essence of God, Logos and his Wisdom” (Teofil from Antiochia 1895, 34 [my translation]).
Here the word “wisdom” was used in a special prefix to reinforce this meaning – “premydrost” (премудрость - Russian). The equivalent of it in English is “super”. So it is possible to translate this to super wisdom. But I would like to mention, that in the Russian and Greek languages there still exist two different prefixes with mean “super”. The prefix “pre” (пре - Russian ) is accepted in the Christian and Church terminology. Another one “sverx “( сверх - Russian) – is the equivalent of super, which is used only in the secular language.
The first visible image of the Trinity we can find is located in the St. Vitale’s mosaics in Ravenna. The story about the images represented at the Hospitality (Philoxenia) of Abraham (Genesis 18:1-15) was described in the altar. “Two scenes of Abraham combined into one composition, the first showing Abraham serving his three visitors (probably intended to represent the Trinity), and the second showing Abraham about to slay his son Isaac as sacrifice. The imagery and the liturgy here are in perfect harmony – the first non-verbally reflecting and interpreting the language, action and symbols of the second” (Jensen 2000, 765).
Ravenna is really a unique place which keeps the memory about one of the first pages of the Byzantium art. It was possible to preserve the art here thanks to the circumstance that the town was far away from Roma and Constantinople.
It is a pity, that in the center of Byzantium, in Constantinople, we can not find many examples of early Christian art, except in the Hagia Sophia cathedral (built in 532-537 AD.), whose interior and exterior were changed dramatically during the next centuries. Much of the art materials from the capital has been lost during wars, outbreaks of iconoclasm, and the continuous urban renewal of the city.
Mosaics in Ravenna and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople were created in the same period. But the last one has not survived. It was a golden period of Byzantium run by the emperor Justinian. The mosaics in Ravenna were made parallel to the theological disputes in the capital and the theological discussion in the Church Councils. They are one of the first visual images in Christianity as a religion, bringing together idea, institution, meaning of incarnation and aesthetic form. These mosaics are the expression of the spiritual, Christian tendency towards transcendence and the absolute. They are the confirmation of the philosophical idea that the world has a tendency to variability but does not have a tendency to be a better one.
The mosaics in Ravenna are important for studying early icons. Because we have very few examples of the oldest icons and the oldest of them are dated to the 6th century. The mosaics show a quite wide specter of themes and scenes taken from the Old and New Testaments and also from the texts of the old Church. They show the development of formal tendency from the voluminous images, which dominated Rome and were applied to the sculpture, towards the flat images, to which painting were applied.. It is important to keep in mind that this painting was “writing” and not “paint”. Afterwards this tendency would be realized as one of the significant norms of the icons in the classical period. The style of the mosaics in Ravenna in the 5th - 7th centuries is in many ways the same as that of the icons. This style we can recognize like a language with a lot of expressions and rules. I would like to notice that the new Christian ideas used the Antique artistic language like tools. And they got a quite quick development during a short period. It was reality, facts and life. The formation of the visual spirituality was made through the creation of sacred images. And this assertion was directly connected to the transmitting of tradition. One of the most important characteristics of Christian art is that it is addressed to and reflects a narrative source. The art did more than merely illustrate the written sacred texts. In the early Christian art we can recognize two trends, one towards abstraction, and the other towards symbolism. The fish became one of the oldest symbols of Christianity, because in Greek the word “fish” is formed from the initials of the expression ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’ and so was read and interpreted as an acrostic. This symbol of Christ arose casually; it is possible to tell, on the confluence of linguistic circumstances. But it was fixed owing to the arrangement as one of the basic symbols of the Christ for some centuries. The function of art was to interpret and reinforce the meaning and key symbols of the Christian faith. “Very gradually these two tendencies (abstraction and symbolism) became dominant, and when we reach the Dark Ages, the 7th - 8th centuries…we have a figurative language which verges on total abstraction” (Zeri 1990, 52). Here we can recognize the parallel tendencies in the Western and Eastern part of the early Christian world. In those days the connections and
relations were absolutely natural. It is also practical to remember that Byzantium art, with the dominant idea about highest beauty had a big influence in the all directions of Europe. In this case the parallels were: Dark Ages – Iconoclasts; a figurative language of total abstraction – when Iconodules won their point in 787 AD. And 843 AD.
The early Christianity, despite the presence of common Neo-Platonic features, essentially differed. Christianity started with the recognition of a contrast between the terrestrial and the heavenly, matter and spirit. The spiritual world was recognized as the primary world. And, due to this, each subject was considered to be harmonious if it represented the creative thoughts of God.
For example, “it was a doctrine of Neo-Platonic philosophy, taught by Porphyry among others, that visible image could show forth invisible truths of religion” ( “Icon”. In The Oxford Companion to Art 1970, 554). This attitude of the educated mind was gradually changing, and by the time of Justinian, in the middle of the 6th century it was normal among educated Christians to regard the sacred images as objects for veneration and contemplation, although there is no evidence that they were worshipped or invoked. Parallel to this, but not to be confused with it, was a popular development of the portable image as a cult object with close affinities to the miracle-working relic. “Taking care not to fall into idolatry, Christians used visual images as identity with community, to enhance their worship, to inspire and educate, to aid devotion, or even to give honour to God and the saints” (Jensen 2000, 769).
On the Council in Trullo (692 AD.) in Canon LXXXII it was written:
In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God (Agnus Dei (Lat. “lamb of God” (John 1:29)). Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer “grace and truth”, receiving it as the fulfillment of the Law. In order therefore that “that which is perfect” may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in coloured expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world (In A select library of Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14: 401).
The same synod was also dealt with the veneration of the image of the cross.
Icons as one stream of early Christian art was developed in their context. Concerning the origin of the icon history it is possible to find two sources which are based on legend and reality respectively. The legends have a view of the miraculous nature of icons which were considered to be acheiropoietoi, that is ‘not made by human hand’. The legend of Abgar, the king of Edessa, authenticates the traditional image of Christ. Such icons were imprinted with the feature of Christ. This legend tells the story about the events which took place in the beginning of the 1st Century but was written during the second half of the 4th century in Syriac text and called the “Doctrine of Addai”. In the collection of the Monastery of Saint Catherine is the icon “Abgar holding the mandylion with the image of Christ” which is dated to the 10th century.
By the beginning of the 8th century the veneration of icons had reached its culmination and a reaction set in. The consequence of this reaction was that only very few icons remain from the period before the Iconoclasm. For the Orthodox Church these rather few icons have a great importance. But in a wider scope they belong to the world’s culture treasures. “The origins of Christian icons and their veneration can be traced with surely only to sixth century – the date of the earliest surviving icons – but textual evidence documents their earlier use. Eusebius, the fourth-century bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, writes of having some icons of Christ and his Apostles” (Jones 2003, 7: 278). Several medieval manuscripts keep mentioning the existence of icons from the 4th to 5th centuries.
Today, the biggest collection of old icons is presented in the Monastery of Saint Catherine, known more accurately as the Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai. Here the collection of Byzantine icons is the riches in the world, and it includes the greatest number of 5th and 7th centuries encaustic panels which survived the scourge of Iconoclasm. It is the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world. The geographical isolation of the site, the perfect climate conditions as well as the zeal of the monks contributed to the preservation of the liturgical objects that are accumulated over the centuries within the fortified wall of the monastery.
Five icons from this monastery were taken to Kiev (Ukraine) in the end of the 19th century by the bishop Parfiriy Uspenskiy, who was on a religious mission in Sinai. These icons suffered during the periods of the Russian revolution, the First and Second World Wars and during the long period of communist attacks on the church and all its liturgical artifacts. Miracle or opportunity gave them a chance to survive. Now they are present in the Museum of Foreign Art in Kiev. During the year 2000 they traveled the entire year from Paris to New-York and Tokyo.
In the early Christian and medieval period it was quite normal that icons traveled from place to place. Many of the icons from Sinai were moved from different places before they reached this final place of dwelling. Hence it is really challenge for the scientists to identify the places, cities or monasteries where these icons were written. It is the assumption that the two icons from the Kiev’s collection the “Virgin Mary with child Christ” (Album 2) and “Sergios and Vach” (Album 3) were made in Constantinople.
It is possible to suggest that the origin of icons has connection to the culture of Fayyum. The word “Fayyum” refers to a very fertile region southwest of Cairo. When we look at the map we find that the distance is not so big between Fayyum and three of the oldest monasteries in Egypt, namely St. Antony’s, St. Paul’s and St. Catherine’s. Today, the region is as well known for its many “Fayyum portraits”, uncovered by archeologists. Their development was in the period 4th BC. – 2th AD. Those portraits are clear examples of the mixing of the latest period of Egypt’s culture with the younger cultures of Greece and Rome. In this period Egypt lost the ability to and know-how of making mummies, and thus these portraits became some kind of compromise solution for funeral purposes. These portraits were apparently also used to decorate homes. “Art historians often credit the Fayyum region with the birth of realistic portraiture and the many portraits uncovered in this region represent a time of groundbreaking artistic experimentation” (Hawksley 2007, 28).
Florenskij also conjectured that the roots of the icons were possible to find in the Fayyum portraits. “Historically, icons have the most lasting connection with Egypt. Here icons started and here was created the main forms of icons. They started from realistic portraits. But it is necessary to keep in mind that this realism had the distinguishing feature of relative realism. Even it was idealistic realism which was developed fast in the symbolic and abstraction form of icons”(Florenskij 2001, 64 [my translation]). According to Florenskij the Fayyum portraits and icons had a common function – “to them were made veneration” (Florenskij 2001, 66 [my translation]).
Both Fayyum portraits and early icons were made by using the same technique. The encaustic involved melting wax and mixing it with pigmentation and perhaps linseed oil or egg, then applying it like paint onto wood panels. Icons were made with this technique until the 11th century. Using an egg as a linking substance has therefore had a long usage when making icons. Egg is still an important ingredient in the traditional icon’s technique as tempera. The prevalence (as well as necessity) of using eggs in icons for such a long period reflects the symbolic meaning which the egg has had – and still has – in Christianity. It is a symbol of raising from the dead to eternal life.
In this context the egg became one of the existential but not visible symbols of Christ. Eggs have never had a substitutional or additional meaning to the images of Christ. In Russian language the resurrection (revival) and Sunday is the same word – voskresenie (воскресенье).
The encaustic technique used the colour pigments mixed with wax. Since this wax must be warm the painters used open fire under a ceramic table, where were the wax was melted in small pots. Using the fire for making icons also had great symbolic meaning. It was especially important for the monks of St. Catherine monastery, where there still grows a bush which reminds us about the Bible events and is the symbol of Moses’ burning bush (Exodus3:2).
All early icons were made on cypress panels. The choice of type of tree was not made arbitrarily. The cypress was an old symbol of internal life and imperishable due. Ancient Egypt’s sarcophaguses were made by different types of wood which were able to fit work with volume. The work with this material demanded from craftsmen that they apply painting of a surface which was flat and make a balanced sculptural form of the sarcophagus as well as a decorative painting. Icons have since taken up this method of painting. But in its original Egyptian sarcophagus usage it had no theological explanation.
The treatment of the wood for the sarcophagus and the icon was in principle the same. Gesso was used on both of them. A lot of technical, artistic and composition devices were the same. They were inherited from the sarcophaguses and from the next step – Fayyum portraits. “Sarcophagus is literally the artistic body. Icon as a cultural and historical phenomena inherited the task of the ritual mask. Afterward it developed this task to appear for eternity the Holy spirit which were realized through the saint persons” (Florenskij 2001, 56 [my translation]).
Compositions of the early icons are simple and monotonous. Usually, on those icons were presented only one holy person. They were half-length portrait’s icons. Early icons present the idea about the “highest beauty” as it was done in the mosaics. But in this type of images, where there is distance between the person who is praying and the object of the prayer, the visual contact is more close. Always when referring to the icons as objects of prayer we must, however, keep in mind that this is an indirect process. Icons as a ritual art are more intimate and may be compared with the wall decorations in churches (including the iconostasis) (see 3.3).
The holy persons painted on icons are looking out of the picture with wide and brooding eyes; and this intense gaze, which assists communication between the image and its worshipper, has remained a constant feature in the later, more stylized icons throughout the Christian world. For the description of icons a Greek word was used – prosopa (προσωπον). It literally has the meaning “face” and “character” and this word was translated into ‘person’ in English and in Russian litso (лицо).
Russian language has three definitions – lik (лик); litso (лицо); lichina (личина) – which in English translation corresponds with ‘image’, ‘face’, and ‘mask’, respectively. In Greek the closest meaning to – lik is είδοζ, ιδεα – which means ‘idea’. This is the most suitable context for understanding the picture and portrait in the icons. They picture not the image of the holy person but the idea about him or her. The idea was the abstract form which was realized in the “face” and the “character” of the icon. In this context the idea is very close to an ideal and to the highest visible realization of the “highest beauty”. The wish to reach the level of the “highest beauty” reflected Plato's philosophy.
Christ’s divine nature was the primary focus of the devotion, as can be seen in the iconographic figure of the Christ Pantokrator, the All-Ruler who presides in the Orthodox churches from the height of the apse. An icon with Christ Pantokrator from Sinai (Album 1) is dated to the 6th century. This is the oldest icon with this iconographic type, which has had a very high status in presenting the idea about Christ. This icon represents the pure idea and is one of the clearest examples of an “existential reading”. Its proper function is initially didactic, eventually the spiritual and mystical functions are added in this icon.
The 7th century gave very few considerable and interesting monuments and icons. The culture was declining. In 730 AD. the emperor Leo III promulgated a decree enjoining the destruction of all sacred images in human form, but his decree was not a movement against the “holy beauty” as a theological idea. The most concerned attempt to eradicate icon worship was made by his son, Constantine V, who set himself to destroy every kind of icons, except the symbol of the Cross (Carr 2004, 145). Led by the Iconoclasts, the attack on the cult images became the attack on as such. Their central tenet was to act against idolatry, toward which the use of icons had developed in the previous period. We can see in this process a clear tendency toward transforming the meaning of icons.
Starting as a small movement in Armenia in the early 7th century, iconoclasm came into the Byzantium in the beginning of the 8th century. But it attracted a special imperial support when the patriarch Nicholas I in 768 AD. commanded that the mosaics be removed from St. Sophia. The activities of the iconoclasm supporters were not turned against the monasteries and churches as institutions, but they struggled against their property. As their weapons they chose the destruction of the icons. This shows how big influence icons had in the society at the time.
The beginning of the “breaking images” period shows also little theological basis for the support of iconoclasm. From Asia Minor also came some influence of the Islamic culture. Leo III, probably, was aware of Islam’s opposition to the human figure in art. It is doubtful that the emperor could use this argument against icons at the time when Byzantium was suffering from the Muslim world.
In any case, it is impossible, as sometimes presented, to recognize the iconoclasts as a certain uneducated horde of people which smashed the great monuments of Christian art. Iconoclasm was under construction on the basis of deeply developed and refined theological and aesthetic theories. The Iconoclasts were supported by the emperor, bishops and also the higher clergy of Byzantium, while the Iconodules (Iconophiles) were the clergy of the lowest rank, the monastic communities and laymen.
The policy of the iconoclastic emperors, despite the ruin and abuse it cost, make a positive contribution to the joint development of the Byzantine Church and State since it fostered an increase in the prestige of the patriarch through an awareness of dogmatic autonomy. Meanwhile, the victory of the orthodox brought with it a revival of sacred art, made icons more popular than ever, and entailed a concentration of religious feeling on the humanity of Christ (Nicks, Gouillard 2003, 283).
Iconoclasm was the logical ending of the early period of the origin and development of the icons. But eventually the deep theological discussion between Iconoclasms and Iconoduls opened a new page in the icon’s history, which got the name the “Golden Age” of icons.
2.3 Theological discussions about the idea of icon
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me...
The use of sacred images of persons to which they point has a long and somewhat complicated history. Christian use of images began early, while the religion was still proscribed, and only received an impetus with the recognition of Christianity as a state religion in 313 AD. During the several following centuries the special Byzantine style was crystallized. The development of style made it include in itself elements from the latest antiquity and early Christianity. The nature of Byzantine and its society was based on traditions, dogmas and hierarchy. On the top of the hierarchical ladder was the emperor. The emperors were the general symbolic expressions of Byzantium as a state. Partly its idea was inherited from the Roman empire, but the reverent attitude to the very image of the emperor also developed greatly in Byzantium. Byzantine emperors had the principal titles Basileus and Augusta.
Imperial panegyrics dutifully reflected the official propaganda line, but they also expected some return for their services. Similarly, the ceremony of adoration, the kissing of the purple, instituted by Diocletian on the end of 3th century, although criticized at the time as evidence for oriental absolutism, enabled the emperor to show favour to a subject, as well as allowing the subject to pay homage to the emperor (Harries 2000, 1:36).
The forms of adoration of emperors were soon reflected also in the forms of veneration of icons. The ideas of framing Christianity as a part of the state law were necessary in order to establish the position of emperors. “In 438, Theodosius II issued his attempt at a general codification of imperial law, the Theodosius Code, which included, in Book 16, as collection of imperial laws issued by emperors from Constantine onwards on a subject which had never before been formally recognized as a distinct category of law – Christianity” (Harries 2000, 1:36).
Thus the emergence of the Christian cult images at the end of the 5th and during the 6th century was stimulated partly by the veneration paid to the imperial effigies in the Roman Empire. The image of God in honor and dignity had the same formal methods of description as the image of the emperors.
After victories the emperor would enter a city by foot and before him on a chariot with white horses was carried an icon of the Virgin, glorified as the true winner. In order to demonstrate the dignity and glory of the emperor as a representative person of God, he must sit on a double throne. From Monday till Friday the emperor was seated on the right side of throne, but on Saturday and Sunday he had to sit on the left side. It was the symbolic idea that the emperor might share a throne with Christ. On another part of the throne, and near by the emperor, was the cross as a symbol of Christ. From the 6th century some times instead of a cross on the throne was lying an icon with the image of Christ the Pantokrator.
The idea of demonstrating Christian humbleness by the emperor was also very important. Having come to the throne, the emperors were obliged to choose marble for a future sarcophagus. On the great Thursday the emperors washed the feet of twelve poor men in Saint Sophia cathedral. During the service in the cathedral the emperor held in his right hand an attribute of the state's power – skipetr-skeptre (Greek: “holder of power”); on the left hand was – akakia or anexikakia (Greek: “without guile”), a small bag with earth or dust from a grave as a symbol that the real world is transient. It also intended to remind the emperor of the ephemeral nature of life and its glory. “The idea of greatness gradually passed in the negotiation: in the idea of Christian humility”(Dmitrieva 1969, 131 [my translation]).
To Byzantium was the supremacy of the emperor in matter of religion as well as state. Constantine himself had called the first ecumenical council; each of the six subsequent councils, all held in the East, was likewise convened by emperors who promulgated their decrees as imperial law. The concentration of civil as well as religious power in the hands of the secular ruler has been called caesaropapism. Eusebius saw the state as the protector of the church and the emperor as God’s vicar on the earth, His image to whom the church owed support and gratitude. Emperor and patriarch were to work in harmony for the welfare of society, as Emperor Leo VI wrote in the ninth century: “The peace and felicity of subject in the body and soul depends on the agreement and concord of the kingship and priesthood in all things” (Volz 1997, 69).
This shows that Byzantium kept stability in the public attitude to the personal image of the emperor in quite a long period. The Church played a big role in the creation of this imposing function of the emperors authority.
The First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) is commonly regarded to have been the first Ecumenical council of the Christian Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine – “symbol of belief”. In creating of the Creed the first position was taken by St. Alexander of Alexandria and St. Athanasius. They took in account the nature of Christ as (Greek) Homousios, one true God in Deity with the Father. The theological expression – The Son of God is the original image of the father, made by Alexander of Alexandria, was taken later by John Damascus.
“Byzantine Christianity emphasized the incarnation of Christ and the mysteries attending the relationship between Christ’s human and divine natures. The saving nature of the incarnation is most clearly expressed in the words of Athanasius: “God became human that humans might become divine.” (Volz 1997, 70). Athanasiaus struggled against the Arians in Nicaea and was the winner in this theological discussion. “Similarly he has in fitting manner transferred the rest our bodily experiences to himself; we cease to be men, and by becoming the property of the Word, we share in his eternal life” (Wiles & Santer 1975, 56).
Arianism, advocated by Arius (who died in 336 AD), was declared as a heretical doctrine. It was condemned by the Council of Nicaea. “Arius disputed the Christian doctrine over the divine nature of the son of God (Logos), who was generated and therefore not equal to the Father, thus denying the divinity of Christ and the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son” (Matino 2006, 129). In Ravenna was saved the visual version of the Arius theological point of view. In the Baptistery of the Arians at the central medallion' of the cupola is shows the Baptism of Christ (Album 4). A naked, youthful Christ is wearing an absent expression on his face. He is immersed in the crystal-clear waters of the River Jordan. In his “sculpture” face it is possible to find much more from the antique version of the reading images of eternal young gods. But his imperfect naked body symbolizes sin. Here, in this image of Christ dominates the presentation of his nature as a human being. It is a very seldom type of iconography.
St. Basil the Great in the 4th century wrote: “Writers and painters set forth the great deeds of war; the one by word, the other by their pencils” (Ovsijchuk 2000, 134 [my translation]). In this period there was a quite sharp polemic about the parallel development of thoughts and images of God. The motivation of this discussion was in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians: “He is the image of the invisible God; his is the primacy over all created things”: Colossians 1: 15.
St. Basil referred his meaning as an opposition to ideas of Eusebius, the bishop of Ceasarea. “Eusebius, following Origen, sees the function of the Word as that of mediator between the ultimate God and creation. For this theological tradition the Word is, as mediator, necessarily subordinate and inferior to the Father” (Wiles and Santer 1975, 48). Eusebius had denied the idea about images of Christ and did not see in them the possibility to be a mediator. He was dominated by the tendency to divide between the values and meaning of the Word and the Image.
Also in the 4th century Epiphanius of Salamis was devoted to this tendency which developed later into Iconoclasm. He “claimed that images in churches distracted Christians from the contemplation of purely spiritual matters” (Nicks and Gouillard 2003, 7: 281).
Cyril of Alexandria became noted in the history of Church, because of his spirited fight for the title of St. Mary as Theotokos (Greek) – “God-bearing” during the Council of Ephesus (431 AD). Cyril of Alexandria is one of the central figures in the dogmatic mariology of all times. His image in iconography is that of Cyril standing, holding the icon Theotokos. In Byzantine theology the Theotokos means Bearer of God. For the establishment of this title to the Virgin he was in a polemic with the theory of Nestorius. The doctrine of Nestorius was based on the idea that Jesus has relative connection with the Son of God. He divided the one Son and one Word of God into two sons. Nestorius called Vergin Mary – Bearer of Christ. His position was that it is impossible for a human to bear a God, because God is eternal. Cyril explained his position in the Second letter to Succensus. He wrote: “…he was incarnate is a clear and unambiguous confession of the fact that he became man, there is nothing to prevent us from thinking of Christ as being the one and only Son at once both God and man, perfect in deity and perfect in humanity” (Wiles and Santer 1975, 69). In several writings, Cyril focuses on the love of Jesus to his mother. His teaching got the mariological development where the blessed Virgin Mary was regarded as the Mother of God. After this discussion Theotokos became the saint patron of Constantinople.
Some icons wept, bled or worked miracles – the latter sometimes on a regular schedule, as is documented by accounts of what is called ‘the usual miracle,’ performed every Friday night by an icon of the Theotokos in the Blachernai church in Constantinople (Jones 2003, 7:278).
The icons were officially accepted on the Chalcedon Council (451AD). Probably they came in use at first by the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches. On this Council the Orthodox concept was accepted. “It was based on the idea ‘I believe because it is absurd’ by Tertullian (160-220 AD), who has been called ‘the father of Latin Christianity’. The Orthodox version of this saying was translated as ‘I believe because it is miracle’ (Ware 2009, 243). This key expression was taken into the discussion, and in a while got its development in a special way by Orthodoxy. Miracles became some kind of attribute of the appeared icons.
It had its background in the idea about the spiritual opposite to the material nature where harmony existed only in the spiritual form. Overcoming the opposition between spiritual and matter natures was possibly realized in two ways. First of all it was realized through the dogma of Incarnation and next one by the Orthodox ceremony.
In the Bible the image of God has distinction with the likeness of God. In the Chalcedon Council was made the theological explanation of those definitions. By the image was a thinking about the ontological gift of God and the spiritual nature of human beings. But by the likeness was thinking about potency and possibility to the spiritual perfection” (Florenskij 2001, 18 [my translation]).
The reverence to icons and the creation of icons were put on a strictly regulated basis by the Second Council in Nicaea (787 AD). But icons were finally restored to a place of honour in the Church as late as 843 under the Decree introduced by John of Damascus at the Council of Constantinople. Between the processes of acceptation and adaptation icons in the liturgical use could count almost 500 years. And in this entire period emperors and their environment on the one side and the authorities of Church on the other, spent a lot of time in disputes, where directly or indirectly icons were a part of the discussions. They were extremely important tools for the realization of the Church. It showed how difficult it was in the process of adapting the icons into the process of fixing their theological and aesthetic meanings.
The Iconoclasm controversy started under the leadership of emperor Leo III, with his first demand to remove the icons from the gates to Constantinople. “Iconoclasm was based on the First Commandment and other biblical passages and iconoclasts were genuinely concerned that increasing devotion to icons would lead to idolatry” (Nicks and Gouillard 2003, 7:280).
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image...”: Exodus 20: 4-5. In the Russian version of the Bible this sentence, instead of “carved image”, uses a word which can only be translated into English as ‘idol’. In Russian it is – kumir, кумир, which however, does not man ’idol’. In Russian language there exist two words – kumir “кумир” and idol “идол”. They have different definitions. The first one is used in the meaning of action, and more close to idolatry. The second is used in the meaning of an object of idolatry. Some times it even has the meaning of an ancient sculpture. One of the important arguments of the Iconodules was that icons had a special form of expression and that the image had to be painted, not carved. The painted icons were flat and this was included in the concept of the icon and also realized by a technique.
In Byzantium, we do not know exactly in which century the definition of eidolon (Greek: eίδολοη) but it was probably before the time of Iconoclasm. It connoted pagan images as opposed to icons, or Christian images.
Scripture and the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical councils together were considered the basis of the Orthodox faith. In addition to Scripture and the Councils, theological tradition is also authoritative, including the writings of theologians. Perhaps the most authoritative of these is John of Damascus (d.749). John taught the divine maternity of Mary, her exemption from original sin, and her bodily assumption into heaven (Volz 1997, 71).
John of Damascus made a new exposition of doctrinal truth. His style of writing has an encyclopedic character. He made a big contribution to the theological explanation of the icon's nature. In the introduction and protection of images, John of Damascus developed a new, original theology, based on tradition.
John was able to defend the veneration of images unhindered outside the empire by means of his three famous discourses, which laid the theological foundation of the future. Although he was condemned by the synod of Heiria (754), which was opposed to images, the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (787) not only rehabilitated him but based itself entirely on his theology of images (Drobner 2007, 542-543).
John understood the terminological problems and sharp the differentiation of the types of images which were adopted by the Second Council of Nicaea. The position of John of Damascus about the icons is still actually and still in used by the Orthodox.
John initially differentiates the concept of προσκύνησις as simple “admiration”, befitting creatures, and as “worship” (προσκύνησις κατά λατρείαν), befitting God alone. In no way does the προσκύνησις of images of God and his saints refer to the object, however, but always to the person represented, who, according to the ancient tradition, is present, as it were, in the representation of the image. Only because of the presence of the Spirit of God do images possess grace and effect (Drobner 2007, 544-545).
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was greatly in debt to John of Damascus for his methodology. Pavel Florenskij in the 20th century took into account a lot of John's theology.
On the Second Council of Nicaea applying to icons is using the terminology “holy and venerable images”. Those special accents were made as the reaction not only against the Iconoclastic theology but also against the Iconoclastic policy with its exaggerated bureaucracy and their violent attitude against art in the churches. “So also no prince or secular official shall rob the churches, as some have done in former time, under the pretext of destroying image” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:545).
In the first session of this Council Basil of Ancyra said: “Anathema to the calumniators of the Christians, that is to the image breakers. Anathema to those who apply the words of Holy Scripture which were spoken against idols, to the venerable images. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who say that Christians have recourse to the images as to gods. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols”(A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:534). In our times the tune and formulations of these statements look very radical. But we need to remember the historical context. And this context was – theological war. In the war enemies normally are aggressive to each others both in their actions and in their words.
Theodore, bishop of Myra said: “I venerate and honour and salute the reliques of the Saints as of those who fought for Christ and who have received grace from him...” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:534). When the Empress Irene together with Tarasius, patriarch of Constantinople, prepared the background for this Council the meaning was to create a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches by establishing a common custom. The reliques had an important place in both Churches. It was common attitude that they as objects of holy history could educate Christians about the virtuous deeds of Christ and the saints.
The same bishop continued: “I am well pleased that there should be images in the churches of the faithful, especially the images of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the holy Mother of God, of every kind of material, both gold and silver and of every colour, so that his incarnation may be set forth to all men” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:535).
“After we had carefully examined their decrees (here in Constantinople 754)” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:543). This shows that the Iconodules were quite good prepared for the discussion with their opponents, the Iconoclasts. It was explained by the level of theological disputers. In order to avoid the chance of being refuted the second time, they studied properly all the arguments of the Iconoclasts against the images, as possible objects of idolatry.
This Council made three definitions of the icons, namely as a “divine image”, “venerable images” and “image” (είκών). “The venerable images (είκόνας) of Christ, in his humanity he assumed for our salvation” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:533). “If anyone ventures to represent the divine image (χαρακτήρ) of the Word after the Incarnation with material colours, let him be anathema!” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:545).
As a consequence of this council, then, was created the theology of painting icons. They used forms and colours, but it was of principal importance to remove everything in the icon from the materialistic world. Icons might be reflecting and reminding. Their nature is an abstract language with the symbolical meanings of form and colours. And the way of creating icons is through mediation and prayer.
It was a great challenge to find this compromise between the veneration of icons and the limitation of veneration or relative cult of them. The same can be said about finding the compromise between the verbs they made use of - namely to adore (λατρεύω) and to venerate(προσκυνέω).
The Council decreed that similar veneration and honour should be paid to the representations of the Lord and of the Saints as was accustomed to be paid to the “laurata” and tablets representing the Christian emperors, to wit, that they should be bowed to, and saluted with kisses, and attended with lights and the offering of incense. But the Council was most explicit in declaring that this was merely a veneration of honour and affection, such as can be given to the creature, and that under no circumstances could the adoration of divine worship be given to them but to God alone (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:526).
And a very significant explanation was made, which closed the way for the possibility of committing idolatry through the veneration of icons. Because the concept of veneration does not mean the same as worship and between them lay a clear theological formulation. “When then the Council defined that the worship of “latria” was never to be given to any but God alone, it cut off all possibility for idolatry, mariolatry, iconolatry, or any other “latry” except “theolatry” (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:526-527). This Council of Nicaea played an extremely important role for the next period in the history of the Orthodox Church. Important for us to keep in mind is, that this Church Council was the last one in which the Orthodox Church was declared as Ecumenical. The Orthodoxy was bitten not once in the history for the veneration of icons, kissing of them. Kissing is just a cult, happens to occur. Theolatry is the worship of God and Orthodox worship is except from the context of icons.
Theodore of Studios (d.826 AD) was another influential theologian, a vigorous opponent of iconoclasm, who supported church independence from law control. His energy and organizing genius made his monastery at Studios the center of the reform in the Eastern Church. He began restoring the monastic discipline. Soon the monastic community, as a movement for the restoration of images, was able to protect their own ideal and stay against the second wave of Iconoclasm.
The Synod of Hagia Sophia (815 AD) and the Church decree (843 AD) finally renovated the holy images and Iconoclasm soon disappeared entirely from the Byzantine society.
In the question of images Thomas Aquinas referred first of all to St. John of Damascus and to St. Augustine. “'Image' does not appear to be a personal name in the godhead. Augustine teaches that the divinity and image of the Holy Trinity, after which man is created, is one. 'Image', then, is an essential, not a personal term” (St Thomas Aquinas 2006, 7:43). The definition of Christ as a person or friend is therefore totally prohibited in the Orthodox Church until now.
As far as an image is always a reflection of the likeness (άντιτυπος) and reminder about a prototype (πρωτοτΰπος) the understanding of it is, that it is the image of the image of God. The image of images has the meaning of superiority but definitely not the meaning of the double copy. “Likeness is of the essence of an image. Yet not just any likeness matches its meaning, but only a likeness to another either in species or in some mark of a species” (St Thomas Aquinas 2006, 7:43).
In the terminology relating to icons John of Damascus followed the tradition of Greek theologians who employed the term ‘image’ to the absolute likeness of the Holy Spirit. The idea of Thomas Aquinas is:
The Son is the Image of the Father in the first manner; man is the image of the God in the second. In order, therefore, to bring out that there is less of an image in man, Scripture does not just say that man is made the image, but made to the image of God, thereby implying a kind of process tending towards completion. Because the Son is the absolute Image, on the other hand, he cannot be said to be 'to the Father's image'” (St Thomas Aquinas 2006, 7:47-48).
This meaning corresponded with the Gospel of John:
He entered his own realm, and his own would not receive him. But to all who did received him, to those who have yielded him their allegiance, he gave the right to become children of God, not born of any human stock, or by the fleshly desire of a human father, but the offspring of God himself: John 1:11-14.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) represent the German late medieval school of theology. Like Thomas Aquinas he also made a commentary to John of Damascus’ conception of images. “Eckhart argues that if the Son is of one essence with the Father, though different in person, then the just man is the 'offspring' (proles) of justice, and is one essence with justice, though different in person. This to apply the dynamics of the inner-Trinitarian relations to the Creation itself, and it serves to emphasize the extent to which the transcendentals, for Eckhart, remain within God” (Davies 2001, 62).
In the beginning of the 16th century the traditional values were reviewed during a single generation. The solid medieval world exploded and revived by the national identities. In the German art came the new tends which had a serious approach to life itself. The time demanded from society that the Church must change not only in its institution, but also in its teaching. Erasmus Roterdamus came with the idea that people need to start with reading the Bible, as it was the truth. He printed the Biblel in Latin and thus created thousands of new readers.
Albrecht Dürer was the invention of the Great German myth. In many ways he was a strange and uncomfortable man for his epoch, but he moved his own epoch ahead. He painted his self portrait in the traditional pose of Christ. He used the image of Christ only as inspiration. His characteristic is accurate, not symbolic or abstract. In the same time, in Italy, Michelangelo created the idea that “heroic spirit is visible”(Clark 1969).
Parallel with this in the history came Luther with the emotional relive: “Here I stand” (Clark 1969). He came like the leader of a popular movement with the declaration of the new civilization not based on or inspired by the images, but the period of “Sola Scriptura”. The tools of thought in this period became accessible by printing the Bible in the German language.
In the Orthodox literature we can find accusations of of Luther, that “he destroyed the theological and aesthetic attitude of the icons” (Ware 2009, 134). But we need to be exact in our definitions. I think that the Orthodox Church used this message more in a political rather than a religious sense. The orthodox definition of icon is not the same as the image. This situation needs a correlation. Luther was a bright person, but it is natural that he corresponded with the medieval and contemporary art, which was settled in the German church. This art has very little to do with the liturgical Byzantine art. At the same time, the Orthodox Church was active in preventing these images which came to East Europe from Germany.
When Luther taught about the images, he had reference to the Iconoclastic Controversy, initiated by emperor Leo III. Luther used only the word “image”, but not “icon”. At least only the concept ‘image’ is used in the English translation.
Luther wrote about images that, “…we must come to the images, and concerning them also it is true that they are unnecessary, and we are free to have them or not, although it would be much better if we did not have them at all” (Luther 1966, 51: 81). “The text says, ‘You shall not make any images,’ then they say: It also says, ‘You should not worship them’. In the face of such uncertainty who would be so bold as to destroy the images? Not I” (Luther 1966, 51:82).
If we go back to the decrees of the Council of Nicaea we can also read: “... the worship... was never to be given to any but God alone”(A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1974, 14:526). In his sayings Luther was calm regarding the use of images. But public reaction was much stronger and the protest started to be destructive. For example, the sculptures from the Lady Chapel in Ill in France were smashed. During this movement, several monuments were also destroyed. These cultural artifacts of incomprehensible value were never recovered. But their destruction was not motivated by the Luther’s religious view itself, but by people’s instinct to destroy.
In “The Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit” Luther wrote: “He (Dr. Karlstadt) pounces on outward things with such violence, as though the whole strength of the Christian enterprise consisted in the destruction of images, the overthrow of the sacrament and the hindering of baptism”(Luther 1966, 40:67). In another letter Luther continued the discussion with the same opponent. “When Karlstadt disregards my spiritual and orderly putting away of images and makes me out to be only a ‘protector of images’, this is an example of his holy and prophetic art, though I only resisted his factious, violent, and fanatical spirit” (Luther 1966,40:85). Standing against the fanatical attitude, Luther showed his position to images, as representing external things. In any case he prepared the way for finding compromises, but did not he harbour the fanatical destructive position.
His, in principal new ideas, were shaking all Europe. The ideas had place and influence on the canonical icons and their protection. As a reaction to the protestant movement a big gathering activity of icons started to take place in the Russian Church in the 17th century.
At the Moscow synod of 1551 (Stoglav in Russian “hundred heads”) the authenticity of the icon tradition was the focus in violent disputes. In the decree of Stoglav great emphasis was put on the role of the painters in the process of creating the icons. The painters were given strict rules as a reaction to the new influences which started to develop with regard to the painting of icons. In chapter 43 of this decree the following three statements were the most important for the painting of icons: 1) the Fathers of the Russian church gave their own vision of the problems they saw developing in the icons; as such it was the first official negative critic against the influences of modernity in this process; 2) as the weak side of the new development they identified the tendency to concentrate on small details which destroyed the unity of the compositions and to the wish of including contemporary information in the icons’ context; 3) instead they decided that painters or writers of icons should follow the best examples from the “Golden Age” of icons. Stoglav censured the people who called themselves icon painters but did not have enough knowledge about the art and were not educated properly for mastering it properly. “Prototype and once again Prototype – was the main message of the Stoglav. And this was the only way to protect the icons from their destruction. But icons were in the process of losing their eternity and university” (Pokrovskij 2000, 157 [my translation]).
The 1553 synod confirmed the legitimacy of icon types based on human and theological treaties. The sacramental subjects of icons became much wider. But the main reason for this synod was an attempt to test the situation of the icons painted after the Stoglav's decree. The intensity with which the synod was gathered is the best proof for the fact that the icon painting tradition were facing serious problems – the influence from the modernist West.
In the beginning of the 17th century came the first examples of visual descriptions of God the Father. As a reaction to these images the Moscow synod of 1666 stated that the image of God was forbidden for visualization. Up to our days, icons of God the Father are controversial. It became a challenge for the icon tradition when their formal construction started to be destroyed from within the church. And there was no chance of a reanimation of the icons or of reinforcing respect for the classical canons of icon painting when the secular movement grew so strongly. The theological discussions about icons finished when the object of these discussions exhausted its own resources. And the logical end for the classical icon tradition came when icons were confined to their historical potential. The classical period, when icons dominated the artistic life of Eastern Europe, was over.
2.4 Iconography: subject, method and themes
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The wider definition of iconography is determined by science and method. The narrower narrow definition is determined by the code of rules, norms and variants of the different themes and topics. The wide definition of iconography involves a study of icon interpretation, description and an interpretation of the content of images. Also the narrow definition can be said to have a similar scientific function, but it is restricted only to the icons in the context of Orthodox Church tradition. The discipline of iconography came late in the architectural study.
The word “iconography” originates from two Greek words “eikón” – icon, and “grapho” – to write. Iconography has been used as a scientific method mostly for the researches of the medieval and Renaissance periods.
Theologians and Church historians take the view that icon painting is in fact the presentation of Church dogmas in visible images. Icons have their traditional canons which, like religious dogma, must be implicitly obeyed. And following these canons is therefore very important, both as a dogma and also as a tool for creating icons. The traditional process of making icons is not technical or emotional – it is primarily guided by prayer and knowledge. “The definitive horos (“decision”; - Canons) in the theology of icons, were published by the Seventh Ecumenical Council” (Felmy 2009, 388).
There is some reason for the iconographic approach to the icon – an approach that is widespread even today.
Icon painters did not usually invent their subject as painters do. They followed an iconographic type, developed and established by customs and the Church authorities. This is why icons are representing the same subject, even when centuries apart, are so like. The artist was considered to have a duty to follow the examples gathered in the so-called manuals – “podlinniki” (подлинники) (Alpatov 1973, 14).
In Russian podlinnik has the meaning – genuine or authentic.
Podlinnik's were the old manuscripts where the monks acted as as artists. History has saved two types of podlinnik's – the practical and the theoretical. Possibly these books were in use as early as the 10th or 11th century. But the oldest one in existence now is from the 16th century only. The practical manual – litsevue podlinniki “лицевые подлинники” with the exact definition of Orthodox icons is the book with schematic drawings made for helping the icon painters.
Most famous is the Greek manual manuscript of Dionysius from the monastery in Fyrnu. Dionysius most probably lived in the 15th century, but his books in the Athos library are dated from the 18th century. These books were rewritten many times and thanks to the diligence of unknown monks, who made these copies, the old texts are preserved today. The Dionysius' manuscript consisted of three chapters. In the first one he made detail explanations about the technical characteristics of icons, described different methods and gave several recipes for making icons. In the second chapter Dionysius gave information and notes about how to make the images based on the Old and New Testaments. This chapter has a precise character of iconography. In the last chapter he describes the methods of making wall paintings in the churches. “Dionysius was not the creator of the Greeks’ manual, but he made the collection and systematization of the icon material which was in use” (Pokrovskij 2000, 119 [my translation]). The French archeologist Didron visited Athos in the 1830's and was under influence of the unexpected beauty which he found in the monastery. In his book “Iconography chrétienne” (Paris 1843) Didron had references to the Dionysius manuscript.
History also gives us the name of an icon-artist Alimpius, who lived in the monastery Lavra in central Kiev in the beginning of the 12th century. His name is associated with the development of the iconography school of Kievan Rus (later Russia and Ukraine) (Aseev 1989, 58). He created the special type of “the Theotokos” – The Mother of God in the cave. Legends and the historical manuscript “Nestor's codex” tell about Alimpius and his icons. Nestor and Alimpius were contemporaries, both lived in the same monastery, and both are buried in the caves of Lavra. Probably, the contribution of Alimpius to iconography was so great that his name was mentioned in the Laurention codex (end of 14th century) and the Hypation codex (15th century).
In Lavra's depository are kept the books from the art studio from the 16th to the 18th centuries – kunzbushki (кужбушки), which means the transforming word – Kunstbuch from German – art's book. These books have a lot of practical advises, outlined step by step for the painters who were to study the different themes in iconography and its schemes.
The Russian's podlinniki – Sijskij and Filimonovscij – are dated to the 17th Century. Their work represents a rich material with a lot of iconographic schemes. “Podlinnik from Sijskij monastery is one of the best examples. It's advantages are the huge collected base, the quality of drawings and list of the artists” (Pokrovskij 2000, 225 [my translation]). The same meaning as podlinniki had in Russia, Iconology ( icon – “image” and logos - “word”, “reason”) had in West Europe. “Iconologia” is the title of Cesare Ripas handbook of personifications for the use of artists (1593). He was the first one who used this terminology. “For Ripa iconology consist of the description of the symbols and personifications used in emblems and allegories for the purpose of aiding artists” (Enge 2003, 288). In the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries several iconographic schools were formed. In the critical “reading” of the images Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) suggested to use iconography as a formal analysis. Max Dvorak (1874-1926) proposed to frame the same definition as a history of spiritual development.
In the discussion about iconography one finds the following statement: “Although religious art activity in the East was often controlled by canons, that of the West revealed a freedom and a progressive development” (Enge 2003, 285). I think that using the definition “progressive” in connection with the art of icons is conditional or even doubtful. The idea of development, as a continuous changing of canons for icon painting, is conceptual nonsense in the context of icons. Because in the case of icons they go out from and are based on prototypes.
It is very interesting to compare Eastern and Western points of view regarding the main figure in Christianity - Christ. “The icon of Christ, which is the crown of all icons, renders palpable the mystery of the Incarnation of the Logos, not simply as a reminded, but as an organic part, an extension, and a perpetuation of it” (Alpatov 1973, 36). “The figure of Christ is a subject that has continued to develop uninterruptedly over two millenniums, and it is among the richest and most varied themes in Christian art in the West (oriental Christianity, under the aegis of the Orthodox Church, poses radically different problems)” (Zeri 1990, 15).
A comprehensive introduction to the study of Orthodox art was made by the Byzantinists G. Millet, C. Diehl, Andre Grabar and Fyodor Uspensky. The ‘Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretiénne et de liturgie' wrote by the Benedictines F. Cabrol and H. Leclerq, which appeared between 1907 and 1953 in 15 parts (30 volumes), constitutes the most valuable single source of iconographical data” (Enge 2003, 286).
In the end of the 19th century Fyodor Buslaev(1818-1898) reproached early Russian painting for lagging behind the Renaissance in the West, for “lacking the correct draughtsmanship, perspective and colours range, rendered intelligible by light and shade” (Buslaev 1913, 152 [my translation]). Today these reasons are not convincing. The aesthetic approach to icons has proven that icons have had valuable qualities of their own, and that icon painting was an art in its own right.
Nikodim Kondakov (1844-1925) made a contribution to the development of the icons of the Virgin Mary – Theotokos. His writing was based on the teaching of St Cyril of Alexandria, who was one of the early promoters of mariology. In the book Antiquites de la Russie Meridionale (published 1891) he made descriptions of the 300 iconographic types of the Theotokos icons. This is the most complete collection with such high numbers of icon types and examples. Methodologically Kondakov has in this book extracted the data on each of the types through identifying and verifying the icons on the basis of their belonging to different times and periods of history.
Pavel Florenskij (1882-1937) wrote Iconostasis in 1921-1922 and this work cost him his life. In his book Florenskij showed the theological and historical as well as theoretical approaches to the world of icons. He created the synthetic method for analyzing icons , a method which combines the religious thoughts and art expressions. He distinguished between the investigations of the icons’ form and the interpretation of their content or meaning. In his theoretical approach Florenskij was methodologically close to the ideas of Edwin Panofsky.
Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) stressed the semiotic approach to the history of art. The term ‘iconology’ was adopted by Erwin Panofsky to distinguish his broader approach to the analysis of meaning in the visual art of iconography. “The definition ‘history of meaning’ was his primary statement of the iconologial method and as the standard definition of the concepts iconography and iconology” (Klevaev 2007, 106 [my translation]). His method consists of three levels of scientific research: First, the formal analysis of composition, colour, drawing and so on; second, the verification of themes according to the exact priorities of iconography; three, the study of iconology as cultural and ideological associations. On those positions he based his book Meaning in the visual arts (published 1955).
Main themes in Orthodox icons
In the following I shall list some of the main themes in Orthodox icon tradition. Striving to penetrate the iconographic foundation I have chosen among numerous and varied motifs, the most constant, stable and universally significant ones – the most popular. Basically we may say that the main themes of the Orthodox icons are divided in three groups: (1) Christ and Mary, (2) figures from Old and New Testaments, and (3) the Saints.
Among the Christ icons the following themes are the most popular ones: (a) Christ Pantokrator (Album 1; 5)(Greek for “all-sovereign”: epithet of God as well as of the individual persons of the Trinity. It is designates the best known type of Christ image, bearded and represented frontally. Christ blessing with his right hand while holding the Gospel book in his left); (b) Deesis (Album 8; 9) (Greek for “entreaty”: representation of Christ between the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist); (c) Not Made by human Hands (Album 6) (according to the legend about Abgar); (d) Christ the King of Glory, Man of Sorrows or Akra Tapeinosis (Album 7 ) (Greek for “utmost humiliation” (Isaiah 53:8) depiction of the dead Christ displaying the wound of the Passion, known in the West as the Man of Sorrows); (e) Christ Anapseon (Greek for “the reclining one”: depiction of the Christ Child reclining, resting his head on his right hand and holding a scroll in his left. It has common features with Christ Emmanuel and it is a prefiguration of Christ's Passion); (f) Christ the High Priest, a depiction of Christ combining dual attributes symbolizing his temporal and ecclesiastical authority. In the realization of all these types we find a combination of the theological ideas or theological disputes about Christ and their reflection in the icons at the time when the icons were written.
The following scenes, reflecting the life of Christ, are most popular: the Annunciation (Album 10), the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, the Baptism with the name of Christ (Album 4; 11), the Transfiguration (Album 33), the Raising of Lazarus, the Entry into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, the Anastasis (Album 12) (resurrection), the Ascension (Album 13), the Pentecost, the Dormition of the Virgin (Album 35). Although the last one is dedicated to Mary the figure of Christ has the central part in its composition. Christ stays with the baby who is symbolizing the soul of the Virgin. Some of these scenes with Christ were based on the canonical texts of the New Testament, and other ones – on the apocryphal motives.
Also the icons with the Virgin are very popular in the Orthodox tradition. Here images are compulsory elements in every church. The description of her images are based on the texts of the Protevangelium and on the dogmatic teaching – mariology.
It is noteworthy that the Protevangelium's interest in Mary is not properly biographical (by contrast with medieval lives of the Virgin). It does not continue her story beyond her role in the salvation history, which it does not extend beyond the birth of Jesus. Its interest is solely in the way Mary was prepared for and fulfilled her unique vocation to be the virgin mother of the Saviour (Bauckham 2000, 2:796).
The types of the Virgin Mary in iconography are as follows: (a) the Virgin Hodegetria (Album 15) (Greek for “guide”; an icon of the Virgin holding the Christ Child and gesturing to him with her free hand, as the way to salvation); (b) the Virgin Eleousa (Album 14) (Greek for “compassionate; an icon of the Virgin in which she tenderly touches her cheek to the Christ Child – most famous is “The Virgin of Vladimir); (c) the Virgin Kykkotissa (a Cypriot variation on the Virgin Eleousa); (d) the Virgin Blachernitissa (the iconographic type has depicted the Virgin, reproducing an icon once kept at the Blachernai Church in Constantinople); (e) the Virgin Dexiokratousa (Greek for “right-handed”; an icon of the Virgin holding the Christ Child in her right hand); (f) the Virgin Galaktotrophousa (Greek for “wet nurse”; an icon of the Virgin nursing the Christ Child); (g) the Virgin Glykophilousa – of Tenderness (Greek for “sweet kissing”, a variant of the icon of the Virgin Eleousa. The term focuses on the activities of the figures); (h) the Virgin Nikopoios (Greek for “bringer of victory”; an icon of the Virgin featuring a frontal bust of Mary, holding a medallion with a frontal figure of Christ); (i) the Virgin Platytera (Greek for “wider than heaven”; an icon of the Virgin in an orant pose); (j) the Virgin of John of Damascus ( Mary with three hands); (k) the Enthroned Virgin and Child (Album 16).
As one can see from the different types of the image of the Virgin the most dominant theme is where she presents her child-Saviour to the world. By presenting this action of hers iconography took its message from the mariology of the church and described her types as different functions of hers in presenting Christ.
Among the types I have listed there were several particular favourites. They became favourites because the seemed to be able to express the innermost hopes (and feelings) of the people. One is the image of the Virgin and Child, enthroned, against the background of a multidomed church, and surrounded by an assembly of the people, glorifying and exalting them - “In Thee Rejoicing” (Album 18). This type has been widely used in all different traditions of the Orthodox church – as a type which combines the visible with the invisible prayers of adoration in liturgy. Another type has a purely Russian origin - “The Shroud” (Album 17). Here the Virgin is patron and defender of the people and spreading her veil over them. Thus, in one case we have the exultant mankind hailing the Virgin, and in the other mankind turns to the Virgin in search of help and protection. These icons might be called convocational, as they depict convocations of many people of various ranks who are united in expressing hymns to the harmony. In the 15th century an iconographic type of the Virgin was created which was derivated from both of them – “The Virgin – is the Empress of Earth and Heaven”. Historically this type was established parallel to the theological recognition of the Virgin as a patron of Russia.
Other popular icons contain scenes from the Old Testament: Moses (Album 28), Elijah and The Hospitality of Abraham (Album 29), which was used as a first iconographic type of the Trinity (Album 36).
Also we find scenes and persons from the New Testament: The Four Gospels, Symeon Theodochos (Album 27), John the Forerunner, Peter and Paul (Album 20), the Archangels Gabriel (Album 22; 23) and Michael (Album 24; 38), Synaxis of the Apostles Album 21), (the) Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apocalypses were often used.
The Saints were hosious or hagios (Greek for “holy man”): Most common were the Saints George (Album 31), Theodore Stratelates, Nicholas (Album 30), Boris and Gleb, Demetrios, Georgius, Anastasia, Catherine, Theodosia, the Saints of Stylite, and the Fathers of the Church. This type of icons is divided into two groups: (1) the single or collective images of the holy person(s) (they are close to portrait(s)) and (2) the Vita icons with scenes from the life of a Saint.
Special types were: the Holy Trinity, the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and the Illuminated Gospel.
The iconographic system of icons was the formation of a self-sufficient text. But it is important to remember that this text had secondary nature and was itself a reflection of the literary plot – the pre-text. The literary basis was first of all the Old and New Testaments, the Canon Tables (the system of establishing concordance between the Four Gospels), the dogmatic texts of the Fathers of the Church, Pateriks (from Greek Paterika - “books about” the fathers, that is collections of hagiographic texts), the Protevageliums, the Apocrypha, the Holy Legends about the Saints, the Euchologion (Greek for “prayer book”, a compilation of texts required for the celebration of the liturgy).
“In the exact definition of iconography it [the icon] was made only by holy persons. We can suggest that a big part of the Saints were involved in the process of the creation of iconography. According to their spiritual experience, the Saints hold the leadership among the painters of icons and were their preceptors” (Florenskij 2001, 24 [my translation]). This we may refer to both as a theologically and historically oriented definition. When tracing the icons’ history and types we know that icons come from different places and may be dated to different periods, but it is possible to recognize all their main types quite easily. Each of these types give us clues to reading them and for finding their message but so do the themes and the colours (and gold) which are represented in them. Also, if we are able to understand their (contemporary) historical context well and know well their textual pre-texts, then we can interpret their textual as well as historical context.
This chapter consists of a lot of information about the cultural, spiritual, aesthetic and scientific nature of icon. This objective information, as a historical data collection, I used for own analysis and reflection, which gave me the possibility to signify several conclusions. 1) Phenomenology of the icons does not give chance to make only one precise definition of icon. Its nature applies to the flexibility of their definition which is connected to the different levels of its functionality. During the historical time, the transforming of icons' meaning was clearly recognized in the different attitude to them in the West and East branches of the Christianity. 2) The finding of the roots of icons, both cultural and technical, opens the perspective to its analysis as an aesthetic and social origin of icons. 3) A very important question of understanding phenomenology of icon is the theological discussion which took place from the first period of establishment of icons and which still can be actual. (The Orthodox Church during the 20th century unsuccessfully tried to organize the 8th Ecumenical Council. One of the question for these theoretical disputes were proposed the – icon, as a remaining of the Prototype and icon, as an action of veneration). 4) Iconography, as a reflection on the icons reality, is a historical archive of the written text of icons with a lot of plots, scenes and schemes; a part of the scientific method of the icons study; one of the tools for reading the icons messages.
My opinion is the advance of icons (phenomenological nature) that they need several approaches for the deep understanding. It is not possible just using the scientific method to answer: for what, why, how, where and when – is icon. In the next chapters I will give some other points of view of the object of our main discussion – Icon: Text and Context.