SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
For the realization of my topic I made use of theological, aesthetic, scientific, iconographic and biographical approaches. Each of these approaches opened one perspective of the icons, a perspective whose nature supposedly communicated with the readers at the levels of historical and / or existential readings. The icons are always open to their readers. Also they are able to give those messages which the readers are able to receive at the different levels. And the level of perception of the signals from icons therefore depends on the readers’ knowledge, intelligence, emotions or faith.
The rather comprehensive analysis which I have made with regard to some representative icons from the Classical period of icon painting makes it possible to draw several conclusions.
“Icon is a gift to mankind and it represents their dreams” (Florenskij 2001, 22 [my translation]). In this context the icons combine three communicative forms, that is the direct, the indirect and the mediated forms of communication. I have not dealt much with the direct form, which is the communication of the pre-text, which is found in the biblical and other traditional narrative texts of the church. Yet I have pointed to it when I dealt with the themes of and canons for icon paintings (see 3.1; 3.2).
For the icon painter and the informed reader this pre-text exists as a wider framework for reading the icon itself. In the indirect form of communication the icon painter brings the reader into contact with aspects or themes of the pre-text (see 3.3). And, in the mediated form of communication the reader of the icon is brought into contact with the icon painter’s own dialogue with the person(s) or narrative(s) that is (/are) represented in the icon (see 4.1; 4.2). These forms of communication make it possible to penetrate deeply into the content of the icons and leave us with a wide room for reading and understanding them. This is the most important principle when entering the world of icons, a world within which there exist many questions to be discussed and answered. But at the basis of the world of icons there is no place for contradiction. Because the icons are dumb yet communicating witnesses of God. Their aim is to bring about harmony and peacefulness.
Aggression, ignorance, incomprehension and indifference – these attitudes or actions are only to be found among the human readers of the icons – not in the icons themselves. And, as we have seen, such negative attitudes or actions are found several times in the old as well as modern history. This means that the more informed the reader is about the pre-text, the text and the mediated text, the fuller his or her reading may be. But he and she may also be able to grasp some meaning when reading the icon if they are informed about one or two of its forms of communication. They may either attain a combined existential and historical reading of it or merely a historical reading – both levels being present in the icon itself.
When seen from the contemporary historical perspective the nature of icon painting cannot be reduced to only one, simple characteristic feature – either to the cult purpose of the icon, to its style, to the world outlook it may reflect, or to the technique of execution, which continued even when classical icon painting was dying out. Instead the nature of icons – and therefore of icon painting as an art – must be understood as comprising of these characteristic features (see 2.2; 2.3; 2.4). The ethical and aesthetic characteristics of the medieval icons found their expression in formal features – above all in the light. The forms and colours employed in an icon are of great spiritual force (see 3.1; 3.2). On the other hand, the religious and philosophical ideas of icon painting were impossible to express in any other way than in the special style which is found in icon painting. All these features have determined the structural characteristics of icon painting, which distinguishes it from the painting of the Renaissance and post-Renaissance periods, from Gothic stained-glass windows, from ancient Greek vase painting and Persian miniatures.
The profound humanity of icon painting is connected with the idea of its proportionality with man's knowledge, feelings and emotions, and has come through the cleansing fire of the sensitive human soul; everything is coloured with human sympathy. There is one precious characteristic feature of icons which can be summed up in Gogol's words: “They have no inordinate rapturousness or exaltation, but are dominated by a calm force... It is an unusual lyricism born of a supreme sobriety of mind” (Gogol 2003, 398 [my translation]). Icons are imbued with a profound conviction, a pure faith, but this never develops into a fanatical passion and does not lead to loss of a sense of proportion (see2.1).
The Life of St Sergius tells of how he built the Trinity Cathedral “that he might vanquish the fear of the hateful strife existing in this world by contemplation of the Holy Trinity” (Alpatov 1973, 10). These words apply not only to the famous Rublev icon the Old Testament Trinity but to icon painting in its entirety. The most wonderful icons do not bring only ideas about their veneration or convey only expectations of aid and healing, but present themselves to man in such a way that, as he looks or looked at them and their beauty, he or she could find solace, joy and concord with the world.
The icons live as texts and can be read. It is possible to compare their reading with our ability to read the book. The child hears the melody of words. The adult knows the rules and makes a critical analysis of the text. The old person understands the symbols of the language and reads the book through his or her own experience of life. Each of these methods is not better then the others, since each brings out different values in the text. We find the same parallel in the ways icons are read. One may approach them at different levels of reading but neither of these can be regarded as right or wrong. Rather one must understand them as mutually supplementing readings.
The icons live in the context. Phenomenologically the icon exists in its unity with the church, as an expression of theological thoughts and architectural space; they address mankind and each person and their modernity. The church created the language of the icons; the icon painters realized the ideas and aimed at harmony as the “highest beauty” in the icons, so that these might – in turn – open the possibility for a visual contact with the World of God. The icons bring phenomena from God’s eternal World through human definitions expressed in “historical time” (see 2.3). Obviously, the reading of them is a “historical reading” but their messages are, however, not dated but are still actual and contemporary and can be caught by the reader through the “existential reading”.