The History Iconography
Iconography as an art appeared when the Byzantine Empire was established in 330 AD. It is believed that the first works of this form of art are the murals of the catacombs of Rome. But the main characteristics of Byzantine art, they begin to form during the middle Byzantine period (867 - 1204). Constantinople, apart from the capital of the new state,it will be for centuries the capital of art, not only in Byzantium but throughout Europe. After the first conquest of the city by the Franks in 1204, Thessaloniki will succeed Constantinople as an artistic center. Iconography and all Byzantine art will reach its peak during the period of Palaeologus. Easy to use, less expensive than the mosaics - available only to higher social casts - fast in execution, adressing as a means of indoctrination to all walks of life, it will spread across the geographic range of the Byzantine Empire and in all countries of religious and cultural influence.
The decline and the revival
During the Ottoman period the art of iconography is slowly beginning to decline. In the seventeenth century and for the next nearly four centuries it will lose its grounded, timeless and unchanging Byzantine style. The Byzantine icons will be replaced by religious paintings mixed with Byzantine and Renaissance elements. In the beginning of the 20th century, Fotis Kontoglou will attempt to retrieve from the dark abyss of oblivion the sacred art of the Orthodox iconography. His project will succeed and through him the iconography will be reborn. Today this sacred art, presents a huge development and Greece can say without any reservations that it is the metropolis of Orthodox iconography. The Greek iconographers, inheritors of an enormous cultural heritage,by staying loyal to the spirit of ecclesiastical tradition,are leading iconography to the new millennium, continuing its long journey through time.
Hagiography, from the Greek (ağios) "saint" and graphē ("writing"). It is an art with its own artistic philosophy that remains stable and unchanged over time. Art obeys certain laws and principles which govern in all periods of its long course.
For the Orthodox Church, picture is the language of art expressing its dogmas, as well as speech.
In Orthodox iconography there is no room for personal inspiration or improvisation. The iconographer while working puts aside entirely his feelings and ideas.
St. Photios says that the art of iconography is inspired by God, that the artist's hand is moving from above and that the marvels achieved by iconographers of all times is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Iconography draws its themes from the Old and New Testaments, the lives of saints and its name is due to the fact that it represents the saints’figures and holy persons’ issues.
Byzantine Iconography is mainly prosopographical, with the dominant form of Christ, who is head of the Church.
The purpose of the Orthodox Church painting is not decoration. Portable icons, mosaics, murals, are a readable book, through which the believer is sanctified and is directly related to the grace and the reality of the presented saints. The goal of this sacred art is not a realistic representation, or the narration of events, so that they come to the minds of believers. The picture though speechless, is talking. The believer comes into direct contact with the reality of the saint,he can see him, embrace him with his lips, eyes, and soul. The iconography is therefore not just a kind of painting. It is an art sacred and functional . Through the Holy icons the events of the Divine Province which contributed to the salvation of man,are visible to the eyes of the believers.
The exhibition of these illustrations take place within the Orthodox churches.
The Orthodox church
To understand better the role and the function of Byzantine composition and icon, we must refer to the architecture of the Orthodox church and its symbolic character. The symbol of the Orthodox faith is the cross and for obvious reasons the rate established after the seventh century is the registered cross shaped with cupola.The building of this style contains two shapes. One hemisphere, the cupola and a square , the church. The cupola symbolizes the Divine, the heavenly world and the square symbolizes the earth world. The cupola where the icon of Christ Pantocrator (Almighty) dominates, surrounded by angelic forces and prophets who prophesied His incarnation. The building below the dome narrates the most important events of the Divine Province.
The difference from other forms of art
Comparing the Byzantine iconography to the same religious paintings of Renaissance , we will see that there are many significant differences which establish iconography as a unique art.
The western religious themes are dominated by realism and anthropomorphism.
Everything is painted exactly as it looks. The saints’ faces are cosmic and a genuine reproduction of the models used by the artist.
In the Byzantine icon everything must be transformed into spirit. Everything must be sanctified, even the inanimate such as the trees, mountains and buildings. Nothing should be left as it seems. The style of Byzantine iconography is poetic and less cosmic. The pictures do not look like photographs. Photographs are realistic, perfect replicas of those who they present, but they depict only the superficial and not the inside. The artist takes into account the facial features of the saint, but he paints in a way that the image makes his sainthood more visible rather than its external appearance.
All the works of cosmic paintings are influenced by the artist’s emotions and ideas. Such an image, where the personal and the subjective dominate, can not have any functional value. Orthodox Iconography is walking the path of self-denial, subordination of the ego, which is crushed in the presence of the revealed truth.Iconography is an ecclesiastical deaconship and the iconographer’s work resembles to the work of a priest. St. Theodosius the hermit says: " one composes the body and blood of Christ and the other one presents it".
© Theodoros Papadopoulos. All rights reserved.