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Byzantine Iconography

The orthodox icon as a place and way of multiple encounters

On the Divine Images I.16-17

Orthodox Art and Architecture

The honor and veneration of the holy icons

Byzantine Athens


Iconographic Decoration in the Orthodox Church

Constantine Cavarnos, The Orthodox Ethos, Studies in Orthodoxy, ed. A. J. Philippou, Holywell Press, Oxford 1964, σελ. 169-185.

One of the most distinctive features of Eastern Orthodoxy is the extensive and systematic use of holy icons in churches. Every Orthodox church has an iconostasis, a wooden or marble screen supporting panel icons and separating the bema or sanctuary from the main body of the church, the nave. Also, there are proskynetarla or icon stands, on which special icons are placed for veneration. Except in very small chapels, there is at least one proskynetarion , with the icon of the sacred person, persons, or event to which the church is dedicated. The faithful cross themselves before this icon and kiss it upon entering the church. Panel icons are often attached to the walls. In addition to panels, an Orthodox church generally has a certain number of murals depicting sacred persons and incidents, executed either by brush or by inlaying small pieces of coloured glass or stone, the latter being known as mosaics. Sculptured representations are rare, and are limited to bas-reliefs: statues are not employed. Indeed, since the reliefs themselves have the character of paintings, in essence even bas-reliefs are not used.

In a typical Greek Orthodox church there are two tiers of icons on the iconostasis, a lower tier of large icons and an upper tier of considerably smaller ones. (In Russian churches the number of tiers has been increased to three.) The lower series always includes at least the following three icons: that of Christ, that of the Holy Virgin and Child, and that of the sacred person, persons, or event celebrated by the particular church. The icon of Christ is invariably placed immediately to the south of the door which is at the middle of the iconostasis and is known as the Beautiful Gate ( Oraia Pyli ), while that of the Holy Virgin is always placed immediately to the north of the Beautiful Gate. These icons are known as Despotism, 'Sovereign'. The icon depicting the person or event to which the church is dedicated is customarily set next to that of the Virgin, but sometimes beside that of Christ, especially in small churches which have only three large icons on the iconostasis. In larger churches, the first row of icons almost always includes the icon of St. John the Forerunner or Baptist, placed immediately next to Christ's. Except in very small chapels, the lower tier comprises other icons, their number depending on the length of the iconostasis. The latter invariably has a side doorway on the north side, and in larger churches one on the south, too. When there are doors here, these are mounted with the icons of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. The tier of small icons on the upper part of the iconostasis comprises either representations of the 'Twelve Great Festivals' (the Dodekaorton ), or of the twelve apostles, each festival or apostle being depicted separately. The 'Twelve Great Festivals' are: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the Baptism, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Entrance into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Dormition of the Virgin.

Above the Beautiful Gate, at the top of the iconostasis, is placed a cross with the figure of Christ crucified. To the right of the crucifix stands the figure of the Holy Virgin, and to the left that of St. John the Theologian, depicted on panels. On the hinged doors ( bemothyra ), which form the lower part of the Beautiful Gate, there is usually a representation of the Annunciation.

The special importance given to the icons of the Virgin Mary and the Baptist, in placing them on the iconostasis to the right and to the left of Christ, has its justification in statements made in the gospels. Mary is said to have 'found favour with God' (Luke i, 30), to have been 'overshadowed' by the Holy Spirit, to have miraculously conceived and given birth to the Son of the Highest, Jesus Christ ( i, 32, 35); while John the Baptist is characterized by Jesus as 'more than a prophet, for this is he of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee" (Matthew xi, 9-11).

In the decoration of a church with wall paintings or mosaics, certain areas are set apart for particular representations. Thus, the top part of the dome is used for the representation of Christ as Pantocrator , 'Ruler of All', 'Almighty'; the spaces between the windows of the drum of the dome, for the prophets; the pendentives below, for the evangelists; the vaults and upper walls in the nave, for the Twelve Great Festivals; the lower parts, for the miracles and parables of Christ; the lowest areas of all, for isolated saints; the conch of the main eastern apse, for the Holy Virgin as Platytera . This is, in part, the general scheme that has prevailed in Orthodox churches during the last thousand years. The scheme varies somewhat from church to church, according to the shape and size of the building, the period when it was decorated, and the region where it is built. Thus, the scheme indicated above applies, so far as the dome is concerned, to the domed church; in a basilica there cannot very well be a central Pantocrator, and the prophets and evangelists have to be painted elsewhere. Also, in a small church, even when the representations are considerably reduced in scale, they must necessarily be fewer in number.

The domed church, rather than the domeless basilica, is typical of Eastern Orthodoxy, and expresses more successfully its distinctive spirit. In such a church, the figure of Christ as Pantocrator, depicted in the central dome, which dominates the whole edifice, is the largest and most impressive of all the icons. This representation consists of a large bust of Christ enclosed in a multicolored circle. The God-man holds the book of the Gospels in His left hand and blesses with His right. His head, which is encircled with a large halo inscribed with a cross, His face, His neck and shoulders all suggest great power and magnificence. His facial expression is that of an all-seeing and austere, yet merciful, lawgiver and judge. This icon reminds the faithful of the words of the Apostle Paul: And God the Father 'raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of His that filleth all in all' (Ephesians i, 20-23). It also reminds the faithful of the hymn: 'Know and behold that I am God, Who searches the hearts and chastises thoughts, scrutinizes acts, and sets sin on fire' ( Triodion, Venice, 1876, p. 261).

It may be noted that the term ' Pantocrator ' and the idea behind it appear in the book of Revelation. Thus in i, 8 it is said: 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come, the Pantocrator '. Also, the use of the multicoloured band around Him is based on Revelation iv, 3, where the iris or rainbow is said to surround the throne of God.

In churches where the size of the dome permits, the Pantocrator is often surrounded by the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner, in an attitude of prayer and escorted by angels. The Theotokos is painted on the eastern side of the strip; the Forerunner, on the west. Here is expressed in line and colour what the closing part of the Divine Liturgy says in words: 'May Christ our true God have mercy upon us, through the intercessions of His most pure and most blessed holy Mother; . . . through the protection of the precious, incorporeal Spiritual Powers in heaven; through the supplications of the Precious, glorious Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist...” The representation of the Theotokos so close to Christ Pantocrator and surrounded by a choir of angels is also in keeping with another part of the Liturgy, which says: 'It is truly proper to bless the Theotokos, the very-blessed and most pure Virgin and Mother of our God. Thee who art more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, who, while chaste, didst bear God, the Logos; thee, who verily gave birth to God, we magnify.' The proximity of John the Baptist to Christ is justified by Christ's own characterization of the Baptist which has already been mentioned in connexion with his icon on the iconostasis. Sometimes he is depicted with wings, according to this passage in Scripture: 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face' (Matthew x, u). The word 'messenger' is a translation of the Greek angelos , which means both messenger and angel.

Further down the dome, on the drum, are depicted Old Testament prophets: Moses, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Elijah, Isaiah, and others, with one or two between the windows. Their number varies considerably, depending on the size of the dome. The presence of the prophets here reminds the faithful who turn their gaze upward to the dome of the troparion, 'Thou hast been seen by the prophets, O Master, as far as they had the capacity of beholding Thy splendour ; through their prayers, render us capable of receiving Thy rays of illumination, having cleansed our souls of sinful thoughts and feelings' ( Parakletiki, Venice, 1851, p. 46).

Below the prophets, on the four pendentives (the spherical triangles between the adjoining arches that support the dome) are depicted the evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John are always depicted in the northeast and southeast pendentives respectively, while Mark and Luke are usually painted in the northwest and southwest. They are represented seated, engaged in the writing of the gospels. John is depicted with his head turned back, according to the statement in the book of Revelation ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice. . . . And I turned to see the voice that spake with me' ( i, 10-12). Sometimes they are shown with their symbols: Matthew, with an angel; Mark, with a lion; Luke, with a calf; and John, with an eagle. This is in accordance with the statement in the book of Revelation that around the throne of God ‘went four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had the face as of a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle' (iv, 6-7).

Second in importance only to the central dome in mural decoration is the main eastern apse. The dominant figure here, that of the Holy Virgin Mary, appears in the conch or semidome . This icon is known as the Platytera . The representation consists either of the upper half of her body, with arms outstretched in prayer, and the Child Christ against her chest, or of the entire figure, usually with the Child in her lap. In the latter case she is generally enthroned. The Child blesses with His right hand and holds a scroll in His left, or blesses with both hands. Often the Virgin is flanked on either side by the archangels Michael and Gabriel (to her right and left, respectively).

The representation of the Virgin in this part of the church is in line with a very old tradition, and consonant with the gospel assertion that Jesus Christ, Saviour of mankind, was born of the Virgin Mary; it also accords well with the architectural and hymnographic symbolism of the Eastern Church. Professor George A. Soteriou, the eminent Byzantinist, has this to say about the significance of depicting the Virgin here: ‘During the Byzantine period, the allegorical meaning of the apse as a point uniting the roof of the church with the floor, and symbolically heaven with the earth, contributed to the placing of the icon of the Theotokos as Platytera . The Theotokos hovers as it were between heaven and earth, as "the heavenly Ladder, whereby God has descended', as ‘the Bridge leading those on the earth to heaven'. (The symbolism is taken from the Akathistos Hymn.) She is chiefly represented as praying before the Pantocrator in the dome, but also as holding the Child' ( Nea Estia, Athens, 1955, Christmas issue, pp. 408-409).

The full name of this icon of the Virgin is 'She who is wider than the heavens' ( Platytera ton our anon). She is so called because she gave birth to Christ, God, Who is the Creator of all things, present in them and transcendent of them. This appellation appears in various hymns to the Virgin, for example in the one which says: 'Thou who art a holy tabernacle, and wider than the heavens, as having received in thee the Logos of God, Who cannot be contained in the whole of creation, thou alone hast been shown to be an eternal virgin' ( Parakletiki, p. 97).

On the area of the apse immediately below the Platytera is depicted the Divine Liturgy. In the middle of this composition there is a ciborium with the Holy Table under it, on which rests the book of the Gospels. Christ, clad in episcopal vestments, and assisted by angels who are dressed as deacons, officiates. Sometimes the Divine Liturgy is depicted instead in the prothesis .

Below the Divine Liturgy is represented the Holy Communion. In the centre there is a ciborium, with the Holy Table having a paten and chalice on it, containing the Eucharistic bread and wine. Christ, usually garbed in a tunic and mantle and assisted by two angels dressed as deacons, offers the sacred elements to His disciples. This composition bears the inscription: 'Take, eat' (Matthew xxvi, 26) and 'Drink of it, all of you' (Matthew xxvi, 27).

On the lowest part of the apse are depicted, in episcopal robes, the great hierarchs: St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius the Great, and others, as space permits. They are represented as taking part in the Liturgy.

The narthex, too, which runs across the west end of the church, has traditionally been decorated with wall paintings or mosaics. The most important area for iconographic decoration here is that over the main entrance which leads to the nave. Usually a bust of Christ as teacher is painted here, the Lord blessing with His right hand and holding in His left the book of the Gospels, open at the statement: ‘I am the door: if any man enter in, he shall be saved' (John x, 9); or, ‘I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life' (viii, 12). On either side of Him are the Holy Virgin and John the Forerunner, turned towards Him in an attitude of prayer.

The other parts of the narthex—the vaults, walls, etc.—are decorated with events from the life of the Theotokos and of the martyrs, or with visions from Daniel and the book of Revelation, as well as with isolated saints, both full length figures and busts.

A definite pattern of church decoration was gradually developed, and this became more definitely established after the victory of the Church over Iconoclasm in 842. The system of arrangement is set forth in the Interpretation of the Art of Painting ( Ermeneia tis Zographikis Technis ) by the Athonite monk Dionysius of Fourna . Although this work was published little over a century ago (1853), it was probably written between 1728 and 1733, and is based on several anonymous earlier writings. In it Dionysius explains how panel icons and frescoes are executed, how each saint or scene is to be depicted, and how the icons are to be arranged in domed churches and basilicas. Dionysius's book has recently been superseded by the Explanation of Orthodox Iconography { Ekphrasis tis Orthodoxou Eikonographias, Athens, 1960), written by Fotis Kontoglous, the foremost modern Greek icon painter. Kontoglous's work is based on writings older than those which were employed by Dionysius of Fourna, as well as on his own extraordinarily rich experience as an iconographer and restorer of Byzantine paintings. It is free from certain misinterpretations and marks of western influence that are to be found here and there in the book of Dionysius.

The use of icons by Christians goes back to the first century. A rudimentary symbolic art existed among the Christians of the first two centuries, employing such symbols as the Dove (symbol of the peace of Christ), the Fish and the Shepherd (symbols of Christ), and the Peacock (symbol of the resurrection). Further, it seems that as early as the first century Christians used representations of events in Holy Scripture to decorate their tombs; and pictorial representations of events from the life of Christ, probably dating from the early part of the second century, have been found in catacombs at Rome and Alexandria . Pictorial representations increase with each century, until the outbreak of Iconoclasm in 726.

Christian writers of the first few centuries testify to the existence of sacred icons in their time, and stress the value which icons have for the Christian. Thus St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379), in his homily on the martyrdom of Barlaam, says: ‘Arise now before me, you iconographers of the merits of the saints. . . . Let me be overwhelmed by your icons depicting the brave acts of the martyr! Let me look at the fighter most vividly depicted in your icon. . . . Let also Christ, Who instituted the contest, be depicted in your icon' Migne, P.G . xxxi, 489 a-c). In a fragment of a Life of St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), preserved in a work by St. John Damascene (c. 675-749), we are told that Chrysostom had an icon of the Apostle Paul before himself as he studied Paul's Epistles. When he looked up from the text, the icon seemed to come to life and speak to him ( Migne, P.G . xciv, 1277 a ). Damascene also tells us that Chrysostom was fond of another icon, too, which was marked by its holiness. ‘In it', he says, ‘I saw depicted an angel putting the hosts of the barbarians to flight, and David prophesying truly: Lord, thou shalt cause their image to vanish out of the city' (ibid., 1313 b, 1400 c). And St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330 -c. 395) tells us how deeply he was moved by an icon of the sacrifice of Isaac: ‘I have often beheld a painted representation of the Passion, and have never passed by this sight without shedding tears, for art brings the story vividly to the eyes' ( P.G . xciv, 1269 c).

With each succeeding century the number and variety of pictorial representations increases, and iconography becomes more and more mature and stylized. The style of painting known as Byzantine may be said to date from the sixth century. Various influences contributed to its formation. The three most important were: the Hellenic, the Oriental (mainly Syrian), and the Christian. To Greece this art owes its idealism, its clarity, elegance, and balance. From Syria it received a vigorous expressionism, achieved through the use of frontal poses, the markedly disproportionate enlargement of the eyes and head, and a similar enlargement of the principal personages in relation to those about them. These elements of idealism and vigorous expression were fused together, the one sometimes predominating over the other, by the Christian faith. The doctrines of the Christian Church set the limits within which iconography should operate, while the inner living faith of the icon painter, expressing itself through material media, utilized these and other elements to convey the facts, truths, and values of the Christian religion. It is this third factor, more than anything else, that has given Byzantine iconography its distinctive character as an art of the highest spirituality.

The fusion of these three factors—the Hellenic, the Oriental, and the Christian—which gave rise to the Byzantine style, took place primarily in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople . From here this style spread to Asia Minor, the whole Balkan Peninsula (present day Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Roumania ), Italy, Russia, and more distant countries.

The iconoclastic ban on icons interrupted the development of iconography in Byzantium for more than a century (726 - 843) and caused a large-scale destruction of icons in the Empire. In Constantinople, where the ban was most sternly enforced, panels were entirely forbidden, while mosaics and wall paintings were restricted to ornamental works and symbols like the cross. Representation of the human form in churches was forbidden by the rulers. There resulted from this a great loss in the churches' unlifting power and mystical charm. Speaking about the great church of Aghia Sophia at Constantinople some years after the end of Iconoclasm, the Ecumenical Patriarch Photius (c. 810-895) remarked that 'this celebrated and sacred church looked sad with its visual mysteries scraped off, as it were. . . .' (Cyril Mango, The Homilies of Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, 1958, p. 292).

With the downfall of Iconoclasm towards the middle of the ninth century, iconography began to develop with great vigour and system. Mainly from the following century, a definite order for the arrangement of icons in the church became established in the Christian East, and has continued, with certain variations from period to period, down to the present. The arrangement was dictated by functional aims, as we have noted earlier.

The first important iconographic decorations of churches were mosaics. Christians borrowed the art of mosaics from the Greeks and Romans, who had used it chiefly for pavements. Use was now made of this technique for decorating the walls, vaults, apses and domes of churches with sacred figures and events.

Among the oldest surviving churches with mural mosaics are Osios David and St. George at Thessaloniki, which both have mosaics done in the fifth century; and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Baptistery of the Orthodox at Ravenna, whose mosaics also date from the fifth century. Of those next in antiquity are the mosaics of Sant ' Apollinare Nuovo, Sant ' Apollinare in Classe and San Vitale at Ravenna, and Sts. Cosmas and Damian at Rome (sixth century); and St. Demetrius and Aghia Sophia at Thessaloniki (seventh, and eighth and ninth centuries respectively); Aghia Sophia at Constantinople (latter part of the ninth century and later), Nea Moni in Chios, Osios Lukas in Boeotia, and Daphni near Athens (eleventh century), and the Holy Apostles at Thessaloniki and the Monastery of Chora ( Kahrie Djami ) at Constantinople (fourteenth century).

Mosaics were extensively used in the Byzantine Empire from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries. During this period they were of primary importance in church decoration. Iconoclasm interrupted iconographic decoration, as we have said, for more than a century. The first major mosaic decoration after the defeat of Iconoclasm was completed in 867. It was a representation of the Virgin and Child in the Church of Aghia Sophia at Constantinople . After the fourteenth century, the impoverished condition of the Empire, resulting from the Crusades from the West on the one hand, and the repeated attacks of the Ottoman Turks from the East on the other, made mosaic decoration of churches virtually impossible. Less costly means had to be employed. The Byzantines made use of frescoes—murals executed with water- colours on moist plaster. In recent years, the employment of mosaics for iconographic decoration has been revived, though on a small scale.

The use of mosaics has not been restricted to wall decoration, although this has been their primary use. They have also been employed on panels, sometimes of extremely small dimensions. A certain number of miniature mosaics on panels, as well as some larger ones, of the same size as the icons which are mounted upon the lower part of the iconostasis, have survived in some of the monasteries on Mount Athos and in a few other places. Their dates vary from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries.

The methods of iconographic decoration by mosaics and by frescoes have not been regarded as mutually exclusive: often we see both kinds of decoration in the same church. But mosaics have been considered the superior mode of iconography.

We have already noted that wall paintings were used at a very early date in the catacombs. The earliest examples which survive are in the catacombs of Rome . Among the oldest surviving frescoes in churches are those at Dura, Syria, done shortly before 250. Important mural paintings of an early date also survive at Baouit, Saqqara, and elsewhere in Egypt (fifth century); in the church of Santa Maria Antiqua, at Rome (eighth and ninth centuries); and elsewhere. Not as old, but of considerable importance, are the monastic mural paintings of Cappadocia (between the ninth and the eleventh centuries).Countless wall paintings of high merit survive in the Orthodox countries: Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Roumania, Russia . Greece and Yugoslavia have the largest number of such icons. In Greece, the most numerous frescoes and some of the best are to be seen in churches in Attica (tenth to eighteenth centuries), at Thessaloniki (eleventh to fourteenth centuries), Mystra (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), Mount Athos and Kastoria (fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries), and Meteora (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). In Yugoslavia, remarkable frescoes are to be seen in the cathedral of St. Sophia at Ochrida (eleventh century) and in the churches of Nerezi (1164), Milesevo (1235), Sopocani (1265-1270), Gracanica (c. 1320), and elsewhere.

Important frescoes survive also in Bulgaria, for instance in the churches of Boiana (1259) and St. George at Sophia (fourteenth century), and at Kalotino (late fifteenth century), Dragalevici (1476), and Arnabassi (1681). In Roumania, the finest wall paintings are in two churches at Curtea de Arges (fourteenth century). In Russia, which was never part of the Byzantine Empire, except for the Crimea, decoration by means of mural paintings was not extensively used. The most notable examples of frescoes in Russia are in the cathedrals of St. Demetrius at Vladimir (1198) and of the Transfiguration at Novgorod (1378).

The technique of the other major form of iconography, executed on panels, goes back to the Egyptian tomb paintings of the Greco-Roman period. This technique is known as tempera. It employs an albuminous or colloidal medium, such as egg, and executes the icon on gesso-covered panels. As a rule, the gesso is painted on a canvas that has been attached to the panel.

Few panel icons of the pre-iconoclast period survive. Some of them date from as far back as the fifth or sixth century. Prior to the thirteenth century, single figures were usually depicted on panels. From the thirteenth century onwards, there is a noticeable increase in the number of icons depicting sacred events.

The art of panel iconography, like that of iconography in mosaic and fresco, was brought to the Slavic countries by Greek artists of the Byzantine period. Thus, Theophanes the Greek (fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries) is well known both in connexion with frescoes in Novgorod and Moscow, and for a number of panels that are preserved in the Tretiakov Gallery at Moscow . Russia 's greatest iconographer, Andrew Rublev (c. 1370 -c. 1430) was among Theophanes's pupils. Panel iconography flourished in Russia, unlike mural decoration, the development of which, as we have noted above, was restricted.

Innumerable panel icons done in the Byzantine style are to be found in the older churches of the Orthodox countries. Such panels may also be seen in museums and private collections. The Byzantine Museum at Athens is devoted exclusively to the preservation of works of art of the Byzantine tradition, and has a very large collection of panel icons.

Orthodox art did not decline with the political and military decline of the Byzantine Empire, the beginning of which has been assigned by historians to the end of the twelfth century, and more particularly to the Fourth Crusade in 1204. In the fourteenth century we find two remarkable schools of iconography, the Macedonian and the Cretan. These terms are largely conventional, as the styles did not originate in the regions denoted by them, and the works which bear their names are not confined to Macedonia and Crete . The names have, however, been very widely adopted, and now can hardly be dispensed with. Moreover, the choice of these names, as we shall see, is not without some justification.

The Macedonian School appears in the thirteenth century, but is rooted in Byzantine iconography of the preceding period. It differs from it in stressing the idealistic element, derived from Greek art. Its conception of form, landscape and colour is Hellenistic. The forms it employs are broad, the colours light, with no sharp contrast between light and shade, the folds of the garments relatively simple. In the representation of the body there is a tendency to approach nature, without ever faithfully copying it, but rather transforming it by injecting into it an element of idealism and by thoroughly spiritualizing it. This school grew up at Constantinople . It developed here and at Thessaloniki, second city of Byzantium . At Constantinople it tended towards greater idealism; at Thessaloniki, towards greater expressiveness. Thessaloniki served as the centre of the school in that region. From this city the Macedonian School spread, through Greek artists, to Greek and Serbian Macedonia, and more generally to the Balkans. It reached Mystra early in the fourteenth century, probably directly from Constantinople . From the thirteenth century to the fourteenth, the Macedonian School was at its height. By the end of the fourteenth century it had lost is original vigour, and was becoming eclectic, borrowing elements from the folk tradition. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks (1453), the popular element became more and more prominent, until by the end of the sixteenth century the Macedonian School no longer existed.

Because of its characteristic breadth of conception, this style is more suited to the decoration of large surfaces than panels; and indeed little use was made of it in panel iconography. Few panels in which this style is used have survived. Mural decorations, on the other hand, are numerous. Examples are the mosaics in the church of the monastery of Chora (beginning of the fourteenth century), the frescoes in the side chapel of St. Euthymios in the church of St. Demetrius at Thessaloniki (1303), the mosaics in the church of the Holy Apostles at the same city (1312-1315), the frescoes in the church of the Protaton at Karyes on Mount Athos (first quarter of the fourteenth century), those in the churches of St. Demetrius and Aphentiko or Brontocheiou at Mystra (c. 1310), and of Pantanassa, also at Mystra (1428), and those in the churches of Nagoricino (1316) and St. Nikitas (1309 -1320) in Yugoslavia.

The greatest master of this school is Manuel Panselinos of Thessaloniki, who did the magnificent frescoes in the church of the Protaton on the Holy Mountain of Athos .

What has been termed the Cretan School is characterized by a closer attachment to the style of Byzantine painting prior to the thirteenth century. It employs tall and narrow forms, closely repeated folds of garments, darker colours, and sharp contrasts of light and shade. The place of origin of this school has not been definitely established. It was not Crete . In all probability it began, like the Macedonian School, at Constantinople and spread from there to Greece and elsewhere in the Balkans. Mystra soon became an important centre of this school, which appears to have reached the city directly from Constantinople . Most probably it was from Mystra that it was transmitted to Crete, during the second half of the fourteenth century. From Crete the style spread to Meteora, Mount Athos, and other parts of Greece .

The Cretan School made its appearance in Constantinople early in the fourteenth century. It reached its highest point, both in wall and panel painting, in the sixteenth century, through Cretan iconographers on Mount Athos, who gave the style its definitive form. Theophanes the Cretan, who frescoed the main church and the refectory of the monastery of Lavra on Mount Athos, is the greatest representative of this school. He gave the 'Cretan' fresco its classical form.

The Cretan School of iconography rivaled the Macedonian during the closing period of the Byzantine Empire . After the fall of Constantinople (1453), it became the dominant school of painting in the Orthodox Church.

Orthodox iconography remained faithful to the Byzantine tradition down to the eighteenth century and even later. The westernizing reforms of Peter the Great early in the eighteenth century brought about a gradual disappearance of traditional iconography in Russia . In Greece, on the other hand, iconographers continued for the most part to paint in the Byzantine style until the early part of the nineteenth century. Following the Greek War of Independence (1821-1828), however, the strong influx of western ideas into Greece, which resulted from the closer contact of Greece with Europe, led Greek iconographers to break with their tradition and adopt western, particularly Italian, prototypes and techniques. The spirituality characteristic of Byzantine painting was abandoned in favour of naturalism, and the tempera technique was replaced by the use of oil colours . Typical of icon painters of this period is the attempt to 'correct' or 'improve' the austere, ascetic, unworldly forms of Byzantine iconography by means of perspective, faithfulness to anatomical detail, and physical beauty.

During the last two decades, there has been a significant revival of traditional Orthodox iconography in Greece, thanks to Fotis Kontoglous . This revival has spread to the United States and other countries. It is bound to gain momentum from the increasing understanding and appreciation of Byzantine art throughout the world.

Although we speak of the 'decoration' of churches by means of icons, the basis underlying the use of icons is far from being merely an aesthetic one. As a 'house of God' and a 'house of prayer', the church should be rendered as beautiful as possible, especially in the interior, where the faithful gather for worship. But the beauty of the church must bear the impress of holiness; and the pleasure evoked by it must transcend that of mere aesthetic experience: it must be spiritual. This premise of true iconography, clearly recognized by the icon painters of Byzantium, was lost sight of by modern naturalist painters of religious themes. The latter shifted their attention from the spiritual to the physical, from the beauty that is inner and imperishable to that which is outer and perishable. Hence in their works they failed to express spiritual beauty, the beauty of humility, meekness, self-mastery, purity, peace, love, and the other Christian virtues. They sought instead to depict physical beauty or to reduplicate nature, and thought they had achieved their goal if they had impressed the beholder by their skill and gratified his aesthetic sense.

The character which an Orthodox icon should have is dictated by the theological, metaphysical, and psychological principles underlying its use and veneration. These principles have been indicated by the early as well as by the later Fathers of the Church, and received their classical expression in the eighth century in St. John Damascene's three treatises Against those who Decry the Holy Icons ( Migne, P.G . xciv ), a chapter in his An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (ibid.), and in the decrees of the seventh Ecumenical Synod ( Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, xiii). The practice of having and venerating icons, we are taught, is based on sacred tradition going back to the apostles and even earlier Iconoclasm, which began in 726 with an edict against icons by the Eastern Emperor Leo III, asserted that the making and veneration of icons is idolatry and contrary to the second commandment. Damascene points out that actually God Himself gave instructions as to how the tabernacle should be made (Exodus xxv, 40). The tabernacle 'bore an image ( eikon ) and pattern of heavenly things', and was venerated by the Mosaic people ( Migne, P.G . xciv, 1169 a ). Damascene also points out that Cherubim were depicted over the ark of the tabernacle (Exodus xxv, 18). Further, he remarks that the second commandment was valid for the Israelites, because spiritually they were still in a childish condition and tended towards idolatry; whereas Christians, as the Apostle Paul stresses, are no longer under the Jewish law, but under grace. This Father also observes that while it was impossible for the Jews to depict God at all, it is not so for Christians, for the incarnation has made it possible for them to depict the second Person of the Trinity, Christ. As Christ became in truth man, and acquired a visible body, and lived upon the earth, and associated with men, it became possible to portray Him. To reject Christ's icon is virtually to deny His incarnation; to accept and venerate His icon is to affirm and recall the incarnation.

The symbolic nature of the true icon is stressed by Damascene and the seventh Ecumenical Synod. The icon is not, like the naturalistic painting, an end in itself, an aesthetic object to be enjoyed for whatever merits it possesses, but is essentially a symbol, carrying us beyond itself. The icon stands for something other than itself. It is designed to lead us from the physical to the spiritual realm. The icon is an image or representation of a real sacred person or event, and is designed to lead us to it. An idol, on the other hand, lacks this authentic symbolic character, its prototype being either fictitious or the opposite of what it purports to be an evil being instead of God. (It may be observed, incidentally, that a naturalistic 'Christian' painting, inasmuch as it fails to uplift us and take us beyond the sensory realm to the spiritual, is hardly distinct from an idol).

The nature of the icon being essentially symbolic, the veneration of it is a veneration of the prototype or original which it represents. In the words of St. Basil the Great, quoted by Damascene and other defenders of icons, 'the honour which is given to the icon passes over to the prototype'. The prototype honoured is in the last analysis God, as God created man in His own image.

Such honourable veneration ( timetiki proskynesis ) is sharply distinguished from worship latreia ). Proskynesis in the narrower sense of worship pertains only to God. Honourable veneration of an icon consists of such acts as bowing before it and crossing oneself, saying a prayer, kissing it, and censing it. In the writings of Damascene and the decrees of the seventh Ecumenical Synod, it is pointed out that the practice of according proskynesis in the broader sense to sacred objects is deeply rooted in the sacred tradition of Christianity, including the Holy Scriptures. For instance, the Mosaic people venerated the tabernacle, which bore an image and pattern of heavenly things.

The Orthodox honour in this way 'the icon of the incarnation of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of our immaculate Lady and all-holy Theotokos, of whom He was pleased to become incarnate . . .; also [the icons] of the incorporeal angels—since they appeared to the righteous in the form of men. Also the forms and icons of the divine and most famed apostles, of the prophets, who speak of God, of the prize-bearing martyrs, and of other saints' (Decree of the seventh Ecumenical Synod, Mansi, op. cit., xiii, 132). As a symbol, the icon provides a means not only of honouring sacred personages, but also of lifting up the soul to them, instructing, reminding, and arousing emulation. We are raised by icons to a greater or lesser experience of spiritual reality, depending on our inner disposition and level of spiritual development. St. John Damascene remarks: ‘According to our own state, we are led up by perceptible icons to the contemplation ( theoria ) of the divine and immaterial” ( Migne, P.G . xciv, 1261 a ).

Being concise memorials of things written in the Scriptures and in sacred history, icons not only teach these things in a vivid manner, but also remind the faithful of them. As to the efficacy of icons as a means of instruction, St. Basil the Great, St. John Damascene, St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and other Fathers assert that icons show us by means of representations what history tells us by means of words. Photius remarks that if a man hates the teaching of icons, then he must reject and hate the message of the Gospels. And he asserts that, 'Just as speech is transmitted by hearing, so a form through sight is imprinted upon the tablets of the soul, giving to those whose apprehension is not soiled by wicked doctrines a representation of knowledge concordant with piety' (op. cit., p. 294). Going further, he holds that there are instances where icons are more vivid than written accounts, and hence superior to the latter as a means of instruction. As examples he gives the representations of the deeds of martyrs and the depiction of the Holy Virgin holding the Creator in her arms as an infant.

In connexion with the icon's function of reminding us, it is hardly necessary to point out that it does not suffice for a Christian to learn about sacred persons, events, and truths; he must also recall them as often as possible. This keeps him alive to their vital significance for him, and reinforces his determination and efforts to imitate the character and life of the sacred persons whose images he beholds. St. John Damascene says: 'I enter the common place-of-therapy of souls, the church, choked as it were by the thorns of worldly thoughts. The bloom of painting attracts me, it delights my sight like a meadow, and secretly evokes in my soul the desire to glorify God. I behold the fortitude of the martyr, the crowns awarded, and my zeal is aroused like fire; I fall down and worship God through the martyr, and receive salvation' ( Migne, P.G . xciv, 1268 a-b). Similarly, one of the decrees of the seventh Ecumenical Synod states: 'The more continually the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady the Theotokos, of the venerable angels, and of all saints and holy men are seen, the more are the beholders lifted up to the memory of the prototypes and to an aspiration after them ( Mansi, op. cii ., xiii, 337).

Thus, iconography is a concrete theology, employing mystical colours and forms, with a view to instructing the faithful, lifting them up to the experience of spiritual reality, arousing them morally and spiritually, transforming them, sanctifying them.

The efficacy of true icons in elevating the faithful to a spiritual level of experience and being does not issue from their essentially symbolic nature alone, but also from the grace and power of God which dwells in them. Damascene remarks: ‘In their lifetime, the saints were filled with the Holy Spirit; and after their death, too, the grace of the Holy Spirit abides always in their souls, and in their bodies in the tombs, and also in their forms and holy icons, not in essence, but as grace and energy' ( Migne, P.G . xciv, 1249 c-d). Similar statements are made by another of the greatest defenders of icons, St. Theodore the Studite (759-826). Theodore draws attention to the Christian belief that God is present everywhere, ‘both in rational and irrational creatures, both in the animate and the inanimate'. However, the Deity is not present in them equally, ‘but according as their natures are susceptible of receiving it more or less'. ( Migne, P.G . xcix, 344 b-c). The Deity, then, is present in the icon. It is not present in it, however, 'by way of natural union, but by way of relative participation, the icon partaking of honour and grace' (ibid.; cf. 961).

From the indwelling divine grace and energy springs the miraculous power that has been manifested by many icons. Potentially, every true icon is miracle-working; the potentiality, however, is actualized only when certain conditions, such as the presence of deep religious faith, are fulfilled.

The divine element enters the icon from the time it is painted, inasmuch as the making of the icon involves God's active participation. 'Divine grace illumines the mind of the iconographer and guides his hand', remarks Fotis Kontoglous . ‘That is why the ancient iconographers seldom signed their works, and those who did wrote: Through the hand of the sinful servant of God S-.' (C. Cavarnos, Byzantine Sacred Art, 1957, p. 69). The true iconographer prepares himself for his work by fasting, prayer and other spiritual practices, and has the feeling that he is but an instrument through which the Holy Spirit expresses itself.

The approach of the true iconographer is totally opposed to the modern ideas that art should faithfully copy nature, or should express the imagination or personality of the artist, or the spirit of his time. His goal, which he consciously and steadfastly pursues, is to give the most effective expression to the universal spiritual truths and values of Christian religion, and thereby to instruct, uplift, transform and sanctify the faithful. To this end he adheres faithfully to his great tradition of sacred painting, employing its consecrated archetypes and techniques, avoiding arbitrariness and improvisation as well as everything vague, superfluous, subjective, individual, sensual, in general everything which tends to keep man chained to a lower level of being. This art is eminently deliberate, clear, precise, simple, objective, universal, spiritual. It speaks in its own unique, vivid way of God and of new, transfigured men.

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