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Author Topic: Icon Colors  (Read 1587 times) Average Rating: 0
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DavidH
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« on: October 12, 2010, 04:57:09 PM »

Hello all,

 I was talking about icons the other day and was discussing the meaning of the colors red and blue on the icons of the Theotokos and Christ. I had read that blue is the color for heaven/ Divinity while red was the color for humanity. An Orthodox brother disagreed and said the meaning was the opposite. When I got home I consulted my books and the internet to find that opinion was about evenly divided on this. Some sources said my way of explaining it was the traditional way while other sources said his way was the traditional way. Is one explanation incorrect or are there two schools of legitimate interpretation on this?
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Deacon Lance
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« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2010, 06:28:26 PM »

I think it shows assigning meaning to the colors is a rather late invention.  That said I think blue for divinity and red for humanity makes sense and is probably the better symbolism.  Blue is the color of the heavens, red is the color of blood.  When we look at the oldest icons we still have with us, the mosaics of Hagia Sophia, we see Christ and Theotokos in Blue and Gold alot.  Why?  The Gold and the Lapis used to make the blue tiles were the most expensive materials to use and were seen as a way of honoring Christ and his Mother.
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« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2010, 08:02:59 PM »

I have a friend that is an iconographer and he says just the opposite.  Red is the color for divinity and blue is the color of humanity.  If you notice, on some icons of Christ, his inner clothing is red and his outer clothing is blue.  On icons of the Theotokos, it is in the opposite order.  Her inner clothing is blue, and her outer clothing is red. 
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« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2010, 08:24:27 PM »

Have you tried reading The Icon: Window on the Kingdom by Michael Quenot?
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DavidH
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« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2010, 08:39:21 PM »

Have you tried reading The Icon: Window on the Kingdom by Michael Quenot?

Yes, and that is one of the sources which support blue/ Divinity, red/ humanity. On p. 115 it says of the Theotokos: "we look at the Virgin Theotokos dressed in a red maphorian, symbol of her humanity, and a blue robe, symbol of the divine, for she is the human creature who bore in her womb the Son of God."
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« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2010, 09:23:28 PM »

I have a friend that is an iconographer and he says just the opposite.  Red is the color for divinity and blue is the color of humanity.  If you notice, on some icons of Christ, his inner clothing is red and his outer clothing is blue.  On icons of the Theotokos, it is in the opposite order.  Her inner clothing is blue, and her outer clothing is red. 

And on other icons it is reversed, and in others they are clothed in  a single color.  Which is right?
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« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2010, 10:30:01 PM »

I have a friend that is an iconographer and he says just the opposite.  Red is the color for divinity and blue is the color of humanity.  If you notice, on some icons of Christ, his inner clothing is red and his outer clothing is blue.  On icons of the Theotokos, it is in the opposite order.  Her inner clothing is blue, and her outer clothing is red. 

Second this. However, I think there's room for interpretation, as long as your theology is correct.

The Theotokos' inner blue garment represents that in essence she is earthborn, but she has put on the Divine Glory over it. Christ's inner red garment represents His Divinity, and then He put on the human nature over it.

In the Russian tradition especially, it would make more sense for red to mean the Divine Glory, since red is such an auspicious color in Russian iconography.
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« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2010, 11:36:55 PM »

If we look at St. Andrei Rublev's Trinity, the one color all three members of the Trinity share is blue, which would point to this being the color of divinity. The Father and the Spirit have blue as their base robe.  On Christ it is reversed because he clothed our humanity with his divinity.  I wouls say St. Andrei sets the standard.
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« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2010, 08:20:13 AM »

I spent about an hour surfing last night on this subject and it seemed about two thirds of the sites I found favored the blue/ divine, red/ humanity scheme. Here is something from a Russian Orthodox site: http://www.pravmir.com/article_158.html

Of course, either way, the interpretation ends up being the same, but it would be interesting to find out when the colors aquired meanings and whether one scheme or the other has more weight.
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