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Author Topic: Western icons vs easten (canonical) icons  (Read 3990 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: December 06, 2010, 01:54:15 PM »

I had read in another post that there seem to be more western icons in Orthodox churches here in the states and they are different from eastern icons. What is the difference. Are they uncannonical? If so how are they uncannonical?
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« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2010, 02:49:56 PM »

Here is an example of western-influenced iconography (top) and Byzantine iconography:





Personally I think both styles are beautiful in their own way. But the general thinking of the Church is that western-style art tends to make itself the focus of our attention, and has a certain "fleshy" quality to it, while Byzantine iconography is meant to be like the glass of a window pane: it's there, but what's important is what is "behind" it, the saints we pray to and the events we meditate on. Icons don't exist for their own beauty, nor are they mere decorations. They are touchpoints between this world and the other world.

[edit to add] Symbolism is also easier to do in the less-photorealistic Byzantine style. For example, in the Nativity icons above, Christ is depicted very differently. In the Western icon, he is pictured as a young child, as expected. There is really no further symbolism there. But in the Byzantine icon, he is depicted as a miniature adult and is wrapped in cloths similar in appearance to the burial shroud on the Epitaphios. This foreshadows his lying in the grave and points to his death for our salvation. You could put this symbolism in photorealistic icons too, but it would look silly for the same reason this does.

While we do have canonical standards that must be followed, and for good reasons, I think the issue is blown up out of proportion, especially among converts who are in their "super-correct" stage. As St John of San Francisco (who strongly favored a return to the Byzantine style) once said, "I can pray in front of this kind of icon; I can pray in front of that kind of icon. The important thing is that we pray, not that we pride ourselves on having good icons."
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« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2010, 02:56:36 PM »

These kinds of icons are all over the Orthodox homelands, even the more conservative places like Serbia. There's been a swing back toward more traditional iconography in the last century. Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore. But I've been in plenty of churches with them from the last couple of hundred years. Just venerate them and don't worry about it. As bogdan pointed out, they are beautiful in their own way.
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2010, 03:04:48 PM »

Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore.

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.
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« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2010, 03:27:30 PM »

I concur with Bogdan. As I understand it there were a number of factors from the early 18th century through the mid-20th that popularized the more romanticized forms of iconography. The influence of Peter the Great and the opening of Russia to the west was one of the causes. Others included the state sponsorship  and patronage of Church construction throughout Eastern Europe and the fact that many of the royals who were patrons were in fact not Orthodox, and in many cases not Catholic either. Many icons of that period which are attributed to be miraculous from both Greece and Russia reflect that reality.
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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2010, 05:12:07 PM »

Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore.

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

Thje iconography there is a deliberate reproduction of what was in the original cathedral before the Bolsheviks dynamited it.   It was decided to reproduce the cathedral *exactly* as it was and this is why we see the iconography there that we see today.
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« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2010, 05:37:33 PM »

It does not change the fact that icons there have more in common with romantic painting than with iconography. On the other hand frescoes in the Church in the basements are the coolest frescoes I've ever seen.
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« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2010, 05:52:44 PM »

These kinds of icons are all over the Orthodox homelands, even the more conservative places like Serbia. There's been a swing back toward more traditional iconography in the last century. Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore. But I've been in plenty of churches with them from the last couple of hundred years. Just venerate them and don't worry about it. As bogdan pointed out, they are beautiful in their own way.
They are still restoring and up-keeping them, at least.
I remember back home they even turned the iconostasis around so that the more academic painting  style icons be seen, and turned the Byzantine face of it inside.
So, it happens.
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« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2010, 06:02:13 PM »

It does not change the fact that icons there have more in common with romantic painting than with iconography.

Nobody would dispute that fact (at least by our modern back-to-the-past criteria.)  My intention was to point to the very special reason why these icons were reproduced in the exact likeness of those destroyed by the Bolsheviks and why it was a unique occasion and such iconography is not being used in other contemporary churches.

The interior of the cathedral, in 1883

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« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2010, 11:16:56 AM »

Why they couldn't make normal frescoes? If they had wanted to restore it exactly like it had been they would not install there electricity etc. too.
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« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2010, 11:58:05 AM »

These kinds of icons are all over the Orthodox homelands, even the more conservative places like Serbia. There's been a swing back toward more traditional iconography in the last century. Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore. But I've been in plenty of churches with them from the last couple of hundred years. Just venerate them and don't worry about it. As bogdan pointed out, they are beautiful in their own way.
I remember back home they even turned the iconostasis around so that the more academic painting  style icons be seen, and turned the Byzantine face of it inside.

I'm curious as to how they did that, as Christ absolutely has to be on the right and Mary absolutely has to be on the left. Not to mention the Archangels having to be in their places. (Michael on the right, Gabriel on the left)
When they switched it, did they have to move those icons around?
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« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2010, 12:10:19 PM »

I found myself in a Catholic Church this last weekend (my wife had a booth at their craft show). The place had icons all other the place. Over each door to the school rooms there was an icon and one in front of the Priests office.

In the community room ( I didn't venture upstairs) there was a Russian ( Three bar) iconographic Cross above the door. I immediately recognized it as I own the same one at home. All the icons were of Early Church Saints,   or the Theotokos and child

The icons were not in the Romantic Style  as we see above in this thread but rather  icons with bright colors. I bet the Priest bought them at an Eastern on-line store.
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« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2010, 12:34:05 PM »

I found myself in a Catholic Church this last weekend (my wife had a booth at their craft show). The place had icons all other the place. Over each door to the school rooms there was an icon and one in front of the Priests office.

In the community room ( I didn't venture upstairs) there was a Russian ( Three bar) iconographic Cross above the door. I immediately recognized it as I own the same one at home. All the icons were of Early Church Saints,   or the Theotokos and child

The icons were not in the Romantic Style  as we see above in this thread but rather  icons with bright colors. I bet the Priest bought them at an Eastern on-line store.
Latin or Eastern Catholic Church?
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« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2010, 12:34:57 PM »

It does not change the fact that icons there have more in common with romantic painting than with iconography.

Nobody would dispute that fact (at least by our modern back-to-the-past criteria.)  My intention was to point to the very special reason why these icons were reproduced in the exact likeness of those destroyed by the Bolsheviks and why it was a unique occasion and such iconography is not being used in other contemporary churches.

The interior of the cathedral, in 1883


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« Reply #14 on: December 07, 2010, 01:23:28 PM »

I found myself in a Catholic Church this last weekend (my wife had a booth at their craft show). The place had icons all other the place. Over each door to the school rooms there was an icon and one in front of the Priests office.

In the community room ( I didn't venture upstairs) there was a Russian ( Three bar) iconographic Cross above the door. I immediately recognized it as I own the same one at home. All the icons were of Early Church Saints,   or the Theotokos and child

The icons were not in the Romantic Style  as we see above in this thread but rather  icons with bright colors. I bet the Priest bought them at an Eastern on-line store.
Latin or Eastern Catholic Church?

Nope. Regular, everyday RCC
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« Reply #15 on: December 07, 2010, 01:37:16 PM »

"What is the difference. Are they uncannonical? If so how are they uncannonical?"

FYI:The following remarks are very broad.

The style of Western icons is "naturalistic"; that is, they more nearly attempt to resemble visual reality. The rendering of the forms, the composition and perspective, the treatment of light, the features of the subjects--all are realistic. Also, there is much more latitude in subject matter--imaginary scenes are permitted--and much more emphasis is allowed on the idiosyncracies of the individual artist and the contemporary painting style. For instance, 19th century Russian icons were affected by the prevailing Romanticism and sentimentality of the age. Consequently, to my mind, they're very weak and have a tendency to look dated.

In comparison, Eastern icons are technically primitive and inartful: the drawing is naive or expressionistic, the composition unsophisticated, the perspective irrational, the proportions expressionistic. They are purposely designed not to look realistic, but to transcend space and time. Also, the subject matter is highly circumscribed: it's limited to scenes represented exactly as they are described in the Bible, with no major changes allowed because, originally, icons were used to teach the Gospel to the illiterate. The symbology and rubrics of the icon are very precise: the colors, the figures, the positions of the eyes, the hands, the heads, etc.. In addition, the artist is--or should be--anonymous. Theoretically, the iconographer is more devout than artistic and is channeling the Holy Spirit. The office of iconographer is considered a special ministry and is one usually occupied by monastics. Obviously, a talent as great as someone like Rublev is going to shine through; he has a very identifiable style and doesn't have to sign his icons, but the ability to paint a spirit-filled icon is considered a gift of God and primarily a spiritual, not an artistic, charism.

The fundamental idea in Western icons is this world; the fundamental idea in Eastern icons is the next. Not to say that much Western religious art isn't supremely beautiful--of course it is. But it's more decorative and art pour l'art. Icons have a very specific religious function which has nothing whatever to do with conventional ideas of earthly beauty.

From the strict perspective of Orthodox iconography, western-style icons are considered uncanonical because they do not transport us to a contemplation of the next world, the world of God and the Uncreated Light; neither do they reflect the transcendent quality of the saints. Rather, they keep us bound here, to this world and all its temporal follies. At their worst, they do not always express correct theology.

I'm grateful for the resurgent interest in traditional iconography, and I'm waiting for some spiritually gifted iconographers to come along. Much of what passses for iconography right now is, to put it baldly, kitsch.
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« Reply #16 on: December 07, 2010, 01:47:06 PM »

I found myself in a Catholic Church this last weekend (my wife had a booth at their craft show). The place had icons all other the place. Over each door to the school rooms there was an icon and one in front of the Priests office.

In the community room ( I didn't venture upstairs) there was a Russian ( Three bar) iconographic Cross above the door. I immediately recognized it as I own the same one at home. All the icons were of Early Church Saints,   or the Theotokos and child

The icons were not in the Romantic Style  as we see above in this thread but rather  icons with bright colors. I bet the Priest bought them at an Eastern on-line store.

I wonder if these icons are considered as a legitimate expression of Latin tradition or  some weirdo hellenization that shouldn't be included in Latin parishes.
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« Reply #17 on: December 07, 2010, 04:40:21 PM »

I found myself in a Catholic Church this last weekend (my wife had a booth at their craft show). The place had icons all other the place. Over each door to the school rooms there was an icon and one in front of the Priests office.

In the community room ( I didn't venture upstairs) there was a Russian ( Three bar) iconographic Cross above the door. I immediately recognized it as I own the same one at home. All the icons were of Early Church Saints,   or the Theotokos and child

The icons were not in the Romantic Style  as we see above in this thread but rather  icons with bright colors. I bet the Priest bought them at an Eastern on-line store.
Latin or Eastern Catholic Church?

Nope. Regular, everyday RCC
I have seen a few Latin Churches using icons, but not necessarily traditional/orthodox parishes. I think that for some parishes, byzantine icons are trendy right now.  Sad I would much rather see them in a traditional parish where they might be more appreciated for what they are.
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« Reply #18 on: January 30, 2011, 12:22:31 AM »

If there is something wrong with that kind of religious art, then why reproduce it in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow? Why repeat what is clearly seen (not by me  Wink ) as a terrible mistake, as a relic of the so-called "Western Captivity"? After all, it is, in the words of the Patriarch of Moscow, "the most important Russian cathedral." Was it primarily built as a museum/tourist attraction or as a cathedral for the Orthodox faithful?
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« Reply #19 on: August 02, 2011, 11:51:14 AM »

I found myself in a Catholic Church this last weekend (my wife had a booth at their craft show). The place had icons all other the place. Over each door to the school rooms there was an icon and one in front of the Priests office.

In the community room ( I didn't venture upstairs) there was a Russian ( Three bar) iconographic Cross above the door. I immediately recognized it as I own the same one at home. All the icons were of Early Church Saints,   or the Theotokos and child

The icons were not in the Romantic Style  as we see above in this thread but rather  icons with bright colors. I bet the Priest bought them at an Eastern on-line store.
Latin or Eastern Catholic Church?

Nope. Regular, everyday RCC
I have seen a few Latin Churches using icons, but not necessarily traditional/orthodox parishes. I think that for some parishes, byzantine icons are trendy right now.  Sad I would much rather see them in a traditional parish where they might be more appreciated for what they are.

That's what I was going to say; I find a lot of the novus ordo types like ikons; they either see them as trendy, as you said, or as a way to further distance themselves from the traditionalism of historical Western Roman Catholicism.
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« Reply #20 on: August 02, 2011, 12:49:56 PM »

I don't like speaking about "Western" things as if they were opposed to Orthodoxy. Before Giotto, the West had a long tradition of iconography which was a bit different from Byzantine iconography. Unfortunately, most of this was whitewashed or destroyed with Gothic renovations. It survives in manuscripts, however.
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« Reply #21 on: August 02, 2011, 01:01:57 PM »

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« Reply #22 on: August 02, 2011, 02:11:13 PM »

Duccio di Buoninsegna, early 14th Century:







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« Reply #23 on: August 02, 2011, 02:42:22 PM »

If there is something wrong with that kind of religious art, then why reproduce it in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow?... Was it primarily built as a museum/tourist attraction or as a cathedral for the Orthodox faithful?
*cough*

Well...
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« Reply #24 on: August 02, 2011, 03:13:16 PM »

I had read in another post that there seem to be more western icons in Orthodox churches here in the states and they are different from eastern icons. What is the difference. Are they uncannonical? If so how are they uncannonical?
More in the US? No.  I've seen plenty in the Middle East, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (at the time), Romania, Czechoslovakia (at the time).  And plenty of proper, Orthodox iconography in the US of A.

Uncanonical?  Some are.  Do we need to burn the Churches down?  No.
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« Reply #25 on: August 02, 2011, 04:48:55 PM »

These kinds of icons are all over the Orthodox homelands, even the more conservative places like Serbia. There's been a swing back toward more traditional iconography in the last century. Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore. But I've been in plenty of churches with them from the last couple of hundred years. Just venerate them and don't worry about it. As bogdan pointed out, they are beautiful in their own way.

St. Andrew's Cathedral around the corner from me has an iconostasis in this style, although it looks as though the mural icons are being done in the more modern neo-archaic style (they have acres of wall to go). My guess is that the immigrants who built it didn't "know" any better at the time. It's also an "older" building now having been completed in the late 1980s.

One should consider that the taste in the west went through a similar negative reaction in the early 1900s. If you look at St. Matthews Cathedral in DC or most of National Cathedral, the style of the iconography is much more severe and eventually more stylized than the baroque/loco-rococo stuff that preceded it. There are a lot of different impulses that went into that, including the desire to incorporate some of the virtues of eastern iconography; the one element that is largely missing for a time is the need for differentiation, though as the century progressed the urge by the Catholics to not look like the Anglicans rose up again.

The more important feature is always that iconography has never been incorporated in the liturgy itself in the west, save for the devotion of the stations of the cross, and those have always been interpreted mostly as placeholders rather than as actual images. This is the reality that is mystically related in the claim that eastern icons look into the next world.
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« Reply #26 on: August 03, 2011, 07:35:57 AM »

These kinds of icons are all over the Orthodox homelands, even the more conservative places like Serbia. There's been a swing back toward more traditional iconography in the last century. Really, as far as I can tell, nobody is making this style of iconography anymore. But I've been in plenty of churches with them from the last couple of hundred years. Just venerate them and don't worry about it. As bogdan pointed out, they are beautiful in their own way.

St. Andrew's Cathedral around the corner from me has an iconostasis in this style, although it looks as though the mural icons are being done in the more modern neo-archaic style (they have acres of wall to go). My guess is that the immigrants who built it didn't "know" any better at the time. It's also an "older" building now having been completed in the late 1980s.

One should consider that the taste in the west went through a similar negative reaction in the early 1900s. If you look at St. Matthews Cathedral in DC or most of National Cathedral, the style of the iconography is much more severe and eventually more stylized than the baroque/loco-rococo stuff that preceded it. There are a lot of different impulses that went into that, including the desire to incorporate some of the virtues of eastern iconography; the one element that is largely missing for a time is the need for differentiation, though as the century progressed the urge by the Catholics to not look like the Anglicans rose up again.

The more important feature is always that iconography has never been incorporated in the liturgy itself in the west, save for the devotion of the stations of the cross, and those have always been interpreted mostly as placeholders rather than as actual images. This is the reality that is mystically related in the claim that eastern icons look into the next world.

Thank you for these thoughts. Again, as many have stated, in Eastern Europe and Greece from the late 16th through the 20th centuries, one will find icons with a 'westernized' 'tint'. I would caution against calling them 'uncanonical' as that is a loaded term. Rather they reflect the mores and tastes of the eras in which they were painted. The important thing to remember is that they are always incorporated into our liturgies and services (i.e. Orthodox (and yes, for our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters as well) to serve as that mystical vista into the next world.
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