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Author Topic: Is this an acceptable Nativity icon?  (Read 5965 times) Average Rating: 0
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Volnutt
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« on: November 19, 2011, 01:59:26 AM »

Just wondering.


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« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2011, 02:57:54 AM »

pretty sure it is, although its hard to see because of the size.
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« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2011, 03:02:10 AM »

It's simplistic, but I don't see anything wrong with it canonically. Seems fine to me!
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« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2011, 03:42:51 AM »

Umm, I don't know, but I've never seen St. Joseph the Betrothed given this prominence in the Nativity Icon, and of course, the "All Holy...Ever Virgin Mary...," the Theotokos, is traditionally depicted laying down, having given birth.  St. Joseph, when depicted in the Nativity icon, is traditionally depicted in a smaller size, less significant, being tempted by a demon (or the Devil), who reminds  Joseph that, as his betrothal wasn't consummated, how could this women bear a child?  (There is another topic on "OC.net" with an elaborate discussion as to what St. Joseph's place is in the Orthodox Church and what "betrothal" meant in that era.)

Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, a separated traditionalist Old Calendarist Exarch in the "moderate" Greek Synod in Resistance, exhorts, "Imitate, don't innovate."

Accordingly, and respectfully, I'm inclined to say, "no," this depiction is not an acceptable Icon of the Nativity of Christ.
« Last Edit: November 19, 2011, 03:50:13 AM by Basil 320 » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2011, 05:50:34 AM »


Hello Volnutt

It's almost certainly a detail from a larger icon or fresco, as many other parts of a traditional icon are missing; also there is no inscription, and the background is black - suggesting Mary, Joseph and the Christ-Child are in the cave, and that the cave is shown in the "full" picture.

It's true that normally Nativity icons show Joseph somewhere at the bottom of the icon being tempted by the devil; its also true that the Mother of God and Christ in the cave are shown larger than the rest of the icon, being the central scene. The Mother of God is usually reclining, though there are equally ancient icons which show her kneeling beside the manger as shown above. In the icon above Christ is shown swaddled tightly, reminiscent of a burial shroud. I would add that in other Nativity icons, this foreshadowing of Christ's death is also shown in depicting Christ's manger as a small stone coffin:



Left: Detail from Nativity Icon; Right: Detail from Icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women

I would be a long way from saying the icon in the OP is "unacceptable", though I do believe its only a fraction of a larger icon. There are some details missing (Joseph being tempted; the manger being shaped like a coffin) which are present in other Nativity Icons, but then this can be said of many other icons of different types too.
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« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2011, 06:00:27 AM »

Interesting.
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« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2011, 07:30:09 AM »

I concur with what Basil320 and J.M.C have written; that it falls well short of properly expressing the doctrine and theology of the Nativity. The newborn Christ is not shown in a stone box resembling a tomb (His swaddling-clothes being a prefiguration of the windings which will bind His lifeless body); and Joseph is shown at the same level as the Mother of God, which is not correct theologically or liturgically.

It's a lovely picture, but not an icon.

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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2011, 08:57:35 PM »

What is it's model? It's president as an icon.  The technique, theme, and each figure taken separately seem to be within canonical norms, but the composition and expression make me wonder if this particular image is too much an innovation. If asked for my personal judgement on its acceptably I would be likely to say "maybe, better to check with your priest."

It's well to recall with icons like this that St. Seraphim of Sarov's favorite Icon of the Theotokos was, to my knowledge, not composed to strict canonical standard…she did not hold Christ or have a Mandorla showing the instant of His conception. Yet St. Seraphim dearly loved that icon, and doubtless with good reason. I'm not inclined to gainsay him. When in doubt check with your priest.
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2011, 11:51:34 PM »

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It's well to recall with icons like this that St. Seraphim of Sarov's favorite Icon of the Theotokos was, to my knowledge, not composed to strict canonical standard…she did not hold Christ or have a Mandorla showing the instant of His conception. Yet St. Seraphim dearly loved that icon, and doubtless with good reason. I'm not inclined to gainsay him.

St Seraphim, and many others (saints, clergy and laymen) who lived during the 18th-20th centuries, had little choice but to venerate it, as they were everywhere. The more traditional forms of iconography had all but disappeared from general consciousness due to the great infiltration of imagery from elsewhere. In Russia, the State sponsored iconographic workshops where the favored style was naturalistic and very often modeled on compositions found in western religious art. Also, regions which bordered Roman Catholic lands (Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, Moldova, etc) were particularly susceptible to this influx. So it is no wonder that such images were around in great profusion, and that saints like St Seraphim prayed before them.
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« Reply #9 on: November 20, 2011, 04:49:26 PM »

It's well to recall with icons like this that St. Seraphim of Sarov's favorite Icon of the Theotokos was, to my knowledge, not composed to strict canonical standard…she did not hold Christ or have a Mandorla showing the instant of His conception. Yet St. Seraphim dearly loved that icon, and doubtless with good reason.

It was also oil from the lampada burning in front of this icon (Tenderness, or "Joy of Joys") which St Seraphim used to heal visitors to his cell. As for its "canonicity", I have heard it posited that the icon is the Annunciation as shown on the Royal Doors of an Iconostasis, which explains both why the Infant Christ and Archangel Gabriel are not present (the Angel being on the other door). I'm not sure what you mean by the lack of a mandorla - most icons of the Annunciation show Mary without a mandorla, neither a mandorla surrounding her nor a mandorla containing the Christ-Child in her womb.
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« Reply #10 on: November 20, 2011, 05:05:38 PM »

I'm not familiar with all the specific canons regarding iconography, or how well this particular image conforms to every single one of them, but...

saints like St Seraphim prayed before them.

It may not fit the canonical regulations, but can still be used to glorify God.
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« Reply #11 on: November 20, 2011, 05:26:22 PM »

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nor a mandorla containing the Christ-Child in her womb.

On the contrary. The majority of icons of the Mother of God of the Sign (Znamenniye/Platytera) show Christ surrounded by a mandorla.
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« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2011, 05:27:55 PM »

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most icons of the Annunciation show Mary without a mandorla

No icon of the Mother of God should show her surrounded by a mandorla. She is not the source of the Uncreated Light.
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« Reply #13 on: November 20, 2011, 06:45:31 PM »

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nor a mandorla containing the Christ-Child in her womb.

On the contrary. The majority of icons of the Mother of God of the Sign (Znamenniye/Platytera) show Christ surrounded by a mandorla.

Yes, that's right. I was referring to icons of the Annunciation - very few Annunciation icons show a mandorla with Christ in the Mother of God's womb. I say very few rather than none, because at least one type (I forget the name offhand, but it's Russian and shows the Mother of God standing) does show Christ in a mandorla upon the Mother of God's womb.
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« Reply #14 on: November 20, 2011, 11:25:39 PM »

Just wondering.




Yes, it is. 
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« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2011, 11:28:26 PM »

Ooo, a rumble's a-comin'  laugh
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« Reply #16 on: November 21, 2011, 09:30:36 AM »

Yes, that's right. I was referring to icons of the Annunciation - very few Annunciation icons show a mandorla with Christ in the Mother of God's womb. I say very few rather than none, because at least one type (I forget the name offhand, but it's Russian and shows the Mother of God standing) does show Christ in a mandorla upon the Mother of God's womb.

Theotokos of the sign?

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« Reply #17 on: November 21, 2011, 12:53:53 PM »

I know that the 'correct' answer will be, but as I do a variety of things this morning, I have the 65th Anniversary Liturgy of the Patriarch of Moscow playing in the background.I have to note that my dear, late, formerly Greek Catholic grandparents and parents would have felt quite at home with the stylistic decoration of the Patriarchal Christ the Saviour Cathedral, as rebuilt in Moscow. I fear that many of us pay far too much attention to  'style' rather than to substance when it comes to this topic. I'll concur with Father HLL here on this one!
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« Reply #18 on: November 21, 2011, 01:27:01 PM »

It's a lovely picture, but not an icon.

It may not be the canonical ideal, but I don't see how you get from there to "not an icon".

To the OP: where did you find the image in question?
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« Reply #19 on: November 21, 2011, 01:47:44 PM »

To my eyes, it does not seem that St. Joseph is touching the Christ Child, so I don't think the icon makes any incorrect implications about St. Joseph's identity. He's just standing there. Surely, at some point, St. Joseph did indeed stand over the manger?  angel I would think there isn't anything canonically weird about showing St. Joseph's love for Christ in a simple way. Just my thoughts.
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« Reply #20 on: November 21, 2011, 01:58:20 PM »

It's a lovely picture, but not an icon.

It may not be the canonical ideal, but I don't see how you get from there to "not an icon".

To the OP: where did you find the image in question?

AFR
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« Reply #21 on: November 21, 2011, 02:12:47 PM »

Yes, that's right. I was referring to icons of the Annunciation - very few Annunciation icons show a mandorla with Christ in the Mother of God's womb. I say very few rather than none, because at least one type (I forget the name offhand, but it's Russian and shows the Mother of God standing) does show Christ in a mandorla upon the Mother of God's womb.

Theotokos of the sign?


No, I was referring to an Icon of the Annunciation - and now I've found it: the Annunciation of Ustyug (Устюжское Благовещение):

http://iconreader.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/annunciation_ystuj.jpg


... though now I look at it again, Christ is shown without a mandorla (or I can't see one). Nevertheless, it's unusual to see Him like this, in the womb of the Theotokos, in an icon of the Annunciation; its more usual to see the Mother of God in a pose of humility and acceptance, as she appears in the Tenderness Icon of St Seraphim, which is why I said it had been posited that the prototype of the Tenderness Icon was an older icon of the Annunciation, possibly from the royal doors of an iconostasis.

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« Reply #22 on: November 21, 2011, 02:14:44 PM »

That icon is in one of our stained glass windows at church.  angel
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« Reply #23 on: November 21, 2011, 02:16:13 PM »

It's a lovely picture, but not an icon.

It may not be the canonical ideal, but I don't see how you get from there to "not an icon".

To the OP: where did you find the image in question?

AFR

I've seen a larger version of the same image; I will try and dig it up if you would like a bigger version. As I said before, it looks like a fraction from a modern Nativity icon (because of the black background and the lack of inscription).
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« Reply #24 on: November 21, 2011, 02:17:47 PM »

That icon is in one of our stained glass windows at church.  angel

The Ustyug Icon? It must look very nice as stained glass. Please post a photo if you have one  Smiley
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« Reply #25 on: November 21, 2011, 02:23:24 PM »

I will try to take one next week.  Smiley
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« Reply #26 on: November 21, 2011, 06:34:00 PM »

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its more usual to see the Mother of God in a pose of humility and acceptance, as she appears in the Tenderness Icon of St Seraphim,

There are two distinct attitudes of the Mother of God which might be chosen for her by the iconographer for icons of the Annunciation: surprise (reflecting her reaction to the appearance of Archangel Gabriel, and her statement of "how could this happen, since I know not a man?"), and obedience to the will of God ("Let it be to me according as you say"). The raised hand held close to the body is a very common motif which denotes obedience and submission to the will of God. Both of these attitudes are expressed clearly in scripture and hymnography. The Canon of Matins for the Annunciation is structured as a conversation between the Virgin and the Archangel.

Here are examples:







It is important to note that in the icons which show her obedience and humility, the Virgin is never shown with her eyes closed, as is the case in western art. In icons, she always has her eyes open, and is either seated, with the seat on a raised platform, or is standing on a platform, while the Archangel stands. This is not an accident - this expresses the fact that she is "greater in honor and more glorious than the hosts on high". She is showing humility and obedience to God, not primarily to Gabriel, whom she outranks. And, as so much hymnography expresses, the angels are in awe of her. By contrast, in western art, the Virgin is very often shown kneeling, with eyes closed, directly before the Archangel. The imagery does not express the exaltation of the Virgin as above the angels, which a proper icon does.
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« Reply #27 on: November 21, 2011, 06:46:56 PM »

Interesting. Thanks.  angel
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« Reply #28 on: November 21, 2011, 06:47:38 PM »

Quote
Surely, at some point, St. Joseph did indeed stand over the manger?  angel I would think there isn't anything canonically weird about showing St. Joseph's love for Christ in a simple way.

Iconography is not about pious sentiment, or "what feels right". It is the visual expression of what the Church teaches, as hymnography does with words. Individual interpretation or sentimentality have no place in either form. Iconographers are instruments of the Church, not artists who give free rein to their creativity and self-expression.

I can post examples of hymnography associated with St Joseph from various feasts if people wish.
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« Reply #29 on: November 21, 2011, 08:48:18 PM »

Yeah, I'd say St. Seraphim's "Joy of Joys" is definitely inspired by Renaissance portraits of the Annunciation.
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« Reply #30 on: November 22, 2011, 02:25:45 AM »

the icon in the op is on the front page of AFR...under "what's new"
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« Reply #31 on: November 22, 2011, 02:28:44 AM »

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its more usual to see the Mother of God in a pose of humility and acceptance, as she appears in the Tenderness Icon of St Seraphim,

There are two distinct attitudes of the Mother of God which might be chosen for her by the iconographer for icons of the Annunciation: surprise (reflecting her reaction to the appearance of Archangel Gabriel, and her statement of "how could this happen, since I know not a man?"), and obedience to the will of God ("Let it be to me according as you say"). The raised hand held close to the body is a very common motif which denotes obedience and submission to the will of God. Both of these attitudes are expressed clearly in scripture and hymnography. The Canon of Matins for the Annunciation is structured as a conversation between the Virgin and the Archangel.

Here are examples:







It is important to note that in the icons which show her obedience and humility, the Virgin is never shown with her eyes closed, as is the case in western art. In icons, she always has her eyes open, and is either seated, with the seat on a raised platform, or is standing on a platform, while the Archangel stands. This is not an accident - this expresses the fact that she is "greater in honor and more glorious than the hosts on high". She is showing humility and obedience to God, not primarily to Gabriel, whom she outranks. And, as so much hymnography expresses, the angels are in awe of her. By contrast, in western art, the Virgin is very often shown kneeling, with eyes closed, directly before the Archangel. The imagery does not express the exaltation of the Virgin as above the angels, which a proper icon does.
Why is the Spirit portrayed as a dove in these? I thought only Theophany icons could do that.
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« Reply #32 on: November 22, 2011, 02:33:56 AM »

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Why is the Spirit portrayed as a dove in these? I thought only Theophany icons could do that.

You are quite right on this, there should not be a dove in the ray of divine Light overshadowing the Virgin. But, like the perpetuation of other imagery which is in error, this motif is an ancient and common mistake. Many icons, ancient and recent, of Pentecost also incorrectly show a dove in the upper border.
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« Reply #33 on: November 22, 2011, 02:39:03 AM »

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Why is the Spirit portrayed as a dove in these? I thought only Theophany icons could do that.

You are quite right on this, there should not be a dove in the ray of divine Light overshadowing the Virgin. But, like the perpetuation of other imagery which is in error, this motif is an ancient and common mistake. Many icons, ancient and recent, of Pentecost also incorrectly show a dove in the upper border.
Ok.
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