Author Topic: Depiction of people in icons  (Read 439 times)

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Offline Regnare

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Depiction of people in icons
« on: September 15, 2013, 05:16:48 PM »
I understand the reason why only icons should be in Orthodox churches (as opposed to, for example, the paintings inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour). But I've also seen photos of churches where, although the people in the pictures are painted more realistically, the way they're depicted still seems like an icon. For example:
http://p2.patriarchia.ru/2013/09/15/1235704836/2VSN_4545-1200.jpg

Do these still count as icons, or are they just paintings?

Offline podkarpatska

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2013, 05:39:12 PM »
I understand the reason why only icons should be in Orthodox churches (as opposed to, for example, the paintings inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour). But I've also seen photos of churches where, although the people in the pictures are painted more realistically, the way they're depicted still seems like an icon. For example:
http://p2.patriarchia.ru/2013/09/15/1235704836/2VSN_4545-1200.jpg

Do these still count as icons, or are they just paintings?

Sit back, pop open a cold one, grab some pretzels and enjoy the show.  :) This subject can get heated.

Seriously , for several centuries following from about the early 18th century, through a 20th century revival of more traditional Byzantine style, there was a trend in much of Eastern Christendom (Orthodox and Eastern Catholic alike ) which favored a more western flavor in church appointments, including icons.

Many churches built by immigrants to North America by Greeks and Slavs alike between the late 19th through the mid 20th centuries reflect this reality as well as those of the same time in Europe.

I am of the opinion that they are worthy of veneration. Others passionately disagree. There are good arguments for both points of view and most of us can argue this one and at the end of the day still enjoy a cold brew and camaraderie while agreeing to disagree.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2013, 05:43:45 PM by podkarpatska »

Offline LBK

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2013, 07:17:50 PM »
Reproduced from an old post of mine:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,48230.msg841047.html#msg841047

I have previously spoken on this forum on the almost complete takeover of traditional iconography by naturalistic religious art over several centuries, across all the Orthodox world. Much of this was due to official patronage of this “new” religious art, be it by nobles, kings, or emperors of countries where Orthodoxy was the dominant faith. There was no separation of Church and State – indeed, the king/emperor/tsar was a kind of earthly representative of the Church. To this day, the affectionate titles for a Russian priest and his wife are Batiushka and Matushka (Little Father, Little Mother). The same titles were used for the Tsars and Tsarinas of imperial Russia. History shows that many rulers of Orthodox countries, for better and worse, adopted (willingly or otherwise) western customs and mores, and imposed them on their nations or empires. In Russia, this led to the founding of state-sponsored iconographic workshops, which promoted the highly naturalistic “Synodal” or “Academic” styles, as well as imagery commonly found in western religious art. The “iconography” of the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior, commissioned in the 1820s, reflects the almost complete dominance of western imagery over traditional iconography.

The Kursk-Root icon of the Mother of God dates from the last decade of the 13th century, and consisted of simply an icon of the Mother of God of the Sign. As the repeatedly miraculous nature of this little icon became known more widely, it was decided at the turn of the seventeenth century, three hundred years after the discovery of the icon, to enlarge and "beautify" it by adding a broad border on which were painted icons of Old Testament prophets, and, in the upper border, an image of God the Father. The inclusion of the latter was hardly surprising, as such imagery had already begun infiltrating iconography.

Greece, the other center of Orthodoxy, was not immune from extraneous influences. The Venetians colonized large areas of the Greek mainland, and many of its islands, prior to, or during, the Ottoman period. The Cretan School produced some of the most sublime and reverent iconography anywhere, but, unfortunately, eventually descended into an imitation of renaissance art, losing its liturgical and theological integrity. The progressive westernizing of the works of the iconographers Tzannes and Damaskinos is a good example of this.

Keeping this in mind, and that of traveled iconographers themselves incorporating elements of western art in their works, is it any wonder that western forms of religious art soon became the norm? We have the examples of Sts Seraphim of Sarov and Nektarios of Aegina and their veneration of images we know to be suspect. But, are we to condemn these holy men? Are we to say that their sanctity is in question? Of course not. The fact is, that they had little choice but to venerate such images, as these images were everywhere.

The hallowed ground of Mt Athos was not immune from these influences – indeed, there is, to this day, a profusion of suspect and uncanonical images on the walls of many of its monasteries. These include NT Trinities, eyes in triangles, and St Joseph the Betrothed holding the young Christ, which are clearly contrary to Orthodox doctrine and theology. The people of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, and other nations in eastern Europe on the border of Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West similarly were surrounded by heterodox images, in all innocence. Can we blame them for holding their beloved Ostrobramskaya, Akhtirskaya, and Diveyevo icons to their hearts?

So where does this leave us? God can, if He so chooses, to work His grace through imperfect vessels, be they human beings, or an imperfectly-mounted printed icon (the recent myrrh-streaming icon of St Nicholas), or an image that falls short of canonical guidelines. As He accepts and loves us, despite our multitude of sins and faults, so He has accepted these imperfect images. However, we are also expected to do what we can to “get right” with God.

In terms of iconography, we can no longer claim ignorance of canon, scripture or liturgical deposit. It is increasingly difficult to claim illiteracy, geographic and cultural isolation for the perpetuation of images deficient or contrary to Orthodox doctrine and theology. It grieves me that certain people who conduct well-patronized classes in icon painting continue to promote uncanonical and deficient images. I am not convinced that this is being done in honest ignorance.

On the other hand, I am heartened that some iconographers are painting “corrective” motifs on their copies of historic but deficient images, such as ensuring the Mother of God bears the three stars of perpetual virginity, that a motif of Christ or the OT Holy Trinity, instead of God the Father, is in the upper border of a Kursk-Root or Derzhavnaya icon of the Mother of God. I have also seen the removal of NT Trinities and eyes in triangles from prominent positions in some Orthodox churches in the city where I live. Small, but very welcome steps in the right direction.
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Offline ialmisry

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2013, 07:33:51 PM »
I understand the reason why only icons should be in Orthodox churches (as opposed to, for example, the paintings inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour). But I've also seen photos of churches where, although the people in the pictures are painted more realistically, the way they're depicted still seems like an icon. For example:
http://p2.patriarchia.ru/2013/09/15/1235704836/2VSN_4545-1200.jpg

Do these still count as icons, or are they just paintings?

Sit back, pop open a cold one, grab some pretzels and enjoy the show.  :) This subject can get heated.

Seriously , for several centuries following from about the early 18th century, through a 20th century revival of more traditional Byzantine style, there was a trend in much of Eastern Christendom (Orthodox and Eastern Catholic alike ) which favored a more western flavor in church appointments, including icons.

Many churches built by immigrants to North America by Greeks and Slavs alike between the late 19th through the mid 20th centuries reflect this reality as well as those of the same time in Europe.

I am of the opinion that they are worthy of veneration. Others passionately disagree. There are good arguments for both points of view and most of us can argue this one and at the end of the day still enjoy a cold brew and camaraderie while agreeing to disagree.
I remember a Church I popped into in Athens: its sanctuary was all Western wannabe, its iconostasis was Art Déco, moving all the way to the icons being written in back done in strict neo-Palaeologan style.
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Offline podkarpatska

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2013, 07:56:43 PM »
I understand the reason why only icons should be in Orthodox churches (as opposed to, for example, the paintings inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour). But I've also seen photos of churches where, although the people in the pictures are painted more realistically, the way they're depicted still seems like an icon. For example:
http://p2.patriarchia.ru/2013/09/15/1235704836/2VSN_4545-1200.jpg

Do these still count as icons, or are they just paintings?

Sit back, pop open a cold one, grab some pretzels and enjoy the show.  :) This subject can get heated.

Seriously , for several centuries following from about the early 18th century, through a 20th century revival of more traditional Byzantine style, there was a trend in much of Eastern Christendom (Orthodox and Eastern Catholic alike ) which favored a more western flavor in church appointments, including icons.

Many churches built by immigrants to North America by Greeks and Slavs alike between the late 19th through the mid 20th centuries reflect this reality as well as those of the same time in Europe.

I am of the opinion that they are worthy of veneration. Others passionately disagree. There are good arguments for both points of view and most of us can argue this one and at the end of the day still enjoy a cold brew and camaraderie while agreeing to disagree.
I remember a Church I popped into in Athens: its sanctuary was all Western wannabe, its iconostasis was Art Déco, moving all the way to the icons being written in back done in strict neo-Palaeologan style.

The dispute among us is not that one "side" views westernized iconography as being "defensible" in its own right, but rather, how to treat the historical reality that several centuries of churches, many of them among the more famous of Tsarist Russia, exist and hold deep meaning to many Orthodox faithful, both on a parish and national level.

I fear what Fr. Seraphim Rose might have called a "super correctness" in analyzing these churches and works as being a potentially divisive force in the church. I'll let my opinion go at that because I can not craft a persuasive "canonical" counter argument except to say that the application of "economia" in such matters is most often a wise and prudent course.

Offline JoeS2

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2013, 10:11:50 PM »
I am given to understand that Holy Icons after the Iconoclasm period were not supposed to look too 'lifelike'.  They were to depict the heavenly appearance and to some extent exaggerate their features.  However, the Slavic Icon renditions appear to be more lifelike than their Greek counterparts.
Christ the Saviour in Moscow have very lifelike Icons, paintings in their Cathedral.  So, Im not sure what is correct or maybe it comes down to local traditions.

Offline LBK

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2013, 01:22:11 AM »
I am given to understand that Holy Icons after the Iconoclasm period were not supposed to look too 'lifelike'.  They were to depict the heavenly appearance and to some extent exaggerate their features.  However, the Slavic Icon renditions appear to be more lifelike than their Greek counterparts.
Christ the Saviour in Moscow have very lifelike Icons, paintings in their Cathedral.  So, Im not sure what is correct or maybe it comes down to local traditions.


Traditional icons are indeed deliberately painted to look otherworldly, to reflect and express heavenly, spiritual reality, not what is earthly and temporal.

I can assure you that naturalistic styles were just as prevalent in Greece, Cyprus, Romania and other non-Slavic regions. No Orthodox nation or region was immune from the influx of western-style painting which almost eliminated traditional iconography. I've seen paintings in churches outside of Russia that are every bit as florid and overblown as those in Christ the Savior.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2013, 01:22:35 AM by LBK »
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Offline TheTrisagion

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2013, 12:21:11 PM »
I understand the reason why only icons should be in Orthodox churches (as opposed to, for example, the paintings inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour). But I've also seen photos of churches where, although the people in the pictures are painted more realistically, the way they're depicted still seems like an icon. For example:
http://p2.patriarchia.ru/2013/09/15/1235704836/2VSN_4545-1200.jpg

Do these still count as icons, or are they just paintings?

Sit back, pop open a cold one, grab some pretzels and enjoy the show.  :) This subject can get heated.

Seriously , for several centuries following from about the early 18th century, through a 20th century revival of more traditional Byzantine style, there was a trend in much of Eastern Christendom (Orthodox and Eastern Catholic alike ) which favored a more western flavor in church appointments, including icons.

Many churches built by immigrants to North America by Greeks and Slavs alike between the late 19th through the mid 20th centuries reflect this reality as well as those of the same time in Europe.

I am of the opinion that they are worthy of veneration. Others passionately disagree. There are good arguments for both points of view and most of us can argue this one and at the end of the day still enjoy a cold brew and camaraderie while agreeing to disagree.
I remember a Church I popped into in Athens: its sanctuary was all Western wannabe, its iconostasis was Art Déco, moving all the way to the icons being written in back done in strict neo-Palaeologan style.

The dispute among us is not that one "side" views westernized iconography as being "defensible" in its own right, but rather, how to treat the historical reality that several centuries of churches, many of them among the more famous of Tsarist Russia, exist and hold deep meaning to many Orthodox faithful, both on a parish and national level.

I fear what Fr. Seraphim Rose might have called a "super correctness" in analyzing these churches and works as being a potentially divisive force in the church. I'll let my opinion go at that because I can not craft a persuasive "canonical" counter argument except to say that the application of "economia" in such matters is most often a wise and prudent course.
I think this is really the key here.
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Offline JoeS2

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Re: Depiction of people in icons
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2013, 04:16:26 PM »
I am given to understand that Holy Icons after the Iconoclasm period were not supposed to look too 'lifelike'.  They were to depict the heavenly appearance and to some extent exaggerate their features.  However, the Slavic Icon renditions appear to be more lifelike than their Greek counterparts.
Christ the Saviour in Moscow have very lifelike Icons, paintings in their Cathedral.  So, Im not sure what is correct or maybe it comes down to local traditions.


Traditional icons are indeed deliberately painted to look otherworldly, to reflect and express heavenly, spiritual reality, not what is earthly and temporal.

I can assure you that naturalistic styles were just as prevalent in Greece, Cyprus, Romania and other non-Slavic regions. No Orthodox nation or region was immune from the influx of western-style painting which almost eliminated traditional iconography. I've seen paintings in churches outside of Russia that are every bit as florid and overblown as those in Christ the Savior.
I cant totally hold those who redid the Christ the Saviour Cathedral's Icons/paintings because it was to be an exact 100% duplication of what Stalin destroyed during his reign.  I think those of the 'Peter the Great' era was very much influenced by western technology and the arts.  This could have been the reason the paintings in the great cathedral look so western in style.