When you witness and contemplate an icon, you may be curious. Why and how did these early iconographers depict creation, men, birds, animals, demons, and the heavens in such an abstract way? They try to depict the spiritual world as it exists both seen and unseen. Byzantine Icons, their history, symbolism, and meaning are mapped out in ancient archetypal language. The Art of iconography is on the one side theology, and on the other, a vision waiting to be revealed.
I have been working on a book to illustrate some of the early Iconographers who painted Byzantine Icons. Their history, symbolism, and meaning in the form of images had plenty to say about reality, mystery, and a spiritual world we cannot see. Their clever solutions for illustrating the divine help the viewer perceive and understand and defy the logic that surrounds us and what we believe to be true and constant. There is a spiritual world outside time and space.
Heaven : Byzantine Icons their History, Symbolism, and Meaning
In the upper corners of narrative icons, it is common to find a small cosmos with something smaller dimension descending. Sometimes a hand or whole person protrudes from a cloud. God’s presence is descending from heaven and offers assistance, blessing, or confirmation of an event taking place. God’s presence is witnesses us. The hand can also be thought of as Christ’s hand. An extended hand, open palm, or fingers spread palm down are all versions of the same. Iconography is a testament to the creative mind trying to illustrate the mystery and unknowable mind of God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The abstracted quarter shape in the corner or the half circle in the center might be trimmed in red, white, blue, or black. Heaven is depicted in many forms and styles, with open doors, abstracted clouds, or rays of light protruding in circles.
Faces – Byzantine Icons: their History, Symbolism, and Meaning
Another example to reflect on is the face of Christ. Portraits in Byzantine Icons carry their history, symbolism, and meaning for specific reasons. The staring stoic faces challenge the viewer to contemplate the divine, witness the eternal, and feel as if they could be seen. Who is watching us?
The face is emotionless yet fully attentive. Wide foreheads and delineated temples point to a knowledgeable mind to capture the viewer for one moment. The face rendering expresses a calm and quiet spirit with the power to draw you in to be part of, to listen to, and to remember the spirit of divinity in them and in you.
To learn more about Byzantine Icons: their History, Symbolism, and Meaning, Follow us on Conversations about Prayer and Iconography Facebook