The deliberate and understood presence of hands in iconography is crucial to the content and message of the image. There is ample information for study and reflection as young iconographers begin their understanding and intention. Iconography is an ancient language and painting Byzantine hands say a great deal. They are a delight to paint and there are few icons without hands so learn to paint them well.
In Greek or Russian Orthodox iconography, the gesture of the hand of Jesus is a blessing hand. The fingers actually shape the letters IC XC. The letters are an abbreviation for the Greek words Jesus (IHCOYC) Christ (XPICTOC). The hands in Iconography bless in a variety of ways and styles depending on content. The Name of Jesus Christ, is the “Name above every name”. His hands say who he is through shape and form.
The gesture of blessing made by Christ conveys doctrinal truths. The thumb and ring finger are brought together to touch forming the letter C with one finger extended like the letter I. This symbolizes the Incarnation, the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ. Shaping three fingers to extend upwards represents the Trinity. They indicate I and X meaning the unity of one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The hand is shown raised in an attitude of benediction and used by the priest to bless others in the liturgy. This particular hand shape is most often associated with Christ the Pantochraotor illustrating His desire to teach us through the icon and His presence.
Hand of God
The motif of the hand, with no body attached, found in the corners of feast day icons are curious and delightful. The addition of a small hand to the icon is a simple and direct way to convey Gods in all things, ever present and constantly available. The single hand in iconography up in the corner is Gods hand because Christ is often already portrayed in the event. The hand most often emerges from a small cloud, or from an abstracted quarter circle trimmed in red, white, black or other color. Part of the forearm is shown with an extended hand or open palm or sometimes with the fingers spread palm down and used as iconographal narrative language.
It is noted that the representation of the full-bodied figure of God the Father is seldom used and considered to be misguiding. The intention is not to have a human being present up in the corner watching, but rather to indicate the event is being witnessed by the spirit of God.
Other Hands and their Language
When a small half-length portrait of Christ as Logos is placed in a corner, the content of the icon is typically a saint figure. The half figure could also appear in a lesser event that does not include any Christ as a figure in the narrative.