The deliberate and understood presence of painting 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 painting hands in iconography includes a blessing hand of Jesus. 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.
Painting hands in iconography sometimes 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. God is ever present and constantly available. The single painted hand in iconography up in the corner is Gods. The hand is inclusive of hand Christ already portrayed in the event. The hand emerges from a small cloud, or an abstracted quarter circle trimmed in red, white, or black. Part of the forearm is shown with an extended hand or open palm or sometimes with the fingers spread palm down. Painting hands in iconography is 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. Painting hands in iconography communicates principle aspects to convey messages.
Very informative and helpful multiple ways for me, in understanding icons I venerate and in my attempts to draw spiritually. Thank you and God Bless you and your service.
Liz Schellingerhoudt says
Mary Jane, Your website is lovely, and the video is beautiful to watch. I miss your studio and you! Liz
Mary Jane Miller says
How great to hear from you. How is church these days? I imagine things are settling and we might even see places where we have grown. Mac has been having a hard time but he too has prayer on his side. peace be with you