Iconostasis..........................Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Icon
(EYE con)

A representation of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, especially one painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church.

Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, painted on wood, done in mosaic or fresco work, printed on paper or metal, etc.

From the sixth century on, the icon, portable or attached to an iconostasis, becomes enormously popular in Byzantine worship, both public and private. Between the seventh and ninth centuries, there was serious opposition to icons from "iconoclasts" who argued that the Second Commandment (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth) forbade depicting Jesus, Mary, etc. in painting. The influence of Islam is clear. The result:

"Christianity teaches that the immaterial God took flesh in the human form of Jesus Christ, making it therefore possible to create depictions of the human form of the Son of God. ...  the Byzantine style of iconography was developed in which figures were stylized in a manner that emphasized their holiness rather than their humanity." - Wikipedia, Icon (October 2010)

Color symbolism:
Gold..Radiance of Heaven
Red:  ...The color of blood and sacrifice, yet at the same time a royal color
Blue: ...Divine, celestial color which stands for purity, virginity, electedness
Green: .Color of the Holy Spirit, eternal life and eternal flowering
White..Color of transfiguration of Christ and the robes of the righteous
Black: ..Color of darkness

"Even in gorgeous and diverse church interiors they [icons] were distinguished by their luxury. ... list of precious stones and other objects adorning their cases. The latter often completely concealed the icon surface leaving exposed only the face, hands and feet ... Crowns were superimposed on saints' nimbuses [halos] and various donations of Christians attached to the icon: jewelry, crosses, miniature icons, gold and silver coins, etc." - "The Russian Icon," by Irina Solovyova, et. al. Translated by Julia Redkina. 2006

Icon of the Mother of God: One of the most common subject matters is Mary holding Jesus in her arms. The Virgin Mary is the Theotokos ("God-bearer"). In Orthodox theology, the Theotokos is the fulfillment of the Old Testament archetype revealed in the Ark of the Covenant, because she carried the New Covenant in the person of Christ; thus, the Orthodox consider her the Ark of the New Covenant, and give her the respect and reverence as such. See Mary, the Mother of Jesus - Iconography in Art and Architecture

Eleusa (Greek: tenderness]:  The representation of the Virgin and the Christ child  in which their faces touch each other. Became popular in the 11th century. See Mary, the Mother of Jesus - Iconography in Art and Architecture

Hagiographical icons: (hag ee uh GRAF i cle)  Beginning of the 13th century.  A large image of the saint in the middle was surrounded with a frame of small marginal scenes depicting the events of his life and miracles (Hagiography: hag ee OG ra fee)

Excerpts from
"A History of Icon Painting: Sources, Traditions, Present Day," by Lilia Evseyeva, et. al. Translated by Kate Cook. Moscow 2005

[The Christ Pantocrator Eleimon icon depicts] a special perfection: spiritual contemplation accompanied by inner and outer harmony, and an ideal balance between the Divine and the human elements in the image of the Savior. The combination of absolute outer calm and concentrated prayerful depth was the ideal of the Byzantine religious consciousness....

The icon [St. Theodore Stratilates] reveals the face of a dweller in paradise, not of an earthly person. Iconography does not ignore a saint's individual features and external distinguishing marks (sex, age, hairstyle, shape of beard, headwear, etc.). But the saint is also depicted as transfigured, remote from earthly passions. He already belongs to a different world and looks down on us from there....

... icons never portray emotions or passions. The face is the main feature in the icon: it testifies to the saint's identity. The hands are also important. Hence the great significance attached to the gesture in icons: blessing or praying, hands raised to heaven, pressed to the bosom, or lifted to the ear of one listening to the Lord, etc.

The eyes are of special importance. In early icons they were painted stretched wide open, as it were. The well-known expression that the eyes are the window of the soul applies perfectly to the icon... The accent on the eyes creates the impression that rather than you looking at the icon, the icon is looking at you.

A great deal has been written about reverse perspective, the structure of the icon's space in which there is no single point on the horizon where all lines meet, and in which objects get larger rather than smaller, as they recede into the distance. The name for this device, reverse perspective, arose by analogy with direct perspective, the basis of the realistic picture. In an icon the only point at which lines intersect, geometrical and semantic, is the one where the worshiper stands: the icon's space opens up round him, as it were, drawing him into the icon's world, and this explains why all the objects seem to unfurl round him.

The icon represents light and not darkness. The figures do not cast shadows. There is no night, only eternal day... Saints are also depicted from the viewpoint of eternity. The inmates of heaven are free of blemishes, both physical and emotional; they are inspired. yet this movement away from matter to spirit never leads to the disappearance of the bodily element to the icon...

Excerpts from Alexander Boguslawski, Understanding Icons  (October 2010)

The purpose and the ideal of Byzantine icon painting was the expression of the category of holiness, which was not made to appeal to the senses by being physically beautiful. In Christian Orthodox art, the beautiful is not determined by the natural form of the objects, but by its sublime content,

When we look at icons, we are struck by their apparent simplicity, by their overemphasized flatness, unreal colors, lack of perspective, and strange proportions.

We are conditioned by the art of the Renaissance to appreciate the architectural details rendered in mathematical linear perspective, to admire the beauty of the human body, the lush landscapes stretching far towards the horizon, and the still lives with lights, shadows, and three-dimensional shapes so real that we can almost pick a glass from a table or an apple from a platter... Unfortunately, we cannot use this kind of analysis on icon painting because, in contrast to the art of the Renaissance, icon painting is not illusionist, that is, it does not try to convince the viewer that the world depicted on the panel is real, but, on the contrary, tries to make sure by all the means it possesses, that the represented is unreal, ideal, dematerialized.

Icon painting deliberately disregards the principle of natural perspective in order to avoid at any cost the illusion of three-dimensionality. Instead, it gives the impression of complete flatness and the lack of perspective.

The faces of the saints have large, almond-shaped eyes, enlarged ears, long thin noses, and small mouths.

Since icon painting is not realistic, it shows no natural source of light and does not represent shadows. 

Icon painting has the ability to represent several moments of the same action (story) on one panel. In the scene of the Nativity we can see not only the birth itself, but also the arrival of the Magi, the shepherds spreading the good news, Joseph being tempted by the devil, and even the servant women washing the baby. Some scholars call this the "continuous style."



Examples from Buffalo:
Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2010 Chuck LaChiusa
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