Icons are works of art in the Orthodox Church
An icon is something that should be in the home of every Orthodox Christian. By praying to the saint, people strengthen their faith, restore mental balance, and protect themselves from trials and temptations. Now, an image of a house or a temple seems to us a familiar attribute, without which it is impossible to do. But it was not always like that. Where did the custom of writing icons come from and how it developed - read in the ukrburshtyn.com articles, where we delve into the rich history and significance of icon painting in Orthodox Christianity.
Icon painting - the origins of Tradition
The history of the image as a cult object is extremely ancient and reaches its roots back to the era of the birth of Christianity. The first hand-made icons were remarkably similar to the portraits painted during the Roman Empire. They were small boards on which the faces of dead people were drawn. These paintings differed in vivacity, brightness, and sensuality. They were placed on sarcophagi and tombs so that the living could feel the connection of generations and empathy for those who have already departed.
Icon painting gradually developed, and canonical requirements for images arose. This happened already in the era of the existence of Byzantium - one of the largest world states, whose heyday fell on the V-X centuries. In the icons painted by Byzantine masters, you can trace the synthesis, and mixing of the culture of the East and the West. This is not surprising, because this state absorbed all the values, customs, and rituals of Ancient Greece and Egypt, Palestine and Transcaucasia, Syria and Iran.
Christianity in Kyivan Rus, even at the time when it was just emerging, already had some specific features that distinguished the faith of the ancient Slavs. As you know, every religion should have some material object, a symbol, which would serve as a reminder, a prototype of the spiritual essence for believers. For pagans, such objects were statues of deities in their pantheons, for Christians they became icons. Therefore, although the icons in Kyivan Rus are similar to Byzantine models, the masters tried to add a national flavor to them.
Thanks to the assimilation of the creative heritage of Byzantium, the masters of Kyivan Rus were distinguished by extremely developed icon painting skills, unusual for the Middle Ages. Relics painted by Ukrainian masters are immediately recognizable by their warmth, sincerity, and devotion to the life and personality of the saint. In other words, even within the framework of the church canon, icon painters did not create detached symbolic paintings, but images imbued with love and empathy for people.
The art of icon painting
Creating images of divine faces is an anonymous art (it is forbidden to sign your name on icons), and many nuances of the image are strictly determined by the canon. Therefore, special requirements were put forward to the masters who are engaged in creating images. They had to comply with all the requirements for the color, shape, and size of the image. A flight of fancy was unacceptable.
The saints on these icons are shown as if disembodied - their wide, loose clothing completely hides the body, the pose is static, the facial features are devoid of any individuality. Portrait images in the church were strictly prohibited. Attempts to humanize the saints, to bring the events shown on the icon closer to real-time, which are found in the Western tradition, were completely excluded in Russian icon painting. Other elements of the plot are also extremely stylized, reduced to archetypes. For example, if the plot of the icon required depicting a landscape, the master wrote it so schematically that it almost lost its resemblance to reality, except for the symbolism. Other inserts - scenes, draperies, architectural elements - are also conventional and laconic. This helped to achieve the feeling that all the events shown on the icon are imaginary, that the image is only an allegory of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The materials for making the icon were also strictly regulated. As a rule, they were written on linden or oak boards covered with chalky soil. For icon painting, tempera was used - mineral or vegetable dyes, and powders based on egg emulsion. After completing the work, the master covered the surface of the image with a thin film of oil - an oily liquid designed to enhance the brightness of colors and prevent possible damage. Almost everywhere, thin sheets of gold leaf or gold powder were used to depict the background on the icons, as well as to convey the nimbus of the saints, symbolizing the radiance of the spirit, inspiration, and harmony of the outside world. To pay tribute to the sanctity of the image, the icons were decorated with overlays of precious metals, gems, amber products, patterns, and ornaments.
At the same time, both the materials and the very process of writing the image were imbued with mystical meaning. The master immersed himself in a special state of mind, constantly maintaining his concentration with prayer and fasting. His paints, brushes, and other tools - even water for diluting pigments - were consecrated with special prayers. That is why the icon painters were able to create such elevated faces imbued with holiness and asceticism.
Icon paints - symbols of colors and shades
Canonical requirements related not only to exactly how, in what pose and clothes, but this or that saint was also depicted. The icon painter also had to monitor the color scheme of the image. That is why, in order to understand an icon, it is not enough to pay attention to its external meaning, the literal interpretation of the work. It is necessary to know that the clear and pure colors with which the images shine do not correlate with the real world, presenting to us the image of what is above, the sacred Kingdom.
Although the color values gradually changed, there were still some rules to help organize the images. Here are some of them:
- It was extremely important to convey the tones of the sky because the sky itself on the icon symbolizes closeness to God, the spiritual enlightenment of a saint. Therefore, the icon painter had many colors suitable for this - blue, light blue, and blue. They distinguished, in particular, "color of the starry night", "radiant solid", "pale sunset", "turquoise bright" and many other tones. Sometimes even greenish shades were used to reproduce the color. In addition, blue was considered the color of the Mother of God, and she was most often depicted in robes of this shade.
- Menacing, terrifying scenes - fire, thunderstorm, descent into hell - were most often painted in purple and red tones. Sometimes they were used to show the inevitability of God's Judgment, impartiality, and justice. An example of this can be seen on the famous Novgorod icons, where the Last Judgment is shown - their purple cherubs are combined into a single fiery obstacle that rises above the figures of the apostles.
- White is a reflection of the Divine radiance. In white clothes, you can see the righteous, angels, and babies.
- Brown - a reminder of dust, human nature, which "came out of the earth and will return to the earth." By using it, the icon painter hinted at the fact that the material principle comes, and the spiritual principle is eternal.
- The black tone served to represent evil, death, and hell. But sometimes it became a way to show the infinity, mystery, and incomprehensibility of God and the Universe.
- Icons have never been gray. Since white and black colors are mixed in it, the icon painter perceived this shade as vagueness, emptiness, and nothingness, which has no place in the image.
For the paint master, these are precious materials. He used them carefully and carefully, enjoying the purity of shades and the brightness of colors. Therefore, ancient icons still surprise and fascinate us with their subtle and bright tones.
Features of manufacturing amber icons
Today, masters no longer adhere to such strict canons as before. Thanks to this, it is possible to buy an icon made of a wide variety of materials. But, nevertheless, it is difficult to overestimate the role of the image in the spirituality of an Orthodox Christian, his worldview.
As a rule, now oil paints are used to paint icons. They are more durable than tempera, do not crack, and do not fade over time. Also, the faces of the saints, their halos, and robes are decorated with inserts made of metal, precious stones, foil, or fabric. In order to transmit the Divine radiance, the grace of the Kingdom of Heaven, materials of a light, bright shade are selected, which allow one to see the light, power, and glory of God with one's own eyes. That is why icons are often decorated with gold and amber.
Amber images, made with reverence and love, decorated the houses of our ancestors. And now you too can find an icon that will accompany your family, overshadow it with the invisible light of your heavenly patronage, and bestow happiness, well-being, and abundance!