Yris Rabenou Collection
December 15th - January 26th, 2007
Back to Archives
Christian inheritances to the Russians come from Byzantium. Vladimir of Kiev, in his search for a spiritual tradition for his country, studied Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. He sent emissaries to different countries with the mandate to explore the different faiths. The ambassadors reported back referring to the liturgy celebrated in Rome, "Between them is no happiness...and we see not admitting beautiful". However, from Santa Sophia in Constantinople, they reported "We did not know if we were on earth or in heaven, we cannot forget the abundances of beautiful". After these reports, Vladimir converted to Orthodoxy. In addition, he imported Byzantine and Greek iconographers and mosaic muralists to construct the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Kiev.
In the traditional Orthodox iconography the term "icon" applies universally to any representation of sacred art. In the West it was associated with a Holy image which was then painted on a prepared wood support, using egg tempera and executed within the traditional Orthodox cannon.
Each Icon offers the opportunity for a powerful unique art experience, which has the capacity to open the door to our inner most selves. These icons are timeless and universal, inspiring serenity and inviting us to reflect. They are the art of ‘constant’ remembrance. Sometimes metal covers were especially made for them -called okhlads. These covers were used to protect the icons from handling in devotions, to enhance their beauty, or as memorials. The faithful convey their reverence by bowing, kneeling, kissing, and touching these icons with the forehead.
In Russian Orthodox homes icons are displayed in special places, called the "krasniy ugol"- meaning beautiful corner. An icon is, according to Mikhaïl Allenov, a constant reminder of God’s presence in the Church, in the home, and in ones life. The custom of bowing is an act of veneration, not of worship.
Stylistically, iconic forms are not meant to accurately represent the an atomically correct body, but they are meant to reveal the individuals’ as cetic elements. The ‘Holy State’ is represented by a Halo surrounding the head. The ‘face’ is the main focal point and is represented frontally with seductive ‘eyes’, requiring eye contact to provoke closeness and awareness. In addition, the goldleaf used in the background preserves the devotees’ concentration, keeping him from distraction and always focusing him toward the theological message.
An Icon is a symbol which represents a reality outside of the actual image. This image, by virtue of its likeness to the original biblical figure is presented as a portrait is associated to a model. Always, the first copy (mimesis) of the model is called a ‘Prototype.’ Perhaps this exists because the first Christians, converted from paganism, were influenced by Roman Costume Painting, portraiture of distinguish peoples or intercessional gods. Also, early Christians converting from Judaism adhered to the precept taught to them in the Torah: ‘Thou shall not make until thee any graven images’ (Ex 20, 4)
"The icon painting", as Leonid Ouspensky reflected in the Theology of the Icon, "did not copy nature nor seek the form or the color as an end, but taking such technical and artistic elements as were necessary for the believers to become familiar with its spirit, succeeded, through an exceptional abstraction in rendering the more sublime meanings of Orthodoxy."
According to tradition, an Icon artist was expected to be a person of high moral and Christian principles, who prepared for his work by fasting and praying. The actual art of iconography must follow prescribed patterns which are subject to specific Christian Tradition. Therefore, in order to preserve the iconographic cannon, ‘tracings’ were made of ancient icons on parchment and these were collected in guidebooks called Typicon. These, as the name states, provide a guide to the painter and also allows for preservation and passage of them from generation to generation.
The first iconographic images appeared about the end of the second century. They were found in Roman catacombs and developed as an important part of the liturgical entity during the fourth century in Constantinople--the New Rome established by the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great in 330 A.D. After the Turkish invasion to this city in 1453 the Orthodox Center moved to Russia- the third Rome.