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Not accurate icons?

Discussion in 'The Ancient Way - Eastern Orthodox' started by Not David, Aug 18, 2022.

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  1. Not David

    Not David Orthodox Improving on the Faith

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    I had a bit of a conflict with one of my stepparents regarding icons (I thought that issue was already solved). She was raised Roman Catholic and she is Evangelical now), she thinks icons are idolatry, and the icons of Christ and the Theotokos I had in my room were not really them). "How do you know they really looked like that," she said.

    What's the best way to answer that question?
     
  2. lsume

    lsume Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The Bible teaches us not to make any graven image. The danger seems obvious when you think about it. When the Bible talks about worshipping the image of beast, consider that the flesh is the beast. People are worshiping that image all the time it seems.
     
  3. Not David

    Not David Orthodox Improving on the Faith

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    I guess God forgot about that when he commanded to make cherubims for the tabernacle.
     
  4. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    you say we know they didn’t. icons make theological points. they are intentionally inaccurate.
     
  5. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    not every image is a graven image. plus, please note the subforum you are in and the rules of this place.
     
  6. HTacianas

    HTacianas Well-Known Member

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    The best answer is "no one knows what they looked like". Icons are typically cultural. An icon made by Caucasians tends to look Caucasian. An icon made by Africans tends to look African. Icons made by Arabs tend to look Arab. Icons are not meant to be graphic representations but rather are spiritual representations.
     
  7. nutroll

    nutroll Veteran

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    I hate to disagree with you Father, but I don't think this is a good answer. We believe that they are accurate depictions. The ancient tradition of the church is that the first icon of the Mother of God was painted by Saint Luke while she was still alive, and that the first icon of the Savior was created by His leaving an impression of His face on a cloth. The reason that these traditions are so important is that they tie the image directly to the prototype. There are records of instances where Saints miraculously appeared to iconographers so that they could paint them more accurately. It is vital that there be a connection between image and prototype.

    And yet Saint Theodore the Studite mentions that sometimes because an artist's skill is lacking the resemblance might not be great, but that it inasmuch as it does resemble the person the veneration of the image is given to the prototype.

    I think where people get confused is that icons are not photorealistic, but they were always considered realistic. They attempt to depict the people as they really were, with enough detail to make it clear who it is, but not too much as to distract with unimportant detail. With every new image that gets discovered, we find that these depictions have remained very consistent over the centuries, which should not be surprising given that these were traditional cultures who communicated truths through memorized storytelling. They knew falsehood when they heard it, and they knew it when they saw it too. The same people who exposed early heresies to keep the church from error also knew the faces of the people that taught them the faith.

    Nowadays we think we know so much from Archeology and reconstructions of history, but do we really know more than the people who lived so close to that time period? How do we in the modern age know what Christ and His mother looked like that we can correct the errors of people who lived at the same time and in the first few centuries afterward?
     
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  8. nutroll

    nutroll Veteran

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    I think that icons are very cultural, but in the opposite direction than you have stated. If you look at icons in Arab countries, the skin is usually almost pasty white. Greeks with olive skin tend to paint icons with very light skin. Russians with their paler skin tended (though this has changed somewhat in the last several centuries) to paint icons with darker skin. I can't say that I know why this is, but I have long had my suspicion that it has to do with a sense of holiness as being "other," or somehow different from how I am.

    That being said, within each culture that has embraced Christianity there has been a flowering of their own unique style. I think most of the time it is unintentional change which happens over time, which I find beautiful. If you look at the earliest Russian icons they look very byzantine, but over time they became much more expressive and much less like their greek counterparts. It didn't happen quickly because they were trying to keep to the tradition handed down, but through generations of painters it became their own.
     
  9. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    what I mean is icons typically have disproportionately large eyes (eyes to see), ears (ears to hear), heads (to show they have the mind of Christ), look like they are glowing (to show illumination and they are filled with the Uncreated Light), usually no physical issues (St Nikophoros the leper isn’t depicted with the marks of leprosy), etc.

    sorry about that.
     
  10. Justin-H.S.

    Justin-H.S. (Constantine Option)

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    I'm not a fan of "culturally adapted" icons as they deny the reality and history of who these icons are. Jesus isn't black or Japanese, and depicting Him as such denies the historicity of Him.

    With that being said, turn the tables on your stepmom: How do you know they didn't? We have our traditions that tell us how they look. Your stepmom is just rootless now.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2022
  11. Dewi Sant

    Dewi Sant Well-Known Member

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    This was something of a controversy a couple years back.
    When people were outraged that Christ is depicted as a 'white guy'...overlooking the Ethiopian and other African icons of Christ.

    Yes, Christ appears north-European in, um, north Europe. Here in Britain our medieval images depict him in contemporary dress, as a ginger/blonde haired guy with fair skin. The intention is to depict the humanity of Christ so he can be communicated to those who look upon his image. Also, from an art history perspective, it depends on which pigments are available in an area/time.

    Blue became associated with the Virgin in western Europe because the most brilliant pigment was hugely costly: Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, commonly called 'ultramarine' (beyond the [mediterranean] sea).
    Reddish purple (porphyry) also being costly because of the laborious process of manufacture, as well as associations with imperial rights to the colour.

    In Britain, far removed from the great international trade routes of the middle ages, earthen colours were more frequently used on a parish basis. Walls would be treated with lime (white), with the earth pigments applied on top. Though initially vivid, they would fade over time.
    In windows, stained glass pigments hold up better over time, but even so, the primary purpose is to convey the image, and so contrast is critical when back-lit. White skin is easier to see against the lead outlines and painted details of eyes/mouths.

    [​IMG]
    Lakenheath parish church (England), earthen pigments on whitewashed wall. c.1220
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2022
  12. Dewi Sant

    Dewi Sant Well-Known Member

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    Yes!

    I understand the icons are depicting the person in the state they are in in the Eschaton.
    As we are utterly redeemed, it would be odd to depict earthly maladies.
    A key exception being the holy wounds of Christ's crucifixion.
     
  13. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    yep, and apologies for not being more clear. there are some accuracies we do adhere to.
     
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