Religious image

Religious image

A religious image is a work of visual art that is representational and has a religious purpose, subject or connection. All major historical religions have made some use of religious images, although their use is strictly controlled and often controversial in many religions, especially Abrahamic ones. General terms associated with religious images include cult image, a term for images, especially in sculpture which are or have been claimed to be the object of religious worship in their own right, and icon strictly a term for Eastern Orthodox religious images, but often used more widely, in and outside the area of religion.

Images in Judaism

It is commonly thought that the Jews absolutely prohibit "graven images"; this, however, is not entirely true. There are numerous instances within the scriptures that describe the creation and use of images for religious purposes (the angels on the Ark of the Covenant, the bronze snake Moses mounted on a pole, etc). What is important to note is that none of these are worshipped as God. Since God is incorporeal and has no form, He cannot be depicted. During the Late Antique period of Jewish history it is clear that restrictions on representation were relaxed considerably; for example, the synagogue at Dura Europas had large figurative wall paintings. It is also clear there was a tradition of painted scrolls, of which the Joshua Roll and the Utrecht Psalter are medieval Christian copies, none of the originals having survived. There are also many medieval illuminated manuscripts, especially of the Haggadah of Pesach (Passover). There does not seem to have been a Jewish tradition of icons as panel paintings, however.

Images in Christianity

Christianity was born of the idea that the immaterial God took flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, making it possible to depict in human form the Son of God. It is for this reason that the Early Christians overturned the Old Testament proscriptions against images. Also, the concept of archetype was redefined by the Early Church fathers in order to better understand that when one shows veneration toward an image, the intention is rather to honor the person depicted, not the substance of the icon.

Images flourished within the Christian world, but by the 6th century, certain factions arose within the Eastern Church to challenge the use of icons, and in 726-30 they won Imperial support. The Iconoclasts actively destroyed icons in most public places, replacing them with the only religious depiction allowed, the cross. The Iconodules (those who favored the veneration of images), on the other hand, argued that icons had always been used by Christians and should continue to be allowed. They further argued that not only should the use of icons be permitted, it was necessary to the Christian faith as a testimony of the dogma of the Incarnation of Christ. Saint John Damascene argued:

"Of old God the incorporial and uncircumscribed was not depicted at all. But now that God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I make an image of the God who can be seen. I do not worship matter, but I worship the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation." [St. John Damascene, "On the Holy Icons" (Patrologia Graecae, xciv, 1245A)]

Finally, after much debate at the 7th Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 787, the Iconodules, supported by the Empress, upheld the use of icons as an integral part of Christian tradition, and the Western Church, which had been almost totally unaffected by the dispute, confirmed this. It should be noted that according to the definition of the council, icons of Jesus are not intended to depict his divinity, but only the Incarnate Word. Saints are depicted because they reflect the grace of God, as depicted by their haloes.

Eastern Christianity

The Eastern Orthodox Church fully ascribes to the teachings of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (see above), and celebrates the restoration of the use of icons after the period of Iconoclasm on the First Sunday of Great Lent. So important are the icons in Orthodox theology that the ceremony celebrating their restoration is known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

In the traditions of Eastern Christianity, only flat images or "bas relief" images are used (no more than 3/4 relief). They believe the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary to have been painted by St. Luke. Because the Eastern Church teaches that icons should represent the spiritual reality rather than the physical reality, the traditional style of Orthodox iconography was developed in which figures were stylized in a manner that emphasized their holiness rather than their humanity.

Traditional icons differ from Western art in that they are not romantic or emotional, but call the viewer to "sobriety" ("nipsis"). The manner of depicting the face, and especially the eyes, is intended to produce in the viewer a sense of calm, devotion, and a desire for asceticism. Icons also differ from Western art in that they use inverse perspective (giving the impression that the icon itself is the source of light), and for this reason make very little use of shadow or highlight. The background of icons is usually covered with gold leaf to remind the viewer that the subject pictured is not earthly but otherworldly (gold being the closest earthly medium in which to signify heavenly glory).

Jesus and the Apostles are depicted wearing the robes of philosophers. The precise manner of depicting the face of Jesus and many of the saints is also fixed by tradition. Even the colours used in depicting the clothing of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other saints is fixed by tradition, with symbolic meaning attached to each color. Icons of Jesus depict him with a halo that displays three bars of a cross and the Greek letters which signify I AM (the Divine Name which God revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush). The halos of saints, even the Theotokos (Mother of God) are usually simple circles, filled with gold leaf. Over the centuries, painter's manuals have developed to help preserve the traditions and techniques of Orthodox iconography, one of the best-known is the manual from the Stroganov School of iconography in Russia. Despite these strict guidelines, the Orthodox iconographic style is not stilted, and the individual artist is always permitted to bring his own style and spiritual insight into his work, so long as he remains faithful to Sacred Tradition, and many icons display remarkable movement and depth.

The thoughtful use of symbolism allows the icon to present complex teaching in a simple way, making it possible to educate even the illiterate in theology. The interiors of Orthodox Churches are often completely covered in icons of Christ, Mary and the saints. Most are portrait figures in various conventional poses, but many narrative scenes are also depicted. It is not unusual in narrative icons for the same individual to be depicted more than one time.

Orthodox Christians do not pray "to" icons; rather, they pray "before" them. An icon is a medium of communication, rather than a medium of art. Gazing at an icon is intended to help draw the worshipper into the heavenly kingdom. As with all of Orthodox theology, the purpose is "theosis" (mystical union with God).

Icons are venerated by the faithful by bowing and kissing them. Traditionally, the faithful would not kiss the face of the one depicted on the icon, but rather the right hand or foot depicted on the icon. The composition of an icon is planned with this veneration in mind, and the iconographer will usually portray his subject so that the right hand is raised in blessing, or if it is the saint's full figure is depicted, the right foot is visible.

Icons are also honored with incense and by burning lampadas (oil lamps) in front of them. Icons are carried in processions, and the bishop or priest may bless the people by holding an icon upright and making the sign of the cross with it over them.

Western Christianity

Until the 13th century, icons followed a broadly similar pattern in West and East, although very few such early examples survive from either tradition. Western icons, which are not usually so termed, were largely patterned on Byzantine works, and equally conventional in composition and depiction. From this point on the Western tradition came slowly to allow the artist far more flexibility, and a more realistic approach to the figures.

In the 15th century the use of icons in the West was enormously increased by the introduction of prints on paper, mostly woodcuts which were produced in vast numbers. With the Reformation, after an initial uncertainty among early Lutherans, Protestants came down firmly against icon-like portraits, especially larger ones, even of Christ. Many Protestants found these idolatrous. Catholics maintained and even intensified the traditional use of icons, both printed and on paper, using the different styles of the Renaissance and Baroque. Popular Catholic imagery to a certain extent has remained attached to a Baroque style of about 1650, especially in Italy and Spain.

Islamic view of religious images

"See also: Islamic art"

Muslims view sanctified icons as idols, and strictly forbid their worship, nor do they pray in front of one. However, the various divisions of Islam take different positions on the role of visual depictions of living (or once-living) creatures, including people. At one end of the spectrum, sects such as the Wahhabis totally ban drawings and photography. Some branches of Islam forbid only the former but allow the latter. The majority of Sunni Muslims permit both. Some Shia allow even the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and the twelve Imams, a position totally unacceptable to most Sunnis.

Images in Hinduism

Images of Hindu gods and goddesses use a rich symbolism. Some figures are blue-skinned (the color of heaven) or have multiple arms holding various symbols which depict aspects of the god.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем решить контрольную работу

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Religious Painting —     Religious Painting     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Religious Painting     Painting has always been associated with the life of the Church. From the time of the Catacombs it has been used in ecclesiastical ornamentation, and for centuries after… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Religious persecution — is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals as a response to their religious beliefs of affiliations. The tendency of societies to alienate or repress different subcultures is a recurrent theme in human history.… …   Wikipedia

  • Religious toleration — is the condition of accepting or permitting others religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one s own.In a country with a state religion, toleration means that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state …   Wikipedia

  • Religious freedom in Canada — is a constitutionally protected right, allowing believers the freedom to assemble and worship without limitation or interference. Legal frameworkConstitutional rightsThe Fundamental Freedoms section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms… …   Wikipedia

  • Religious violence in India — includes acts of violence by followers of one religious group against followers and institutions of another religious group, often in the form of rioting.[1] Religions such as Zoroastrianism and Judaism have survived peacefully with Hindus for… …   Wikipedia

  • Religious Science — Religious Science, also known as Science of Mind, was founded in 1927 by Ernest Holmes (1887 1960) and is a spiritual/philosophical/metaphysical religious movement within the New Thought movement. In general, the term Science of Mind applies to… …   Wikipedia

  • Religious interpretation — and similarly religious self interpretation define a section of religion related studies (theology, comparative religion, reason) where attention is given to aspects of perception mdash;where religious symbolism and the self image of all those… …   Wikipedia

  • Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork — exist in both the Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, making it a taboo meat. Both Orthodox Jewish (Kashrut) and Islamic halal dietary laws forbid pork, making it a taboo meat. Among Christians, Seventh day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with… …   Wikipedia

  • religious symbolism and iconography — Introduction       respectively, the basic and often complex artistic forms and gestures used as a kind of key to convey religious concepts and the visual, auditory, and kinetic representations of religious ideas and events. Symbolism and… …   Universalium

  • Religious symbolism in the United States military — Insignias (left to right) for Christian, Muslim and Jewish chaplains are shown on the uniforms of three U.S. Navy chaplains, 1998. (These were the only insignias in use at that time.) Religious symbolism in the United States military includes the …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”