Introducing Icons


The Theotokos of Vladmir painted around 1130 in Constantinople

An icon (from Greek εἰκών eikōn “image”) is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting.

In Eastern Christianity and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or the cross.

Creating free-standing, three-dimensional sculptures of holy figures was resisted by Christians for many centuries, out of the belief that demons inhabited pagan sculptures, and also to make a clear distinction between Christian and pagan art.

To this day, in obedience to the commandment not to make “graven images”, Orthodox icons may never be more than three-quarter bas relief. The Roman Catholic Church began to use religious statues in the 9th century.

In the icons of Eastern Christianity very little room is made for an artist’s individual interpretation. The icon is “written” through prayer. Almost everything within the image has a symbolic aspect.

Christ, the saints, and the angels all have halos. Angels (and often John the Baptist) have wings because they are messengers. Figures have consistent facial appearances, hold attributes personal to them, and use a few conventional poses.

Colour has symbolic importance. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the colour of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ. Letters are symbols too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted.

Which pictures are important to you and help you focus on prayer?