Characteristic Features of a Byzantine Icon

Characteristic Features of a Byzantine Icon

A Byzantine icon is a kind of medieval painting that illustrates different religious stories from the Bible, lives of the saints, and other Christian themes. Byzantine iconography became widely popular in the 6th and 7th centuries. However, its emergence was preceded by destruction, famine, and numerous wars in the Byzantine Empire. At the time, icons became the salvation for people, helping them see a direct connection with God and certain holy figures. So what are the main features that can help you recognize the icon created in Byzantium?

Characteristic features of a Byzantine Icon 

1. Diversity of painting techniques

The iconoclastic period had a strong impact on the artistic style of the Byzantine icon. Before the launch of the iconoclasm, icons were painted severely, without exact details. Byzantine images of that period are recognizable by blurred, rough facial features. In the late Comnenian period, this severity notably softened, which led to the appearance of more emotion in icon painting. The main principle since then has been reaching spirituality through the image.

2. Gold in Byzantine icons

Much like in the Russian icon, the golden background in the Byzantine icon is an obligatory feature of the image. The more gold there was in the icon, the better it was, and not only because of its value and richness but also because of the depth of its symbolism. After all, according to Christian theology, gold means divine light.

3. Classic icon traditions

Hellenistic principles were preserved in Byzantine art, but they were finely adapted to serve Christian concepts. These principles were generally characterized by great stability, firmness, and an exceptional connection to classical traditions. Art was aimed to express the inner meaning of the images and events rather than their external attractiveness or character. Therefore, the images were moving and natural, expressing spirituality and holiness.

4. Mosaic technique

The mosaic technique appeared in the early 12th century, introducing several unusually majestic icons to the world. Icons of this type look very solemn, with grand and yet completely detached images immersed in peace and focused on spiritual contemplation.

5. Relief icons

Relief icons in Byzantium were highly popular. For example, St. George was pretty often depicted in relief. Such icons were usually made of gold and silver, but there were also wooden relief icons created with an attempt to replace precious metals with more cost-effective materials. 

Byzantine icons have always been a valuable part of the cultural world, and they will always be. Stay with us to learn more about these and other pieces of religious art!