Icon Painting as a Form of Orthodox Christian Art
Orthodox iconography holds a rich history of influence on the culture of Kievan Rus and the entire Christian world. Every Orthodox believer keeps an icon or an icon corner at home to pray with for healing illnesses and deliverance from doubts and fears. A religious icon in Orthodox Christian art is considered a sacred relic that can open a window into the spiritual world.
Icon painting as a form of Orthodox Christian art: the origins
When Christianity was established in the Rus, people sought to create material objects that would serve as intermediaries between the earthly and heavenly worlds. Old Russian images depicted the figures of the saints symbolically, conveying their spirituality rather than humanity.
According to Christian tradition, the first icons were painted by the Evangelist Luke. Those were images of the Most Holy Mother of God who blessed them in her lifetime. It is believed that icon painting as a form of Orthodox Christian art was born in Byzantium and later spread to Kievan Rus and other territories. The flowering of ancient Byzantine iconography was in the 5th-10th centuries. The first religious images resembled portraits of people, but later, they became more unrealistic.
Eventually, the Orthodox tradition strictly forbade the depiction of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints in a naturalistic manner. The iconographers painted the landscape schematically and deprived the saints of their features. The icon was meant to symbolize the divine presence and purity of the spiritual world.
Iconic examples of Orthodox iconography
The earliest examples of Byzantine religious icons include Christ Pantocrator and Our Lady with the Child. They are known throughout the Christian world and are considered the most revered icons.
The best Russian icons are the ones painted by Andrei Rublev. These include, for example, the “Trinity” and the icon of the Archangel Michael. The icons of the Mother of God are also highly esteemed, including “The Sign,” “Oranta,” the Vladimir icon of the Mother of God, and others.
Orthodox icons of Sergius of Radonezh, a famous monk and reformer of the Orthodox Church, are especially beloved in Russia. There are many hagiographic icons of the saint that depict key episodes from his life.
The image of Nicholas the Wonderworker is also among the most popular shrines in the Orthodox world. This saint is considered the patron saint of all the needy, children, and the unjustly condemned.
Iconography as a form of Orthodox Christian art has changed many people’s attitudes toward religion in general. It teaches theology, displays the symbolism of biblical subjects, and conceals the truth of the Christian’s righteous path.