Catholic icons

Orthodox and Catholic Icons: What Is the Difference?

For many Christians, antique icons are some of the most important relics. However, the development of the iconographic tradition has varied from confession to confession. For example, Orthodox and Catholic icons have received a number of unique features of painting and veneration each. So what is the difference between them? Read this blog post to explore the issue in more detail.

Orthodox and Catholic icons: what is the difference?

There are several key differences between Catholic and Orthodox icons.

1. Style of painting

Most Catholic images are rather paintings than icons. They are created in a naturalistic manner, which is not common for Orthodox icons. Catholics depict the facial features and emotions of the saints with great detail, pay attention to vestments and adornments, and use a wide color palette to vividly reproduce biblical subjects. In their art, Catholic artists use their imagination, so they often sign their works with their names.

Eastern Orthodox icons are neither marked by naturalism nor signed by the iconographer. The saints’ figures are beautiful but flat and devoid of emotion and volume. Orthodox iconographers sometimes neglect even shadowing, as they mostly work in two dimensions. Only the attributes indicate the person portrayed in the icon. For example, Saint Pantaleon the Healer is depicted with a medicine box, and Saint George the Victorious is shown with a spear in his hands.

2. Iconographic canon

The other key difference between an Orthodox icon and a Catholic one is the adherence to canons and rules. In Orthodoxy, there are several strict norms to which every iconographer must adhere. These include:

  • reverse perspective;
  • conventionality of the objects;
  • absence of shadows;
  • specific attributes of the saints;
  • color symbolism.

Catholic icons are painted without any canon. They are more like pictorial paintings that reveal biblical subjects and the lives of the saints. It is an artist who decides what and how to depict things besides the religious plot.

3. Prayer with an icon

The primary difference between Orthodox and Catholic icons is perhaps their purpose. Orthodox believers hold religious icons in high esteem and use them when praying to God. Catholics do not pray with icons. These images serve an aesthetic and educational function. Catholic paintings adorn temples but are intended only for illustrating biblical stories.

Hopefully, this blog post was helpful to you. Now you know a little more about how to distinguish Catholic and Orthodox icons.