Top 5 Differences Between Fine Art and Icons

Top 5 Differences Between Fine Art and Icons

Even though religious paintings and icons may seem similar, especially for non-believers, they are totally different forms of art, each with unique features and functions. Holy icons are highly revered items in the Orthodox Christian Church, as they are considered sacred pieces. It is no wonder that you can find many of them in the churches, temples, and monasteries around the world. In this blog post, we will reveal the top 5 key differences between fine art and icons.

Top 5 differences between fine art and icons

1. Emotionality

A fine art painting is sensual; it conveys emotions since art is a way of perceiving the world through feelings. For instance, the world-known religious painting “The Descent from the Cross” by Rogier van der Weyden is deeply touching and emotional in the way it conveys the grief of the Mother of God.

A holy icon, in its turn, is devoid of personal emotions. The transfer of iconographic symbols occurs at a higher, spiritual level since an icon is a means of communicating with God and the saints, not with the iconographer.

2. Author

One of the crucial differences between fine art and icons is the role of an author. A painting is an artistic expression, so it always has its author. It inevitably reflects the personality of the artist, their style, and mindset. The identity of an iconographer is almost always obscure. Painting a holy image is an ascetic endeavor in the service of God, so the icon is signed by the name of the saint depicted in it.

3. Conventionality

In religious icons, there is no intention to depict reality as it is. The figures and faces of saints are deformed and elongated, symbolizing the transformation of earthly flesh in the celestial world. A painting is characterized by the reality of the image, the emphasized decorativeness, and the aesthetic regularity of forms.

4. Timelessness of the image

Another distinction between fine art and icons is time. In an icon, there is no time; all events occur simultaneously. A single icon may depict several different subjects, for example, scenes of the life of a saint. By contrast, in a painting, everything takes place in a one-time plane.

5. Symbolism

Icons are filled with sacral symbols. For example, each color in an icon has its symbolic meaning. For a painting, the color scheme is also significant, but it is subordinate to the principles of painting. 

As you can see, fine art and icons are quite different. A religious icon is a holy item used for prayers and sacral purposes while a fine painting is intended primarily for aesthetic appreciation.