Influence of Byzantine Icon Art Traditions on the Development of Russian Icons
The Byzantine Empire was the birth of Religious Iconography. It was imported to Russia when the Orthodox Church spread Christianity to Russia.
Few understand the deep connection between Religions Icon painting and the Orthodox Church Theology.
The influence of Byzantine Icons and their traditions established more than a form of artistic expression but that of Theology and faith also.
There are many different theories of thought on when the birth of the Byzantine Empire originated, but there is little doubt on the influence of the Byzantine culture and the impact it has left in world history. In truth, the Byzantine Empire was that of the great Roman Empire. At this period in time there seemed to be a major shift in ideology. People were starting to turn away from the standard Roman and Greek concept of pantheon deities to a belief in one God. This movement was the birth of Orthodox Theology along with the sacred religious Iconography art form.
The Byzantine style of Iconography is the original style and was the set standard for all Iconography. It was a mixture of Greco-Roman and Syrian art forms. During the age of the Iconoclasm there was a controversy in the Orthodox Church regarding to if religious images were a legitimate practice or a version of sacrilegious idolatry. This controversy resulted in the established rules regarding Byzantine Icon painting, which were defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. A general description would be that the Icon was deemed to be not a mere object but a sacred item. The theological belief is that the Icon holds a mystical connection between the Saint depicted and the viewer, therefore making the icon
a sacred vessel instead of a physical form to be idolized. The icons
were to continue a two-dimensional feel instead of the third dimensional form of most idols at that time. The figures tended to be larger in nature, with clean lines and brilliant color. The belief is that the lack of realism kept the icon from being a form of idolatry and maintained the stature of being a sacred item.
When the Orthodox Church brought Christianity to Russia the birth of Russian Iconography was born. The very first set of Russian Iconographers were actually Greek, from the Byzantine Empire. The set standard of style was taught along with the importance of the tradition. By the 14th century, Russian Iconographers came into their own. No longer would the set style of Icon painting belong only to the Byzantines. Westernization took hold of Russia and could be seen in various ways. There are different thoughts about what actually caused Russian Iconography to part from the standard Byzantine style. Some Historians believe that it was a typical evolution and development of an artistic culture searching for their own identity. Another main theory is that most western art at that time took a much more realistic tone and the influence was deeply felt in the Russian art community. Regardless of the reason, Russian Iconographers became noted for their use of more subdued colors, and the figures that tended to be elongated. In addition, the depicted figures took on more humanistic qualities, and the backgrounds contained an enormous amount of detail.
Each culture in history wishes to contribute great discoveries and ingenuity. The Byzantine Empire offered great attributes to the world, securing their place in more arenas than that of just Theology and the Humanities. There needs to be something said for a culture that can learn something from one great culture and develop it further to give freely to another. One significant thought that both historic Byzantine and Russian Iconographers would agree upon is the sacredness of the Icon and the important place it holds in Orthodox Theology.
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