Origins of Iconography

The word ‘ICON’ comes from the Greek verb ‘εικϖ’ which means ‘IMAGE’ (imitate, likeness, to be like). The word ‘GRAPHY’ comes from the Greek word ‘γραφϖ’ which means ‘WRITING’; and therefore the two words together, ‘iconography’, give the meaning ‘Image Writing’. This new language was first revealed to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, through the Evangelist and Apostle Luke, who painted the first ever icon, that of the Mother of God, which shows her carrying the child Jesus who is facing towards the viewer, and her right hand pointing towards Him.

The Icon is a resemblance to the Prototype (Archetype). It is both a symbolic and a personal representation that invites us to communicate with its Prototype, the depicted person.

Hence, the icon is a painted Gospel, the visual language of the New Testament and Ecclesiastical Tradition. In the times of the early Christian Church, iconography was a sustaining means of bringing the Word of God to those without the benefit of having written text or scriptures, or even able to read. According to saint John of Damascus, the icon is a sacred art that came about

“as a means to knowledge…, towards benefit and mercy and salvation”.

‘The Icon’ says Iakovos Mainas,

“is not merely a practical aesthetic method of approaching the mystery of faith. Icons are not simply books for the uneducated, as if the educated have no need of them. They teach us all not because they inform us, but because they lead us to Heaven.”.

Christian society based in Byzantium, nurtured the growth of icon painting and developed iconography from ‘Religious Art’ to ‘Theological Art’, both the vision and knowledge of God, spiritual and liturgical. The Byzantium period of theological icon painting span more than 1,000 years and the techniques developed by the iconographers over that time, with the guidance of the Church Fathers, has remained the established method for icon painting.

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