Scary Looking Icons

I do own an genuine gold leafed Byzantine icon of Mary made by a Bulgarian iconologist. She is very stern in it. Frankly some of the eastern icons look scary. The saints look joyless and too serious. Is there a reason for this style? I pretty much find western style artwork more inspiring. I don’t mean this to be insulting, but I just don’t understand why the saints look so dour in all the icons.

[quote=spiritblows]I do own an genuine gold leafed Byzantine icon of Mary made by a Bulgarian iconologist. She is very stern in it. Frankly some of the eastern icons look scary. The saints look joyless and too serious. Is there a reason for this style? I pretty much find western style artwork more inspiring. I don’t mean this to be insulting, but I just don’t understand why the saints look so dour in all the icons.
[/quote]

Try a different style of iconography, Russian or Greek. Bulgarians icons may not be part of your cultural ambience.

Here’s an example of a harsh looking icon.

He looks like he’s frowning. I notice many of the eastern icons have this frowning countenance on the faces of the subjects. What is the philosophy behind this style?

Also, some of them have a primative art style that has a very small head on the baby Jesus, who looks odd. Look at this one. The proportions of the subjects are not realistic, and the artwork isn’t really that great. Mary and her child look so unhappy.

http://www.iconsexplained.com/iec/pics/032_mdd_oumilenie.jpg

The proportions of the subjects are not realistic,

Icons are not meant to be realistic/ lifelike . They are not portraits.

We do not look at them and expect to see the person .

Icons are a window to Heaven.

The no longer wannabee Wannabee

the Printery House has icons written by modern artists, and several books on the meaning of icons and the symbolism of the colors, styles etc., and how to pray with icons.

www.printeryhouse.org

icons are prayers, not portraits, and everything there is for a reason.

[quote=spiritblows]Here’s an example of a harsh looking icon.

He looks like he’s frowning. I notice many of the eastern icons have this frowning countenance on the faces of the subjects. What is the philosophy behind this style?
[/quote]

Well, the icon is Greek. Ever experienced four centuries of Turkish oppression in your family history? These things could leave their mark in the general attitude of an entire people: maybe the icons bring with them also a small imprinting of the suffering of the people who produced them…

Next time you wish to judge an Orthodox icon, don’t stop at the first impression: try to feel, if at all possible, what kind of hard witness should have been to profess the Orthodox Christian faith in those troubled times and places. This small effort may well result in looking at the same icon with different eyes!

Dear Padre,
First of all, I wasn’t ‘judging’ any icons. I was just telling the impression I have of some of them. Many of them don’t visually appeal to me, that’s true. I was curious as to the reason as to the generally stern style that seems to be so common in Eastern Icons.

I don’t buy the oppression of Greeks as a reason, since there’s been plenty of that in Western Europe as well. Just look at how Ireland suffered under the English. It seems to me to be more of an ancient art style that is shared by all Byzantines. It looks like a primative artform actually. I’d be interested in reading some of the art history behind these icons.

I was curious as to the reason as to the generally stern style that seems to be so common in Eastern Icons.

We often say that the ikonostas has faces with severe faces. In icons for instance the Mother of God is shown always sad, although of various kinds sadness, from grief or other but always with wisdom and spiritual strength. This is discussed in following article:

orthodoxworld.ru/russian/icona/9/

Oh, how helpful, do you have a site in English???

Исключая Спасителя, нет в христианской иконографии ни одного предмета, который бы так часто был изображаем, так увлекал сердце, так упражнял талант художников всех времен, как лик Пресвятой Девы. Во все времена иконописцы пытались передать лику Богородицы всю красоту, нежность, достоинство и величие, на какие только было способно их воображение.
Богоматерь на русских иконах всегда в печали, но печаль эта бывает разной: то скорбной, то светлой, однако всегда исполнена душевной ясности, мудрости и большой духовной силы, Богородица может торжественно “являть” Младенца миру, может нежно, прижимать Сына к Себе или легко поддерживать Его — Она всегда полна благоговения, поклоняется своему Божественному Младенцу и кротко смиряется с неизбежностью жертвы. Лиричность, просветленность и отрешенность — вот главные черты, характерные для изображения Богородицы на русских иконах.
Как замужняя женщина. Пречистая имеет на голове покрывало, ниспадающее на плечи, по обычаю иудейских женщин того времени. Это покрывало, или накидка, по-гречески называется мафорий. Мафорий обыкновенно пишется красным (символ страданий и воспоминание о царском происхождении). Нижние одежды обыкновенно пишутся голубыми (знак небесной чистоты совершеннейшей из людей).
Другая важная деталь одеяния Богородицы — поручи (нарукавники). Поручи — деталь облачения священников; на иконах это символ сослужения Божией Матери (а в ее лице — всей Церкви) — Первосвященнику Христу.
На челе и плечах Богородицы обыкновенно изображаются три золотые звезды. Подобные украшения, сделанные из металла, были распространены у древних. На иконах звезды пишутся в знак того, что Богородица до Рождества, в Рождестве и по Рождестве пребыла Девою. Кроме того, три звезды — символ Святой Троицы. На некоторых иконах фигура Младенца Христа закрывает одну из звезд, символизируя тем самым Воплощение второй ипостаси Святой Троицы — Бога Слова.
Существует пять основных типов изображений Божией Матери: это “Молящаяся”, “Путеводительница”, “Умиление”, “Всемилостивая” и “Заступница”.

It appears the server for the below is overloaded right now at least here, perhaps you may like to see a few online video presentations that are quite good. The language is English and the presentation is Orthodox.

Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons from Greece %between%
Hosted by Medieval and Byzantine Art Curator, Dr. Gary Vikan, the show focuses on icons as objects of religious worship and artistic achievement. The history of iconography-from St. Luke to El Greco-is examined step-by-step in this superbly photographed video and features more than 80 icons and frescoes, which are analyzed in detail regarding significance and symbolism.
[list]
*]Part 1: Windows into Heaven
[list]
*][Real Media Format

](“http://realserver.goarch.org/ram/en/holy_image_holy_space_pt1.ram”)
[/list]
*]Part 2: Theology in Colors
[list]
*]Real Media Format
[/list]
[/list]

[quote=spiritblows]Oh, how helpful, do you have a site in English???
[/quote]

Although it is no where near grand, AltaVista’s Babelfish does have a translation service. You can paste the webpage in there.

[quote=Catherine Grant]Although it is no where near grand, AltaVista’s Babelfish does have a translation service. You can paste the webpage in there.
[/quote]

Dear Catherine Grant,
This site doesn’t list any of the Cyrillic or Greek alphabet languages as options.

[quote=Catherine Grant]Although it is no where near grand, AltaVista’s Babelfish does have a translation service. You can paste the webpage in there.
[/quote]

I couldn’t get it to work on the Greek to English setting, maybe the language is something else?

[quote=spiritblows]I do own an genuine gold leafed Byzantine icon of Mary made by a Bulgarian iconologist. She is very stern in it. Frankly some of the eastern icons look scary. The saints look joyless and too serious. Is there a reason for this style? I pretty much find western style artwork more inspiring. I don’t mean this to be insulting, but I just don’t understand why the saints look so dour in all the icons.
[/quote]

They’re looking so sad 'cause they couldn’t afford the plane ticket to rome! :rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:

Spirit blows… Volodomyr is Russian. Be nice. Perhaps you took Padre Ambrosio’s comment the wrong way… it is a culture thing… by writing the word judging he didn’t mean it in a harsh way. I believe he meant it as looking into the icon and gathering how it makes you feel, looking deeper at the icon. Not just looking at one feature, but the whole icon. In the art world the word judge doesn’t mean to discern the winner or looser or if something is right or wrong.

There is a huge wealth of Orthodox information. However a lot of it is in langauges other than English. This is due to the fact that the world is bigger than just us anglo-phones.

I wasn’t mean to Volodomyr at all, I merely pasted something from that site. The winking smilies just appeared by themselves, the text must’ve had the code for them in it, I didn’t add those. Don’t you think it’s a little funny, though, to link to a site entirely in Russian, btw?

I did figure out the translation service that Catherine Grant so nicely provided and it does provide so enlightening explanations to this ancient art of iconography and some of the symbolism used. I’ll have to look further into this.

I do love my icon, btw. I also have an Our Lady of Grace statue, which compliments it with a more graceful, youthful and heavenly vision of Our Lady. The Icon is a more serious expression of her character.

I don’t think it is odd to give a link to a russian site. SO may people from so many people post on these forums. I know a lot of people here in the english-speaking world that speak other langauges at home, etc…
Here is the thing, so many of us anglophones expect everyone to speak English, but we don’t speak any other langauge fluently. However, so many people learn English as their second langauge that aren’t from english speaking countries.
In defense to that… no one around me speaks any other language besides American English. I know a great deal of Spanish, but I don’t speak it every day anymore. That makes it very hard to maintain fluency in another language, when you don’t have someone to speak it to all the time.

Frankly some of the eastern icons look scary. The saints look joyless and too serious. Is there a reason for this style? I pretty much find western style artwork more inspiring. I don’t mean this to be insulting, but I just don’t understand why the saints look so dour in all the icons.

I notice many of the eastern icons have this frowning countenance on the faces of the subjects. What is the philosophy behind this style?

Also, some of them have a primative art style that has a very small head on the baby Jesus, who looks odd. Look at this one. The proportions of the subjects are not realistic, and the artwork isn’t really that great.

Spirit,

I’d suggest that you not look so much to the “art history” of icons as to the theology of them. While they, unquestionably, have an artistry about them, it is not that with which we are concerned.

That said, I don’t mean to imply that we don’t have individual preferences among us as to the different styles and schools of iconography which “speak” to us - and those which do are not necessarily consonant with our ethnicity or our particular religious heritage.

What you see as stern, we may see as thoughtful, pensive, introspective, learned. You are applying words descriptive of portraiture and realistic representation to holy things that are not intended to be “of this world” in what they depict and are not, therefore, bound by the constraints, conventions, and stylisms of worldly artistic techniques.

Let me recommend some reading to help you better understand iconography in a variety of its aspects;

The Tradition of Iconography by Bishop Kallistos Ware, an Orthodox hierarch whose writing is well-respected and widely read by Orthodox and Catholics alike.

Iconography In the Eastern Church by Bishop Nicholas Samra, Auxiliary-Emeritus of the Eparchy of Newton of the Melkites.

Byzantine Iconography, not a definitive work, but a reasonably well-written research paper by an anonymous student

Rules for the Painter of Icons, this is a simplified/condensed piece from a commercial site (a Bulgarian iconography gallery), but what it says is valid

Iconographer Marek Czarnecki, an article about a young Polish-American iconographer

Understanding How Icons Are Written - An Interview, a follow-up Q&A with the subject of the above article

Iconography, from Saints Peter & Paul (OCA) Church (Meriden, CT); it gives a brief intro to and then goes on to display a number of icons and describe their features. It also has a suggested reading list.

Icons & Iconography, from the website of Al Green, an Orthodox layman, who has a variety of very interesting and worthwhile webpages; this offers a significant number of great links to sources (both commercial and religious) for icons, as well as to articles, etc., on-line.

Orthodox Art & Architecture, on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America site, has a concise, but thorough, history of iconography

Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church has an excellent series of articles on Greek iconography at its site.

St. Michael’s Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Melkite Eparchy for Australia and New Zealand, has some brief articles and beautiful examples of the Arabic style of iconography at its website.

Icons of the Theotokos, from the Marian Center at the University of Dayton

Sacred Images: Statues and Other Icons describes many of the stylisms used in iconography and is of particular interest for its Symbolology Table

Iconographic Treasures of the Ecumenical Patriarchate illustrates many of the icons in the Patriarchal Church at Constantinople, as well as describing them in detail

(continued)

About Icons, although by a Western iconographer, is a well-written piece and contains excellent information

Uncanonical Icons, is a bit unique in being an online guide to Byzantine iconography that has a section illustrating and explaining those that fail to follow the unwritten canons that have been passed down through time

Icons is an excellent series of articles from the Mariology Center at the University of Dayton that shows icons illustrative of many features discussed in the pieces; my only quibble with these otherwise excellent writings is the one in which it alludes to there being only 3 schools of iconography, Byzantine, Macedonian, and Russian

Icons Explained is a site which someone here (Father Ambrose, I believe) rightly described recently as offering a monumental amount of information relative to icons and iconography (principally focused on the Byzantine tradition)

A few things to know:

[list]*]one site listed above speaks of a “painter” of icons, but the act is more properly spoken of as “writing” an icon and the iconographer, thus, is more properly termed a “writer” of icons (although there are those who argue persuasively that the distinction is an artificial one, based on a failure to acknowledge that the words for painting and writing are not really exclusive of one another)
*]the rules referenced refer to certain aspects of spirituality and demeanor on the iconographer’s part *]other rules exist in regard to the subject matter and content of icons, such as that organs of the human body are not to be depicted - thus, one will not properly see an icon of the Sacred Heart, a Western or Latin devotion
*]the colors to be used in some depictions are prescribed, as are some backgrounds; you will sometimes see these stated as absolutes, but a number of them are tradition-specific (what is requisite or verboten in one cultural tradition will be different than another).
*]an iconographer doesn’t sign his or her work, as to do so is to take credit for God’s inspiration, as transmitted through the hands of His servant, the iconographer, and is deemed to be an expression of personal pride that is unworthy of the iconographer[/list]

Some other tidbits:

Saint Luke is ordinarily considered to have been the first iconographer and the Theotokos to have been his subject

You may encounter references to “icons not written by human hands” or acheiropoietai; this refers to those Iconic representations perceived to be of Divine origination. Most commonly, these are the Mandylion of Edessa, Veronica’s Napkin, and the Shroud of Turin

(continued)

As far as seeing some examples of modern-day iconography by devout iconographers:

Dave Mastroberte has a great site with some beautiful examples of icons in the Slav tradition; Dave is a young second-generation Orthodox iconographer, as well as being a friend and brother to myself and many others here

Ray Mastroberte, Dave’s Dad, is a talented and devout iconographer whose work is also in the Slav tradition

Tregubov Studios, displays the iconography of its founder, Father Alexander Tregubov.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA is a bit controversial, as it has aligned itself with a very conservative “non-canonical” Church within Orthodoxy, but its monks write very devout and beautiful icons

Brother Claude from Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon writes beautiful icons, albeit some are a bit more Western in style

There are a multitude of schools of iconography, with different manners and styles of expression. These include Byzantine Greek, as well as Byzantine Slav, Russian, Arabic, Coptic, as well as what has been referred to as the Western style. As Father Ambrose has suggested, it may be helpful to become familiar with each of the styles and schools through reading and study to best know which you prefer - or, just look and see which reach out to you.

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