I’m sure you knew this one! I remember reading about Christian iconography when I studied Russian history. I was young and had no idea what the term “icon” meant. These days, we hear the word often, many times used in conjunction with a famous person or a cultural symbol. For more on the definition of icon, click here.
In art, “icon” is closely associated with religion, especially the Christian faith. LaSalle University, a private Catholic university in Pennsylvania, provides this definition from The Catholic Encyclopedia:
What is Christian Iconography?
“The science of the description, history, and interpretation of the traditional representations of God, the saints and other sacred subjects in art.
Almost from the beginning the Church has employed the arts as potent means of instruction and edification. In the first centuries the walls of the catacombs were decorated with paintings and mosaics, and in all later times churches have lent their walls, ceilings, and windows as well as their altars, furniture, and liturgical vessels and books, to be adorned with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, from the lives and legends of the saints, and even from old mythologies, modified, of course, and harmonized with Christian teaching.”
~ The Catholic Encyclopedia
The Encyclopedia Britannica — the source of this quiz feature — has a lengthy article about Christian icongraphy. It is much too detailed to even summarize here, so I will simply provide you with the link. If you’re interested in reading more about iconodules — those who favored iconography — and iconoclasts — those who sought to destroy image — you’ll find the article very informative:
Religious icons have been described as “windows into heaven”, and another fascinating article can be found at Monastery Icons: The History and Symbolism of Iconography.
“Icons raise the soul and mind of the believer who sees the icon to the realm of the spirit, of the incorruptible, of the kingdom of God, as far as this can be achieved with material means.” — Photios Kontoglou
It should be noted that an icon is not simply a painting or “work of art”. Icons are sacred images and are used in religious devotion. Common subjects include Christ, Mary, saints, and angels, as well as icons depicting narrative scenes from the Bible or from the lives of the saints.
In our world of technological wonder, we can even go to Amazon and quickly find an array of icons available for purchase.
Or, perhaps you have an “on-the-go” lifestyle like so many do today. Maybe an “on-the-go” piece of iconic jewelry would interest you.
This is certainly not intended to make light of religious devotion, but merely to show how “art” and religious expression have adapted throughout the ages, in ways that make devotion always relevant to the times in which we live.
These two pendants feature “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” as well as “The Sacred Heart of Jesus”. I grew up seeing these images around me.
Even though I didn’t know they were correctly deemed “icons”, I understood their religious significance.
I’ve enjoyed this look at “iconography” and its history. I hope you’ve found it interesting and informative, as well.