Introduction.Between was to remove the offending cause: the icons.

Introduction.Between 726 and 843 AD, the Byzantine empire was embroiled in a theological debate known as the Iconoclast Controversy. It resulted in wide-ranged political and social repercussions and profoundly affected the conditions for artistic production. Before we venture into the consequences and effects of iconoclasm, we must first understand its meaning. The word ‘Iconoclasm’ comes from the greek words, eikon(icon or image) and klao(break or destroy). The iconoclastic controversy was a widespread dispute wherein a group of militant Christians, known as the iconoclasts, deliberately destroyed icons and images in order to progress their own political propaganda. Christianity, being a religion that derives its philosophies from many other religions, had inherited from Judaism a fierce antipathy to the misuse of religious images. This was based on the commands given by God to Moses: “EXODUS 20:4-5, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FOR YOURSELF AN IMAGE IN THE FORM OF ANYTHING IN HEAVEN ABOVE OR ON THE EARTH BENEATH OR IN THE WATERS BELOW.5 YOU SHALL NOT BOW DOWN TO THEM OR WORSHIP THEM; FOR I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM A JEALOUS GOD, PUNISHING THE CHILDREN FOR THE SIN OF THE PARENTS TO THE THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATION OF THOSE WHO HATE ME,”This commandment basically stated that Christians are not permitted to make idols, bow down to them, or worship them. This was one of the main arguments used by the iconoclasts supporting their radical behaviour. Idols were denounced in Christianity; Pagans had idols, Christians did not. In the iconoclasts’ rudimentary view, worshipping images was adjacent to displeasing the Lord and made Christians idolaters. The only possible remedy was to remove the offending cause: the icons. The people who were against the use of images were commonly called ‘eikonomachos’ (image fighters).The iconoclasts wanted to have the cross as the main symbol of Christianity but not depict Jesus himself. References to Jesus, on the other hand, were permitted. A simple cross: example of iconoclast art in the Hagia Irene Church in Istanbul.On the contrary, Christians that loved images were termed as ‘iconophiles’, and those who served them were known as ‘iconodules’. Their positions in the argument were far more complex than the iconoclasts’. Their argument was based on three principal regards: The use to which the images were put. The appeal to tradition. The definition of what constituted an image. They proposed that the images were not holy in themselves, but they were representing something holy which would receive veneration. Although, this was considered a rather weak argument. Veronica Veil kept in Saint Peter’s in Rome, depicted in Domenico Fetti’s seventeenth-century paintingAnother argument presented by the iconophiles to avoid destruction of images was the concept of Acheiropoieta. Acheiropoieta literally means images that were not made by human hands, but by a higher power. The iconophiles stated that it would be sinful to destroy images such as this. For example, the Veronica Veil (vera icon: true icon), which is said to be present in Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, is considered an Acheiropoieta.One of the main proponents of the iconophiles, Saint John the Damascus, attempted to propose the synthesis of Christianity with the metaphysical ideas of Plato, Neoplatonism and idealistic monism. It sparked the philosophical and religious thinking of various speculative thinkers. Another argument used by the iconophiles was that of illiteracy. Christianity was meant to be a religion for the people and it was only the rich that were literate. Therefore, icons and images were also utilised in educating those who were unable to read the holy texts. II. A Historical Outline of Rulers. Leo III, gold solidus, 8th century; in the British Museum?The iconoclastic controversy began during the reign of Leo III (also known as Leo the Isaurian). Leo III was appointed to the prestigious rank of spatharius(attendant) by Justinian II as a young man. Even though the emperor, Justinian II, had held the Quinisext council, a council whose disciplinary rulings were to supplement the decisions of the 5th and 6th Ecumenical council, which worked on the legitimacy of images, when Leo III rose to the throne, his ruthless policies supported the ideals of iconoclasm wholeheartedly. Other than the mindless destruction of art, he forcibly baptised Jewish people, and other non-Christians. In 726, he began to speak against the use of sacred images which resulted in several rebellions against him in 727. Despite of the Ecumenical patriarch, Germanus I, rebelling against him, Leo III appointed another patriarch, Anastasius, and declared Iconoclasm the official policy in 730. Further, he employed harsh penalties and beatings to rebellious groups and instilled these policies into his son, Constantine V. Constantine V, Gold Solidus, 8th Century. Constantine V was the son of Leo III. Before ascending to the throne as a monarch, he ruled alongside his father. Constantine was known for his noteworthy victories in Northern Syria and, thus, termed as the ‘Great Warrior Emperor’. He convened the Council of Hieria in 754 which supported iconoclasm and promoted the Cross as the primary symbol of Christianity, and the Eucharist (The Last Supper) as the true image of Christ. Moreover, Constantine V had weak successors. This caused a hiatus in iconoclasm during the years of 787 to 815 due to the new patriarch, Nikephoros I. Notwithstanding that, in 815, the new emperor, Leo V the Armenian, appointed the iconoclast patriarch Thedotos I in his stead, giving rise to a second wave of iconoclasm. Thedotos presided over the Council of Constantinople and reinstated iconoclasm while affirming the decisions of the Council of Hieria in 754. III. Art Before Iconoclasm. Rather than architecture or sculpture, painting was the most important art in the Byzantine empire. Although, each composition was decided by the Christian monks and the paintings needed to be made in that particular way to be accepted. Churches needed to be covered in paintings in a certain sequence, and not randomly. For example, the apse of the Church had to be occupied with the figure of the Pantocrator or the Virgin seated with the Child in her arms, and scenes from the Old Testament had to be placed in sequence inside the Church at each side to encourage knowledge of the texts. Therefore, Byzantine painting required a great amount of attention to detail. During the years of iconoclasm, no kind of religious representation through art was permitted during this time. A lot of the works present today have been found at St. Catherine’s church in Sinai. This is because Egypt and Sinai were overtaken by the Muslim Arabs before Leo III came on the throne. Therefore, the monastery had already cut its ties with Constantinople, and was able to survive the destruction of iconoclasm. Additionally, the Church’s location was distant in the rocky desert of Sinai, making it inaccessible by the normal trade and military routes. This kept St. Catherine’s Church safe from the militant iconoclasts and other raiders. The monastery still houses upto 2000 icons dating from the 6th Century up until modern times. 1.  A 6th-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s monastery, Egypt. This is an encaustic painting of St. Peter present at Saint Catherine’s monastery in Egypt. Encaustic Painting has been in Egypt since 100-300 AD and was notably used in Fayum mummy portraits. Encaustic painting is a technique in which heated beeswax is mixed with coloured pigments. The liquid is then applied to a surface- which was usually prepared wood. Because wax dries and hardens fast, metal tools and special brushes are used to shape and manipulate the paint. If the wax is dried, the tools need to be heated in order to be able to continue the art work. This painting is a fine example of Encaustic painting. It is a fairly large icon, at 36.6 inches x 20.9 inches. The style of the painting would remind one of diptychs in the Roman Empire. The way St. Peter carries his cross staff is reminiscent of this particular style of painting. Further, the three clipea above St. Peter are a consular triad, which is the emperor, the empress, and the co-consul. In other words, in the center is Jesus, on the right is Virgin Mary, and although there has been several discussions over whose face the clipea on the left contains, it is possibly St. Menas, a well-known Christian Egyptian saint. 2.  Christ Pantocrator, 6th Century. This particular work of art is another encaustic painting found in Saint Catherine’s monastery in Sinai. Even though it was found in Sinai, it is said to have been created in Constantinople. Until 1962, there was a misconception with the date of this painting. It was perceived to have been made in the 13th century but it was later found that it was actually made during the iconoclastic phase in the mid-sixth century. What makes it particularly exceptional is that this is the oldest existing depiction of Christ Pantocrator. Christ Pantocrator is a fairly common religious image in Christianity. It is also considered a Christian adaptation of Zeus, from Greek mythology. Pantocrator, literally translates to Pantokrator, which is Greek for ‘rule over all’. This is, thus, the most ‘almighty’ image of Christ. It is one of the main icons in the Eastern Orthodox church, making it incredibly popular during the rule of the Byzantine Empire. The common traits of Christ Pantocrator include Christ holding the new testament in one hand and a gesture of blessing in the other. Further, his head is surrounded by a halo. What is notable about this particular Pantocrator is that it seems like Christ’s face is the combination of two different faces. It is asymmetrical. It is assumed that Christ’s left side signifies his human traits while his right side signifies his traits as a god. This represents Christ as half man- half god, showing the dual nature of Christ. The image stands at 84cm tall and 45.5cm wide. Although it is preserved in an excellent condition, the original encaustic artwork was taller and wider until its top and sides were cut. This is one of the most recognisable Byzantine works of art. 3.  Virgin Mary and Child, Encaustic, 6th Century. Amongst the other encaustic paintings found from St. Catherine’s church was this stirring work of the Virgin Mary and Child. We see a slight derivation from Greek art in Mary’s contrapposto position. The painting stands at 35.5cm height and 25.5cm. The original probably showed the figures’ full bodies as the surviving piece shows signs of being cut down. The artwork exhibits a royal undertone as we see Mary wearing purple mapharion, yellow ochre chiton, and an embroidered stole, and the child Christ clad in purple garments. Furthermore, the striation and their haloes consist of gold leaves. 4. Agiosoritissa Mother of God of the 7th century. This rare icon from the 7th century was made essentially in the heart of iconoclasm, in Constantinople. It is a wonder that this icon was not destroyed considering it was said to be in the Agia Soros chapel in Constantinople throughout the iconoclast revolution. The dimensions of this work of art are 42.5cm x 71.5cm and it is present at Santa Maria del Rosario, Mario, in Rome. Another reason this work is uncommon is due to the fact that it is and Agiosoritissa depiction of Mary. This icon shows Mary without child, hands raised in prayer. A similar icon to this is said to have existed in Hagios Demetrios basilica in Thessalonica in the 6th century but was destroyed by militant iconoclasts. IV. Art After Iconoclasm. During iconoclasm, the Byzantine artists began to develop their skills, all the while trying to analyse new ways of creating religious art works without scandalising the iconoclasts. They approached scholars for assistance, who suggested they use old artistic themes. Furthermore, the scholars even began creating new themes that would not offend those with a different viewpoint. Artists returned to representing sheep going to the Fountain of Life, the Mountain of the Paradise with the four rivers of living water, images of Virtues and Vices, or simply beautiful gardens. Although, the most popular depiction became that of Hetoimasia, or the throne. It was an image of an empty imperial chair with nothing but an open book of scriptures seated on it. Detail of a mosaic in the Arian Baptistry of Ravenna (Italy). The detail shows the Hetoimasia or empty throne with cushion, crux gemmata and cloth, here flanked by Saints Peter and Paul. Early 6th century.Pictorial revival took place when the emperor, Michael II, in approximately 830-840, passed away, leaving his wife Theodora to the throne. Theodora, then, presided over a council that legalised idol veneration once more, in 843. The revival lead to a celebration known as the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’. It was now that struggling artists were finally permitted to assert themselves and depict any religious icon. This lead to an interesting evolution in distinct portrait types, which had not been seen in the Byzantine Empire before. The portraits were well defined and unambiguous and depicted individual saints along with the images of Christ and the Virgin. The saints were treated with a lot more familiarity and the paintings became more intimate. The figures became more elongated and the artworks started involving hagiographies (biographies of the saints or highly developed spiritual beings). In addition to that, the patriarch established a standardised program which consisted of Church walls to be decorated in prominent mosaic and fresco, which gave rise to an entirety of traditions. New icon compositions began developing. As artists were not restricted anymore, they began the addition of metal in their works. They especially began to make artwork for book covers where they would even sculpt it. 1.  Icon with the Koimesis, 900s, Constantinople. This ivory icon is known as ‘Koimesis’ or ‘falling asleep in death’. It became one of the most popular icons after iconoclasm, often appearing on the doors of the churches. The work depicts Virgin Mary lying on a bier or a pallet, as though she is dying. Further, Christ stands behind her, holding up her soul and offering it to angels to take it up to heaven. The apostles stand witness to this, with Saint Paul at her feet and Saint Peter behind her head. Attendant angels fly in the top half of the panel, waiting to receive the Virgin’s soul. Additionally, we can see a number of other attendants on the sides of the panels, as though they are mourning Mary’s death. The holes in the panel suggest that it was used as a decoration on a book cover. Its dimensions are 18.6cm x 14.8cm. This was probably one of the new compositions the artists came up with after the fall of the iconoclasts. It is now kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 2.  Byzantine Iconoclasm, Chludov Psalter, 9th century.This piece of art is a depiction of iconoclasm in a page of a Chludov Psalter. Chludov Psalters are very uncommon texts that contain illustrations along with written material. They are some of the very few surviving Byzantine manuscripts and they were used by noble and wealthy people. This particular one is from the 9th century, which means that it was either created in secret during the peak of iconoclasm or it was created once iconoclasm was finally illegalised. This is why many of these were created expressly for the purpose of going against iconoclasm. This is exceptional because it is one of the three surviving Psalters. The psalters measure about 195 mm by 150 mm and contains only 169 folios. What makes this particular work of art interesting is that it is a depiction of iconoclasm. It compares the act of painting over or destroying the icons to the crucifixion of Christ. We see the iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian, holding the icon as they did the sponge in the crucifixion. The soldiers to the right of the text are seen offering Christ a sponge of vinegar. The pot containing the paint to cover the icon is also incredibly similar to the crucifixion. This work of art is now kept at the State Historical Museum. 3.  Another page from the Chludov Psalter, 9th Century. This is yet another page from the Chludov Psalter made in the 9th Century. It shows Nikephoros I of Constantinople trampling the iconoclast king John VII while upholding an icon of Christ. Nikephoros was a Christian Byzantine writer who was, along with his family, banished to Nicea due to his father’s support of the iconodule cause. After the death of Patriarch Tarasios, he was appointed the Patriarch and became a symbol for iconodules everywhere. 4.  Madonna with Christ, 9th century, mosaic, Hagia Sophia (Istanbul).This 9th Century mosaic was created very soon after the fall of the iconoclasts. It is a depiction of Madonna with Christ and is seen in the dome in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. This is an exceptional work of art because it revives stylistic elements from Early Christian art. It shows Virgin Mary in a royal blue robe seated on a throne with Christ in her arms. Christ is clad in golden garments, giving the painting a godly aspect. Both of their heads are surrounded in a halo. What makes this mosaic even more exquisite is the fact that it contains an inscription. The inscription says, “The images which the impostors had cast down here pious emperors have again set up”. This gives us a little insight into the iconodule mindset. It also gives us a reference to the past, where there were other artworks at Hagia Sophia which were destroyed by the iconoclasts. 5.  Byzantine (Constantinople), c. 1400?Icon with the Triumph of Orthodoxy?Tempera and gold on panel, 37.8 x 31.4 cm (15 3/8 x 12 3/16 in.)This particular icon shows the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’ or the Victory over Iconoclasm. We see Saints, Theologians, and members of the Byzantine imperial family flank an icon of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. This shows the celebration of orthodoxy, also called the ‘Feast of Triumph’ which was celebrated on March 11, 843. This 37.8cm x 31.4cm panel was made with tempera, which is a paint that requires the mixing of egg yolk, and gold, because it shows members of the imperial family, so as to give it a royal effect.