The symbolism of the icon

Icon - a unique phenomenon in medieval culture. Iconographer had tasks that define characteristics of the medieval world view: to bring human consciousness into the spiritual world, to change minds, to bring a sense of reality of the ideal world, help people find their own path of transformation.

For the believer medieval Russia was never a question whether he likes or not the icon, as far as art is carried out. For him it was important to the content. Then, many could not read, but the language of symbols inoculated any believer since childhood. Symbolism of colors, gestures, objects depicted - the language of the icon, not knowing that it is difficult to assess the significance of icons.

Russian icon heralds transformation of the world and of man dominant mood of joy, which is transmitted stories, symbols of things, gestures, colors, shapes, and even the location of clothing.

But the arrival of the joy is possible only through asceticism - there is no joy without pain, without the Resurrection Cross. Joy and asceticism - complementary threads where the first - the purpose, the second - a means to an end; austerity subject joy. Mode of expression of asceticism - conventional, symbolic figures and images of the saints.

Icon - not a portrait and genre painting, and the prototype of the ideal of humanity. Therefore provides only a symbolic icon of his image. Physical movement in the icon is minimized or absent. But the movement is transmitted by means of the special spirit - pose the figure, hands, folds of clothing, color, and most importantly - the eyes. There is all power of moral heroism, all the power of the spirit and its power over the body.


Clothes on icons - not a means to cover their nakedness, clothing - symbol. It - the fabric of the feats of the Saint. One of the important parts - fold. Nature of the arrangement of folds on the clothing of the saints shows the time of writing icons. In VIII - XIV centuries folds drawn frequent and small. They speak of the strong spiritual experiences, the lack of spiritual calm. In the XV - XVI centuries folds draw straight, long, rare. Through them, as if all the breaks elasticity of spiritual energy. They convey the fullness of the spiritual forces ordered.

Around the head of the Saviour, the Mother of God and the saints depicted on icons glow in the shape of a circle, which is called a halo. Nimbus - this image of light and radiance of divine glory, which transforms and man, to connect with God.

There are no shadows on the icons. This is also due to the features and objectives of understanding the world that faced a painter. Heavenly peace - a kingdom of the spirit world, it is incorporeal, there are no shadows. Icons are things being committed and made of light, not the light lit.

symbolism of gestures

symbols of things

Image sacraments

color symbolism in the icon

past and future in the icon

inverse Perspective

Heaven and earth in the icon

Circle in the iconography

The symbolism of gestures

A hand pressed against his chest - heart empathy.

Hand raised up - a call to repentance.

A hand forward with open hand - a sign of obedience and submission.

Two arms raised up - prayer for peace.

Hands raised forward - praying for help, sign the request.

Hands pressed to her cheeks - a sign of grief, sorrow.

The symbolism of things

Oak - the tree of life.

House - a symbol of house building, construction.

Gore - the symbol of the sublime, the sign of spiritual and moral ascent.

Red cross - a symbol of martyrdom (and Renaissance).

Anemone flower - a sign of grief of Mary, Mother of Christ (usually on the icons "Crucifixion" and "The Descent from the Cross").

Staff of an angel - a symbol of the heavenly vestnichestva, messengership.

The young man with the pipe - the wind.

Pelican - symbol chadolyubiya.

Golden crown - symbol of spiritual victory.

The right and left side of the icon or fresco - too often symbolic. Medieval viewer knew the left of Christ - the foolish virgins, right - reasonable.

Two or three trees symbolize the forest.

The ray from the celestial spheres - a symbol of the Holy Spirit, divine energy, which makes miracle of the Incarnation of the Divine in man.

The action before the temple or building where the removal of the front wall, means that it is happening inside the temple or building.

Also sometimes the painters used different symbolic images whose meaning is clear who is familiar with Scripture:

Gold cross, anchor and heart mean faith, hope and love.

The book - the spirit of wisdom.

Golden candlestick - the spirit of the mind.

Gospel - the spirit of the council.

Seven golden horns - the spirit of the fortress.

Seven gold stars - the spirit of knowledge.

Thunderbolts - the spirit of the fear of God.

Laurel wreath - the spirit of joy.

Dove holding a branch in his mouth - the spirit of mercy.

Image sacraments

Container of water - the sacrament of baptism.

Alavastr (a special vessel) - the sacrament of Confirmation.

Chalice and paten - the sacrament of communion.

Two eyes - the sacrament of penance (confession).

Hand blessing - the sacrament of the priesthood.

Hand holding his hand - the mystery wedding.

Vial of oil - the mystery eleoosvyascheniya (unction).

Color Symbolism in icons

Learning from the Byzantines, the Russian master painters have adopted and retained the symbolism of color. But in Russia, the icon was not so lush and austere, like the imperial Byzantium. Paint in Russian icons have become more alive, vibrant and ringing. Icon painters of Old Russia learned to create works that are close to local conditions, tastes and ideals. Each color has a shade on the icon in the free ¬ rd place a special meaning and significance of justification. If this sense we do not always integer ¬ den and clear, this is determined solely by the fact that we lost: we lost the key to understanding this unique in the world of art.

Golden color and light in the icon proclaimed joy. Gold (an assist) in the icon represents the divine energy and grace, the beauty of the other world, of God himself. Solar gold as it absorbs the evil of the world and defeats him. Gold glitter mosaics and icons possible to feel the radiance and splendor of God's heavenly kingdom, which is never a night. Gold color represents God himself.

Yellow, or ocher - the color closest to the gold in the spectrum, it is often simply a replacement, also the color of the highest power of the angels.

Purple, or purple, the color was a very important symbol in Byzantine culture. It is the color of King, the lord - God in heaven, the emperor on earth. Only the Emperor could sign edicts in purple ink and sit on a purple throne, but he was wearing a purple dress and boots (all of it is strictly forbidden.) Leather or wooden covers of the Gospel in churches covered with a purple cloth. This color was present in the icons on the clothes of the Virgin - the Queen of Heaven.

Red - one of the most visible color in the icon. It is the color of heat, love, life-giving energy. That is why the color red has become a symbol of the Resurrection - the victory of life over death. But at the same time, the color of blood and agony, the color of Christ's sacrifice. In red clothing on the icons of the martyrs. Heavenly fire glow red wings close to the throne of God, the archangels seraphim. Sometimes wrote red backgrounds - as a sign of the triumph of eternal life.

White - the symbol of the Divine Light. It is the color of purity, holiness and simplicity. On icons and frescoes of saints and holy men are usually portrayed as white. Righteous - the people, the good and honest living "in truth." The same white color of the light veil infants dead and the angels. But the white represents only the righteous souls.

Blue and blue indicate the infinity of the sky, a symbol, the eternal world. Blue was considered the color of Our Lady, combining earth or in heaven. Murals in many temples dedicated to the Virgin Mary, full of heavenly blue.

Green - the natural, living. It is the color of grass and leaves, youth, flowering, hope, and eternal renewal. Green wrote the ground, he was there, where life began - in Nativity scenes.

Brown - the color of the bare earth, dust, and all temporary and perishable. Mingling with the royal purple robes to the Virgin Mary, the color is reminiscent of human nature, subject to death.

Gray - a color that never used in iconography. Mixing black and white, good and evil, he became the color confusion, emptiness, nothingness. This color was no place in the radiant world icon.

Black - the color of evil and death. In iconography with the color black cave - symbols grave - and a gaping hellhole. In some subjects this was the color of mystery. The black robes of the monks who went from normal life - it is a symbol of the failure of previous pleasures and habits, a kind of death in life.

The basis of color symbolism of Orthodox icons, as well as all religious art, is the image of the Savior and the Mother of God. For the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is characterized omophorion dark cherry and blue or dark blue coat. Of the Savior inherent dark brownish-red coat and dark blue himation. And here, of course, there is a certain symbolism: Blue - is the color of heaven (the symbol of the Sky). Dark red robes of the Virgin - the symbol of the divine Motherhood. We Savior blue himation - a symbol of His Divinity, and the dark red tunic - a symbol of his human nature. Saints in all the icons are displayed in white robes or more bluish. Color symbolism here too strictly fixed. To understand why the white color spectrum is assigned to the bishops, it is necessary to recall the history of white in celebration. White robes worn by another Old Testament priests. The priest that liturgy podriznik wears white in memory of those white robes, who, according to legend, carried the Apostle James, the brother of the Lord

Particularly important in the iconography given gilding. Background for icons icon painter - a "light", a sign of divine grace that illuminates the world, a golden inokop (inakop, Assist - a graphic expression of light glare thin lines, leaves of gold leaf) on clothes and sends a bright gleam of fertile energy. The sequence of the gilding is of extreme importance. Prior to paint figures and faces, gold background - it is the light that displays the space icon from the world of darkness and transforms it into the divine world. Assist technology is used in the second stage, when the image is already written. By the way, Father Florensky wrote: "All iconographical images are born in the sea of grace and they are purified streams of divine light. With gold creative beauty icons begin and gold beauty icons blessed end. Writing icons repeats the main events of divine creativity: from absolute nothingness to the New Jerusalem, sacred creature. "

The past and the future on the icon

Some of the icons shows the events of several days or even a whole life of the saint. During prayer, people had time to think about them, to experience them in your heart. For example, the icon of "Kirikou and Ulita" in detail and gradually tells the story of the Christian martyrs, mother and son. In 305, by order of the Roman governor of Tarsus, they were tortured and then executed. Hands clasped in prayer, humbly appeal to the martyrs of the sky, where on a golden throne in the clouds sits Christ. Left, of arches and columns (and thus, inside buildings), are scenes of their feats and miracles. Here Kirik and Ulithi lead on the court, then beaten with whips, thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar, but they remain intact. After that, they even heal hand cruel ruler, which fell into the cauldron. One of the villains Kirika leg kicks and then drops dead. In the center of the icon executioner chopped off his head surrounded by a halo of Ulithi. So the icon shows the past and the future, with even the simplest of people understand that wonderful things happen in the other, unearthly time and space.

reverse perspective

If you look at the road, stretching into the distance, it will seem narrower, until it disappears in the horizon. The icon on the contrary: all lines converge to the man and he's going to light the infinite unknown. In iconography, this is called a reverse perspective. Very often you can find a comparison of the icon with the window "of the world above the world Dolní." In many ways, the impression of the icon, as the window associated with the use of reverse perspective. Following the "divergent" rays and lines, eye perspective is reversed and the icon of the whole, "turning" a small image on the icon in breadth. Space icons suddenly become unusually wide, surrounding the viewer, like the influx of him.

The use of reverse perspective or tight uniform background, as it were approaching the viewer to the image, the space of the icon was put forward as if to meet together with placed on it holy.

Heaven and earth in the icon

For centuries, Russia experienced a severe test: war, destruction, hunger. Day of prosperity have been rare and short-lived. But even in the darkest times of Russian icons comforted his wise peace. In the icon live near two of the world - the mountainous and sub. The word "mountain" means "heavenly, supreme." In the old way of saying something that is at the top. "Dolní" (from the word "dollars", "Valley") - that is located at the bottom. This is how the image is constructed on the icon. Light, almost transparent figures of saints are drawn up, their feet barely touching the ground. In iconography it is called "manure" and is written usually green or brown. Sometimes land almost disappears, dissolving in a heavenly glow. For example, the icon of the XII century. "In Thee rejoice" Our Lady of Glory and the people standing at the bottom, and the angels surrounding the throne of the Virgin.

Circle in the iconography

Circle - a very important character in the iconography. Having neither beginning nor end, it means eternity. The figure of the Virgin in the icon "In Thee rejoice" is inscribed in a circle - a symbol of the divine glory. And then circle shapes are repeated again and again - in the walls and sections of the temple, in the branches of Eden, in the flight of a mysterious, almost invisible heavenly forces at the top of the icon. (translation)