Useful Information – Glossary from A-Z
Specialist terms and headwords – a small ABC of iconography
-definitions and explanations are not always
-( reasons: translation, history, location, purpose, way of seeing things...)
Aeon – the coming, as opposed to the present age. The theory of the aeons or ages is related to Christians’
expectation of the “Last Judgment”, as defined in the apocalypses. After the Last Judgment is made God will present the new aeon or age. Jesus Christ unites both aeons in his
person, but in the age to come there will be no present or future. God will be all in one.
Apocalypse – (Greek: apokalypsis = exposure, revelation: of God’s tribunal, of the person Jesus Christ. All apocalypses contain descriptions of visions (those of earliest time such Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses; those of the times of exile such as Daniel, Ezra, Baruch; or those of Christian times such as Peter, Paul, and John) which, as opposed to prophetic visions, constitute the deliberation of problems between the personage seeing and God or an interpreting angel.
In addition thereto there are admonishing, preaching sections (Parenesis = admonition), which exhort to steadfastness in difficult times. The statements are often encoded by means of a mysterious symbol and puzzle language (allegory).
apocryptic (Greek: apokrypto) = hide - in the narrow sense: all writings accepted by the Greek version of the translation of the Bible over and above the recognized Hebrew canon; in a broader sense: the works of the old – the one - Catholic Church related to the books of the New Testament. However, because they were not incorporated into the Bible as binding and canonical, the expression is also used in the context of a devaluation, as non-canonical.
Assist – a thin, gold shading to lighten the face, used especially for Christ icons (not used on new or “modern” icons).
Aureole - round or almond-shaped ornamental rays (see Mandorla) which, like a halo, designate the saints as holy, and at the same time separates them from the earthly world, reserved chiefly for icons of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
Basma - the covering used for the borders of the icon.
Chrysography - gold colouring, whereby fine threads of gold are allowed to flow into other colours or threads.
Colours – In art as in iconography colours have not only an aesthetic value, but a symbolic value too. For the icon, however, the aesthetic quality of the colours is secondary, despite the fact that a well “painted" icon will naturally have correct colour composition. Yet it is not the colour as such that is symbolic. It becomes symbolic only through the symbolism accorded it through common values of belief, inclination or culture. The viewer has to understand this connection. That is why there is no standardized colour symbolism and why one can give only general observations on the most important basic colours used in iconography (painting of icons).
Magenta is the colour of divine and royal power and dignity, which is why icons of Jesus Christ and Mary, Mother of God are depicted wearing purple garments.
Red stands for life and blood, for fire, war and violence. It stands for the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the blood sacrifice of the martyrs...
Blue is a mysterious, deep, ethereal colour. It is the colour of the sky, of that which is divine and eternal. It stands for truth and faithfulness (trust), which are both predicates of God, on whom we can rely...
Green is complementary to red, is centred between yellow and blue, and is therefore a medium and a conciliatory colour. It embodies the green cover of the earth after drought or winter, the vitality of youth, growth and triumph over death, and with this the hope for new life and resurrection...
Brown is, in Eastern understanding, the counter-colour to blue. Brown stands for physical density, earthliness, worldly humanity, as opposed to the immaterial, ethereal, spiritual and transcendence of the colour blue...
Dark brown / brownish black suggests renunciation of the world, self-denial, repentance, asceticism. It is the basic colour of many monks and ascetics...
White is said to be close to the “divine light”. On icons too (white is the base colour of the icon board), white represents the bright celestial world, indicating God’s glory and his truth, as manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ, the light of the world... Apart from these, white is used to express purity, innocence, happiness, joy, goodness, humility and repentance...
Gold is neither a natural colour, nor actually a colour at all, but a metal. In ancient times gold was considered the metal of the all-life-creating and all-dominating sun…..and is itself therefore light and inexhaustible brilliance. Gold stands for divine brilliancy and God's reality ("own light", "transmitting light” of gold)... The gold on Christ’s garments denotes His humanity. Because gold is a precious material, backgrounds, nimbi and aureoles were and are still painted alternatively in yellow, white, blue or green. Gold seems to obstruct many viewers’ access to the icon’s content. A. Saveliev has said: the more golden, the more valuable = art object = precious antique (resulting in forgery and deceit)!
Deesis – Intercession at the Last Judgment – as pictorial subject of Byzantine origin and the core of the iconostasis. The small "Deesis" is restricted to Jesus Christ at the centre, The Virgin Mary on the left, John on the right, both in a worshipping pose. The large "Deesis" extends the intercession to a whole Deesis sequence, joined on both sides by angels and saints and John in pleading gesture.
Dusenka – “little soul”: Russian name for The Virgin’s soul depicted as a doll wrapped inswaddling clothes, which Christ is holding in his arms in the icon “Sleeping Mary”.
Eigenlicht (individual light) – This specialist term coined by K. Onasch, among others, (Icons, Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1961) is meant to designate the difference between natural light and the light of the icon, the source of which emanates from the archetype, so to speak from the inside out, and is ranked above natural light.
Emmanuel - Also Immanuel; one of the many names for Jesus Christ; according to Isaiah 7, Verse 14, Jesus Christ is called Immanuel, because through Him God is with us.
Encaustics – a painting technique on wax: heated wax colours were applied or scratched into other wax layers; used predominantly with mummy painting... The first "icon paintings" appeared from the 3rd century onward, particularly during the 5th and 6th centuries.
Egg tempera – A colour used in Russian "icon painting", for which no oil-based paint may be used. Basic substance: natural colours plus egg yolk.
Forms – demeanours - gestures: Besides the
colours, the demeanours are the carrying elements of the icon. Because icons don’t portray subjective impressions of this world, but express instead a trans-real world, the shapes and forms
have to form a kind of "vocabulary" that can be understood by all those wishing to partake of the icons’ message and understand it.
Everything that appears on the icon
is making a statement: posture, physiognomy and mime, gestures, clothing, headgear, cult objects, often too landscapes, animals, plants, architecture... Many therefore require textual
knowledge. Understanding the icons is akin to learning a foreign language – like a child learning the words of his native language through their relationship to his or her daily
life. Ultimately it is quite easy to understand the language of the icons, because the icons’ aim is to be understood and because their forms are highly simplified and
The things essential to a picture’s statement are the gestures and the demeanours. Gestures and demeanours are movement, posture, brought on by certain situations and
taking place unawares or instinctively, built up over time in long tradition by a cultural community, which are considered matter of course by that community and are completely natural to
a) Demeanours: welcoming demeanours, demeanours of lament and sorrow, demeanours of meditation, of silence, of shock, of surprise, and defensive
b) Gestures: representation gestures, noble gestures of proclamation, prayer gestures, interceding gestures, worshipful gestures, commanding gestures, teaching gestures, proclaiming gestures...
Frontality – the principle of representation of saints in the Byzantine style
Hand of God – a hand reaching out usually from the top edge of the icon in a part-aureole
to symbolize God’s presence and assistance. This made it unnecessary to portray God figuratively. Found also in Western European art.
Heavenly quadrant: symbolism for God’s representation and his assistance, a segment of the heavens that has been placed in one of the top corners of the icon, from where the hand of God reaches out (three fingers outstretched in the gesture of magnificence, of commanding, of enlightenment, and to signify the Trinity)
Icon – Greek: eikon = picture, image,
archetype - simile, similarity, personality - religious "panel painting" of the Orthodox Church (orthodox – safeguards, among other things, the icon). Biblical events with cult
function are represented according to tradition (“pictorially written down " - only few were able to read and write)
Iconography – Greek pictorial description - collection and interpretation of antique portraits - description of picture contents and passing on and preaching of the Gospel – set rules for drawing and structure of an icon
Iconostasis – Greek picture wall - designation for the picture wall in the Orthodox church which separates the altar from public space – heaven and earth – united through Jesus Christ (door, gate, doorway) - Originally a simple stone barrier, like the rood screen we know, the iconostasis was, particularly in Russia, made to form a wall, which could be several metres high. Three gates, to be used only by the clergy, lead to the chancel. The iconostasis is covered almost completely with icons which are arranged in different rows according to a certain plan, representing theological illustrative material in the best sense: the one living Church, founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Ikonodules - “picture friends” - "iconoclastic controversy" in the Byzantine empire (726-843). Iconoclasts - picture enemies – excessive worship of pictures
during the 7th and 8th centuries – see above – Christian picture (1st commandment) = idol worship.
Inscription – each icon must be signed. This requirement is not simply a formal regulation, but arises from the understanding of the picture, which establishes that the archetype is present in the image. Through the inscription, this connection is protected. It would furthermore not be permitted to consecrate an unsigned icon and this in turn would mean that the icon could not be considered a liturgical object. There are many kinds of inscription. Not all are equally binding. It is dogmatically essential that the personages represented be identified clearly with their names. This applies in particular to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, but also to angels, apostles, saints, and prophets.
Special guidelines apply to the inscription of Christ representations and Virgin Mary icons,
which must always be written with Greek letters. Apart from this, there are no linguistic rules for the inscription. Texts on scrolls, banners, in the open pages of the Gospels, may be written in the respective national language. However, most icons are written in ancient Greek or in church-Slavonic. In this connection a culture of ornate lettering, often very imaginative and therefore difficult to decipher, has developed in areas where Russian is spoken.
Note: The icons displayed at the Icon Centre (self-conception, setting of tasks) are, with the exception of the Jesus Christ icon as “Pantokrator”, are purposely not signed, since this is not a holy, consecrated place. For this reason, the faces of the saints etc. on the iconostasis (picture wall) have not been filled in.
Klejma - border pictures with holy icons, usually showing scenes from the life of the saint.
Kovceg – the Slavonic term for the central part of the icon board or panel, slightly hollowed out and destined to receive the drawing and picture of the icon. (not with “new, modern” icons).
Levkas – the grounding made from glue and chalk (not with the " new, modern icons ")
Liturgy – (Greek: leitoyrgia = “Service”), often official ( state or governmental); term used for Christian church service – a service held by the Church for the purpose of prayer and performance within a community (also in private if required) - " life service" - see Jewish – old testament liturgy. .
Luke representations - the original icons which, according to legend, Luke the Evangelist is said to have painted, which were recognized as prototypes for icons of the Virgin Mary, especially the Hodegitria type. There are icons on which Luke is depicted as a painter, which is why he became the patron saint of painters.
Mandorla – an almond-shaped aureole, usually surrounding the holy personage, usually Jesus Christ. See also “aureole”
Nimbus - halo
Oklad - metal covering of the icon, mostly up to the body of the holy personage depicted.
Olifa - the oil resin layer with which the icon is covered at the end of writing (painting).
Omophorion - Is the approximately 4 metres long piece of cloth worn over the shoulder in such a way that from the front it gives the appearance of a forked cross. This garment is reserved exclusively for bishops.
Orant posture - the prayer posture in the Eastern Orthodox Church which follows that commonly held in ancient times, whereby arms and hands are beseechingly raised upwards with open palms, as most best evident in the row of the Deesis and the Virgin Mary of the Sign. The folded hands go back to a Germanic custom.
Painter’s Manual - An instruction book
for painters (iconographers) with exact guidelines for sketching, picture content, picture arrangement and inscriptions.
Palladium – derived from Pallas Athene, whose picture was
thought to protect those who carried it with them. In the transferred sense: a protecting picture or holy relic. In this sense, the Vladimirskaja is the palladium of all
Pantokrator – literally: Greek for “omnipotent ruler” - designation of a type of Jesus Christ icon, showing Jesus Christ sitting on his throne in ruler's pose, often found in the frescoes on the inside surface of the domes of ecclesiastical buildings, as well as on the iconostasis.
Perspective – what strikes us with icons is their strange perspective, which in our eyes “isn’t quite right”. This should stimulate us to reflect instead of putting it down to an artless, underdeveloped way of painting. In our eyes a picture is in perspective when it is constructed along the principles of central perspective and vanishing point perspective, i.e. all lines which are not parallel to the image plane gather in a vanishing point on the horizon (up to three vanishing points: corner view, bird’s eye view and frog’s perspective) … which part of the painter’s space and objects appear in the picture depends entirely on where the painter is standing.
Understanding painting and the laws governing it is not reconcilable with the self-conception of the icon. With the icon, in iconography, it is not the subjective world of the "painter" that is important. Rather, through the icon, that which is beyond all human experience shines into our world from that other world as God’s reality.
One speaks here of and applies the " reverse perspective ", which, however, is not entirely correct, i.e. the lines do not flee into the depths of the picture towards a point on the horizon, but they emanate from endless space and are aimed at mankind like a direct message from the picture to the viewer standing before it. At the same time it does not exclude in different parts of the picture, according to their importance, the elements of central perspective and vanishing point perspective. It should therefore be called a perspective of importance, i.e. what is great and important in super-individual, timeless and objective truth should appear as such in the picture, (see importance of light = missionary light). For the iconographer therefore there can be no fixed viewpoint (different perspectives) which could be forced on the viewer. Rather, through the composition of the picture, the viewer is asked to enter into it, to wander around in it, to let each scene have an effect on him, and to let that which he is told work within him (self-dissemination of the divine).
Perspective - the perspective which originates from God or Jesus Christ, thus perspectives are led back to Him.
Picture types: There are approximately 8,000 to 9,000 different picture types (paintings) and each has its own name. This seemingly inestimable figure becomes less so when the viewer takes the time to visualize the range of topics and the basic types and asks himself
how many of each type there are. In all, we can expect about 7,000 to 8,000 saints to be represented on icons.
There are approximately 400 different representations of the Virgin Mary, biblical events and special subjects. There are more than three dozen representations of individuals and about two dozen different representations of the Trinity. Hardly accessible and of little interest to us are icon subjects originating from Eastern Orthodox legend, and the numerous saints. The majority of them,, even within Orthodoxy, have only regional significance.
Basic types - representation types - range of topics:
b) Jesus Christ
c) Angel icons
d) Mother of God
e) Scenic motives – legends – festal icons
f) Saints – Prophets – Patriarchs – Church Teachers
Plav – an enameling procedure whereby the colours applied one over the other are allowed to flow into each other, so that each colour shines through the other.
Podlinik – sketching, pre-drawing, also
Polychrome - colour variety; painting technique, with which each colour retains its own intrinsic value and is clearly off-set from the colour next to it.
Riza – the metal covering that covers the entire icon except the face and hands.
Religious art – a comprehensive term for all religious art as opposed to worldly or profane art. This distinction, necessary in Western Europe, had no role in the Eastern Orthodox Church as long as there was no art beyond the Church. Officially, the division between religious and profane art was not prescribed until 1707 when Peter the Great issued it per “ukas” (order, decree).
Sponki - designation for the diagonally placed cross ribs sometimes attached to the back of the icon, to prevent warping of the wood (not used for the “new, modern icons”).
Story icon – name given to icons appearing in Russia from the 16th century onward that had a narrative, symbolic, or didactic character and therefore were quite different from the portrait icons. They are distinguished by the great variety in scenes represented on them, usually painted in very fine and miniscule detail.
Synaxis – Greek: gathering. The meeting or gathering on the occasion of a festival. Well-known icon subjects are "Synaxis of the Mother of God ", which contains differing iconographic elements of the "Worship of the Three Kings" and the "Synaxis of the Angels" with archangel Michael or Gabriel as a central figure.
Synod – Greek: = literally: a Church council
attended by delegated clergy and sometimes laity common way; who function as decisive organs in Church and in particular in dogmatic and Church rights issues. They may have consultative,
legislative and also leading functions. First ecumenical council: Nicaea I – 325 A.D. - definition of the equality of Jesus Christ with God the Father.
Tempera – a special colour or the technique of painting with this colour, whereby the basic colours, originally natural colours and egg yolk mixed with water or, as in Russia, with ‘kvas’. These are mixed and then applied layer after layer, resulting in brilliant, durable, matte colours. Already in the sixth century, icons were painted in tempera. In Russia icons are essentially painted in tempera ("the colours are derived from God’s creation”).
Templon - Greek designation for iconostasis
Trinity – a group of three; the three persons of the Christian Godhead. The fundamental and defining (in relation to Judaism and Islam) Christian religious statement concerning the Holy Trinity of the one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Peter 1,2).… here God the Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit are united in blessing. There from emerge the solemn baptismal words, In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For a long time, no accord could be found as to how this Holy Trinity was to be understood and the subject remained the reason for many disputes within the Church, which carried over into iconography as well. Finally two basic representation types emerged:
a) The angelomorphe type = angel figure – three angels (see visitation of Abraham and Sarah) – three persons in one robe or a figure with three heads.
b) The anthromorphe type = human figure. The attemps to find a legitimization in biblical texts for portraying the Holy Trinity in human form: God the Father as the figure “the old days” (according to Daniel 7,9) on his throne. On his lap Jesus Christ (Emmanuel), the pre-existing ‘Logos’ (the word became flesh according to Isaiah 7, 14) with the pigeon, symbol of the Holy Spirit (John, 1, 18) in a medallion.
Two-dimensionalism - a prospect which largely excludes space, so that art is confined to the surface - length and width being the only accepted dimensions.
Russian Icons, Tatiana Högy, The Bible from A to Z, The Icon, H.Fischer and others.