Monday, 24 May 2010

Religious Iconography

I discovered an essay by Teresa Deitrich which I found very useful for my initial research into iconography.

  Dietrich (2003:10) states that it is unclear where the definitive archteype image of Christ originated. She says there are two images which served as models for later imagery – the ‘Veronica Sudarium’ and the ‘Shroud of Turin’ which both originated at the time of Christ. Deitrich (2003:10) explains that the shroud had been impregnated with chemicals, which produced a chemical reaction and was, therefore, closest to an actual photograph or negative.
Deitrich (2003:10) states that the ‘Christ Pantocrator’ from sixth century Constantinople showed Christ. These similar images, with long brown hair, a beard and a tall, slender body and became the archetype of Christ.

Deitrich (2003:11) explains that that the Iconoclasts in the Eastern Orthodox church looked upon the icon paintings as a window and communicated with the subject of the icon, as though the image was a gateway to another world and this was a communication with God himself.

Dietrich (2003:11) states that the representation of religious scenes in paintings followed strictly laid-down codes found in texts. The illustration of such ‘valid holy truths’ was essential to their becoming objects of veneration.
Dietrich (2003:11) says that Pope Gregory gave artistic freedom to artists painting images of Christ, saying:
Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read. (Gromlich, 1995:135)
Dietrich (2003:11) explains that in a largely illiterate society, religious imagery was seen as a powerful form of communication.
Dietrich (2003:13) explains that the Renaissance period (1450-1600) was a period of great importance for religious paintings and a period of progress within the development of literary and figurative art. Dietrich (2003:15-16) adds that prior to the Renaissance, realism was not the primary aim of painting and the painting was more of a symbolic object, not intended for a substitute for reality, but that the symbolism of its content was more important, for example:
Keys = St Peter
Chalice = St John
The Madonna and Child
clip_image006Dietrich (2003:13) explains that painting the Madonna and Child was common practice for artists of the Rennaissance period and is one of the strongest symbols in Catholicism, capable of many levels of interpretation.
Dietrich (2003:13) states that it illustrates the bond between the mother and child, symbolises purity, security and family, issues that were very important in society at the time. It also symblises Jesus’ love for the children of God and the church’s compassion.

Dietrich, Teresa (2003) An Investigation into the Use of Religious Iconography in Photography, Stockport College of Further and Higher Education, Department of Design and Visual Arts

Many Christian saints can be recognised by the symbols (or attributes) that accompany them.
Mary Magdalene is often pictured with an alabaster jar. This is because it contained a perfume in which she anointed Christ’s feet.
St Catherine of Alexandria’s pictures contain a spiked wheel, upon which she was tortured by Emperor Maxentius.
St Margaret of Antioch is regularly seen being swallowed or bursting out of a dragon, or with the dragon at her feet. She is often shown holding a crucifix and wearing a crown.
St Barbara is often pictured with a chalice, an open book, a palm branch or with a tower with three windows.
clip_image016 St Bernard can be recognised the white habit of the Cistercian order he established.
Portraits of St Ignatius in both East and West represent him as an old, white-bearded man being by attacked by two lions, one making for his feet and the other for his upper body.
clip_image020 St Nicholas is often shown with three golden balls, which represent his gift of three bags of gold to the three daughters of an impoverished nobleman
St Ambrose is often pictured with a beehive, denoting his oratory skills. clip_image022
clip_image024 Ganesha has an elephant's head symbolising the gaining of knowledge through listening (ears) and reflection (large head). The two tusks, one whole and the other broken, reflect the existence of perfection and imperfection in the physical world. He is also shown with a bowl of sweetmeats representing earthly prosperity and well-being. He is pictured with four arms symbolizing the four aims of Hinduism and the four stages of life. The mouse is shown for its ability to gnaw through barriers.
The three horizontal lines Shiva’s forehead represent the three sources of light - fire, sun and moon; or his ability to see the past, present and future. The three lines may also, as with the trident, represent the three qualities of goodness, passion and darkness.
Shiva is also typically depicted with snakes around his neck or across his body. The snake may represent the evolutionary power within the human body, the spiritual power which may de developed through yoga and also Shiva's power to deal with death. Rosaries show his mastery of the spiritual sciences.
He is frequently depicted sitting on a tiger skin, the symbol of the cruel forces of nature, over which he is lord. Shiva's vehicle is Nandin a white bull which represents strength and fertility. As the bull is ridden by Shiva, it shows the god's control over these powers. In this image he sits in meditative pose reflecting peace and perfect inner harmony.
Vishnu may be depicted with two or four arms. When shown with four arms, these represent his power over both the four points of the compass and the four stages of life through which the 'twice born' Hindu man was thought to travel. Images of Vishnu combine compassion and strength.
The four symbols most commonly associated with Vishnu are the conch shell which represents water and the first sound of creation, the lotus which symbolizes the unfolding universe, the mace which is interpreted as the power of knowledge conquering time and finally the discus which is associated with the conquering of evil and ignorance.
Vishnu may be recognized by the U shaped symbol on his forehead.
His vehicle is Garuda, depicted either as a crowned eagle or as a bird with a man's head. He is a powerful opponent of evil.
The hood of snakes' heads which shelter him represents the endless cycles of creation and reflects one of the central stories of creation in the Hindu tradition. Three hands hold three of the standard symbols, conch shell, discus and lotus and the fourth is held in the traditional hand gesture symbolizing protection.
Krishna is shown playing his irresistible flute to summon the gods. He is typically depicted with blue-black skin, wearing a yellow loin cloth and a crown of peacock feather.