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I’ll attempt to trace the connection between the Byzantine aesthetic and its understanding of icons and different contemporary cultural phenomena.
Entire human culture is based on the power of producing new signs and sign systems.
The studies of signs are the main focus of modern semiology, whose foundations were laid by Ferdinand de Saussure at the beginning of the 15th century, revived in the 1960s by the French structuralists.
Even though the images had unrealistic colors, the reverse perspective and abstract decorative forms, the anthropomorphism remained, as the reminder of the Gods’ incarnation.
St Demetrius of Thessalonica, Andrei Rublev, 1425–1427, The Trinity Cathedral in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, Russia The Hospitality of Abraham (Old Testament Trinity), XIV century, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia This connection between the representation of human body in art and studies of divine incarnation was main argument during the iconoclasm debate.
The center of spirituality becomes the head, while the body loses its primacy because the eyes were the bearer of spiritual focus.
Thus, the work of art put observers in the state of passive contemplation, as described by Lazarev that icons task “was not stimulation but suppression of will.” In this context, it is interesting to note that Roger Fry, English art critic and painter, cosiders art “the expression and stimulus of imaginary life, which differs from real life by the absence of feedback.” Understanding some of the basic features of Byzantine art and spirituality, help us recognize their influence on contemporary art and culture.The problem of representation and presence is a crucial part of the theological debate that took place during the period of iconography.The Byzantine point of view was based on the division between the world of senses and the world of spirit; the material world had its ideal reflection in a harmonious supernatural world.A similar conclusion will be made by Bal and Bryson, pointing out that “any identification of icon and the entire domain of the visual is wrong.As Peirce clearly states, the iconic is a quality of the sign in relation to its object; it is best seen as a sign capable of evoking nonexistent objects because it proposes to imagine an object similar to the sign itself.The nose, if we look closer, has pores and small protrusions, so that its surface is not smooth, but uneven … Morris also notices that the portrait of a person is only slightly iconic, meaning “complete iconic sign always signifies something, because it itself represents the denotatum”, and continues,” it should be remembered that the iconic sign is similar to what it signifies, in certain aspects.That’s why iconism is a matter of degree.” As already mentioned, the problem of representation and similarity is the foundation of the Byzantine image theory, strongly influenced by the Christian dogma.The icon as the bearer of the key figure of Byzantine culture became the mediator between the earthly and the unearthly, but also the powerful weapon of the church, that assigned exclusively didactic role to art.This intermediary role is crucial for understanding the essence of the icon, because the believer pays respect not to the image itself but to the archetype represented on the image.However, Eco thinks this definition is pure tautology because “what does it mean to say that the portrait of Queen Elizabeth who painted Anigoni has the same traits as Queen Elizabeth herself?” The common-sense answers: it’s because it has the same eye shape, the same hair color, the same stature… The nose has three dimensions and the picture only two.