Traditional Iconography

Out of all the art forms in the world, one of the most interesting and intriguing to me is Catholic Iconography.

Icons derive from the very beginning of Christianity and are still used by many forms of Catholics and Orthodox in churches and home worship. These pieces are highly symbolic and often depict religious historical events and portraits of holy people.

Traditional icons were usually created on wood blocks with egg tempera, homemade glazes, gesso, and dry pigments. These icons are traditionally painted through a process of prayer and mediation, making their creation quite unique to other paintings. In fact, icons are considered to be “written”, not painted, and when one examines a finished icon for meaning and symbolism, they are “reading” the icon.

Because icons are painted with egg tempera, they follow a very specific process for the painting. The paint is applied in thin coats to build up colors and smoothly create light and shadow on the piece.

One of the coolest parts of iconography to me is the deep symbolism used in these pieces. Everything from facial expressions to clothing colors holds a deeper meaning within. For example, blue was used to symbolize the divine while red was used to symbolize humanity. Because of this, you often see Mary and Jesus depicted wearing both. Jesus usually wears red underneath and blue as a draping over top to signify the belief that he was born as a human, but retained his divine self. Mary is usually depicted the opposite way- blue underneath and red on top. This represents her original humanity and also her divine nature as the mother of God.

Here are some examples of tradition icons:

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