Orthodox Icons: A History

The word icon stems from the Greek word Eikona meaning devotional image or figure. Iconography is an integral aspect of Orthodox and Catholic religion and was popularized in Medieval Europe during a time when religion and state ruled together and had much influence over people’s lives. The purpose of icons was to instruct and influence the beholders, who varied from the wealthy and noble to the illiterate working class. Decoration was as important as the icon itself, and was used to convey the meaning, importance and symbolism of an icon. Icons were often lusciously decorated with a gold leaf, which although expensive, was integral to conveying the divine radiance of the figure.

In May this year we will offer The Michael Edgely Collection of Russian Icons. Within the collection are fine examples of iconography, including gold leaf, oklad adorned and hagiographic icons. Illustrated above we see the depiction of St George slaying the dragon. The dragon is a symbol of evil, being conquered by St. George with a halo presiding above and a single hand, signifying the blessing of God. The myth and image were created to instil hope in the beholder, to retain the persistence of faith and as a reminder of God’s miracles.

CHIARA CURCIO / Head of Decorative Arts