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...This unconditional enthusiasm for the “old” style is characteristic of individuals or groups (through ignorance or out of totally "earthly" interests), but the Church has never made any decision concerning style, prescribing one or proscribing another. The canonicity of and the admissibility of a particular style are evaluated by the Church on a case-by-case basis, without any pre-established rule, by direct examination of particular icons.  And if, when it comes to the iconographic canon, the number of historical precedents is limited for each subject, in the field of style no specific limit can be established. For this reason alone, an icon that has slipped from the Greek style to the Latin style or one that has been painted in a purely Academic style may not be excluded from the ranks of icons. Similarly, the "Byzantine" style does not automatically make holy an image, any more today than in past centuries.

Let us add here, in passing, an observation that the theologians of the icon of the first Russian emigration have lost sight of. Those who know, even superficially, the history of the art of the Christian countries know that the so-called "Byzantine" style was used not only for sacred images, being the only style in existence at its time. Icon painting was indeed, for many centuries, the main sphere of artistic activity, but not the only one. Sometimes the same artists, icon painters or churches decorators, illuminated historical chronicles and scientific treatises. None of them shifted for this to a specifically secular style. In the illuminated chronicles we find battle scenes, city views, tableaux of everyday life including feasts and dances, or figures representing Gentile peoples, all treated in the same style as the sacred images of the same period, presenting the same features to which today's "theologians of the icon" attribute spiritual value and an evangelical worldview.

убийство Аскольда и Дира.
Радзивилловская летопись, 15 в.

Там же.
Убийство варягов-христиан.

Лицевой летописный свод
1540-е - 1560-е гг.

Битва на куликовом поле.
Миниатюра рукописи 17 в. "Сказание о Мамаевом побоище".

In these images we find "reverse perspective" (or rather a collection of different types of projection that give objects clearly legible contours and characteristics). There too is the famous "absence of shadow" (it would be more correct to speak of the reduction of shadows to thin, highly accentuated lines). Presented on the same plane are events very distant in time and space. There too we find what the "theologians" call dispassion: this impassivity of the figures as if petrified, unnatural gestures, the calm and expressionless rendering of faces turned towards the viewer, front-on or in three-quarter profile. Why this impassivity of the faces warriors in combat? And of jugglers busy juggling? Not to mention the "impassive" torturers or murderers whose images we find in the chronicles. For the simple reason that the medieval artist did not yet know how to represent the expression of emotions on faces. He was incapable or doing so, nor was he particularly concerned to do so. In the Middle Ages, it is what is typical, permanent, and general that is described.  But what is transient, which sets apart, and individualizes, was considered of little interest. Neither passing emotions nor subtle psychological nuances had their place in literature or in music or in painting, whether secular or sacred.

Our opponents will argue perhaps that the medieval chronicles were a noble genre, being composed and illustrated by monks, and that there is nothing surprising in the transposition of this sacred style into these texts. So let us step down one more level and remind ourselves of what is obvious to any art lover: a great historical style is never exclusively either the bearer of spirituality or profane. It is used in both in elevated subjects and in popular ones. 

Let us therefore look at Russian popular images, produced by both monastic and lay workshops, and widely disseminated from the  seventeenth century onwards, although existing long before, first as colored hand drawings, then as colored woodblock prints and finally as copper engravings. The artistic competence of their authors, both general and artistic, varied considerably.  These images were marketed throughout Russia, in city and countryside, among rich and poor, among intellectuals as much as among simple folk, whether pious or not very religious.  Some of these purchased icon subjects, edifying stories, views of monasteries or portraits of archbishops, while others preferred portraits of generals, battle scenes, depictions of parades or festivals, historical images or views of distant cities.  Others chose song lyrics or popular illustrated stories, jokes and anecdotes, even the most scabrous.

In the famous facsimile collection[1] of these popular images by Dimitri Rovinsky, there is a full volume of these images. Stylistically, this volume, intended only for adults, is absolutely similar to others that bring together "neutral" or sacred images.  The difference lies in the subjects: Khersonia, a mesmerizing woman of easy virtue, ready to provide the services expected by these gentlemen; a soldier, a girl on her knees, at the start of proceedings; an idle youth pinching the cook's buttocks. But no trace here of this terrible zhivopodobiye (resemblance to the living) of the Academic style. Pure “Byzantine”: the perspective is "reversed", shadows are absent, colors are built from local tones, space is flat and random. Projections and perspectives are mixed to suit the subject matter. The characters pose for the viewer, almost always direct on, rarely in three-quarters and almost never in full profile. Their feet barely touch the ground, their hands are frozen in theatrical gestures. Their clothes fall in rigid folds, sometimes covered with "flattened" ornaments. Finally, their faces are not only very similar, but are completely identical to the faces of the saints of another volume of the same collection. There is the same perfect, graceful oval, the same clear and calm eyes, the same archaic smile etched on with the same stroke of the burin: the artist being simply unable to render differently a depraved man and an ascetic, a female saint and a whore.

[1] Dimitri Rovinsky, Руские народные картинки, Saint-Pétersbourg, 1881.

What a pity E. Trubetskoy, L. Uspensky and all those who so widely diffuse their wisdom are three centuries behind the times: they could have explained to the artists for which images Academic zhivopodobiye was best, and shown those for which the Byzantine style was the only one possible. But too late: the masters of popular imagery, without taking their leave, have applied the single "spiritualized style" everywhere.  And they have forgotten nothing, these wretches! Even inscriptions are present in their depraved images! Mr. Trik, Khersonia, Paramochka we read in large Slavonic letters next to these very far-from-holy characters.  Explanatory inscriptions are also part of the compositions: we will avoid quote these popular, witty verses of scant propriety.  There is room also for the symbolic, this for-the-initiated only sign language: the impassive face of a lady shown to the viewer in a very impassioned attitude displays an assortment of beauty spots which, according to location, can signify a passionate call to share the pleasures of love, contemptuous refusal, or the pain of separation. There is equally a fairly well-developed symbolic color code.  The hardly theological explanations of red and black, yellow and purple relate to the needs of the ladies of easy virtue and men seeking amatory prey.  There are also symbols whose erotic meanings are so simple and direct as to need no explanation: an huge red "flower" with a black heart on the front of the skirt of a woman of easy virtue, or a saucer with two hen’s "eggs" alongside a young man preparing to fight. [1]

[1] In Russian (as also in German) there is a play on words here, “eggs” being a popular term for testicles.

Встречаются и символы попроще, понятные без объяснений в своей прямолинейной образности – например, огромный красный цветок с чёрной серединкой на юбке доступной девицы или блюдечко с парой куриных яиц у ног удалого молодца, приготовляющегося к кулачному бою...

It remains to add that in Western Europe too, there also existed, in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance as in modern times, profane images done in the "sacred" style. Obviously there again nobody bothered to explain to the artists what style was profane and what style was sacred.

As we can see, it is not so easy to distinguish the stylistic features that make the icon an icon and that distinguish sacred images from profane and even unseemly ones. If we want to build a "theology of the icon" on the basis of stylistic analysis, it is vital that we know at least the basics of the theory of Fine Arts, otherwise not only will we make ourselves ridiculous in the eyes specialists with outlandish conclusions, but we will also risk falling into heresy, because the icon is not only a work of art. All the lies peddled about the icon at the scientific level also affect the spiritual realm.

Let us be clear: any sacralization of the "Byzantine" style, or any other great historical style, is a pure invention, a falsification. Stylistic distinctions are for art historians, not theologians. The Church ignores styles, or rather it accepts them indiscriminately because any major historical style is like a stage in its life, it is the expression of its mind at a particular point in time, which can never be "fallen" or profane, even if it goes through periods of strength and weakness. Only the mind of an individual artist can be fallen.

Свт. Николай Мирликийский
Т. А. Нефф.
Мозаичная икона из Исаакиевского собора санкт-Петербурга. 1850-е гг.

Свт. Николай Мирликийский
Невьянск, начало 19 в.

This is why the Church retains the habit of subjecting each new icon to the judgment of the hierarchy. A priest or bishop recognizes and blesses an icon, or, as the guardian of the spirit of authenticity, rejects it as unworthy.

What are his criteria when so doing? What does this representative of the hierarcy examine, what does he check, in this work submitted to him? Does he assess the level of the artist's theological education?  The iconographic canon exists precisely so that artists can, without getting lost in theological meanders, devote themselves entirely to their sacred profession, knowing that all the dogmatic work on the subjects of icons has been done for them. To judge the canonicity of the icon on this level it is not necessary to be a member of the hierarchy, nor even a Christian.  Any specialist, of whatever religious affiliation, can judge the correspondence of the icon to Christian dogma, precisely because iconographic schemes exist to express this dogma and make it intelligible.

So, is it the style of the icon that is judged and evaluated by the hierarchy? We have already, based on a broad range of historical material, that this opposition between the "Byzantine and not resembling Nature" and "Academic and resembling nature", is a twentieth century invention that has never existed in the eyes of the Church. The fact that some members of the hierarchy accept only the first of these styles proves nothing, since there are a lot of senior people in the Church who accept only the second, finding the first to be vulgar, "dead and buried" and primitive. It is all a matter of the taste, habits and the cultural level of the interested parties, and has nothing to do with their correct or warped theology or state of mind. In fact the question of style in fact resolves itself automatically, by market forces or by the system of commissioning (if you commission an icon you choose an artist whose stylistic orientation you know, generally reflecting your own preferences, you select a model, etc.). We venture to express the opinion that the free competition between styles, which exists today in Russia, is very beneficial for the icon because it pushes the two schools to promote quality in the first place, to reveal their true artistic value, and to be convincing not only for their supporters, but also for the opponents of their respective styles. In this way the proximity of the "Byzantine" school forces the Academic school to be more severe, more sober, more expressive. And "Byzantine" school, living cheek-by-jowl with the Academic school, avoids degenerating into and being satisfied with second-rate craftsmanship.

So what is this element accepted or rejected by the hierarchy, to whose judgment the sacred images are subjected, since the questions of iconography have been resolved in advance and those of style are exterior to the Church?  Which criterion have we failed to mention? Why, despite all the free rein the Church gives to iconography, does it not accept every image purporting to be an icon?   It is this criterion, the most important of all, that we address in the next chapter of this book.


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24 апр, 2016 17:20 (UTC)
THE ICON: TRUTH AND FABLES - Chapter 7 - Style in icons (р. 2)
Пользователь pravoslavnoe сослался на вашу запись в своей записи «THE ICON: TRUTH AND FABLES - Chapter 7 - Style in icons (р. 2)» в контексте: [...] ;THE ICON: TRUTH AND FABLES — Chapter 7 — Style in icons (р. 2) [...]
24 апр, 2016 22:46 (UTC)
The profane images that you show bear some elements of the iconographic canon, but they lack others. For example, irony toward the subjects is evident, and they are not shown -- nor should they -- in saintly contemplative way, as the canon would insist. Was the same artist working as a woodcut print maker and iconographer? Possibly, though the technological skill is different. This does not at all disproves an existence of an iconographic canon, nor the usefulness of it.

Yes, beautiful and inspiring art can be created when stepping just the right measure off the formal canon. The Madonna with the academic shading, and Neff's St. Nicholas are effective works of sacred art despite their experimentations with realism. These examples show that the iconographic canon should not have a legal force similar to who can marry, who can take communion, etc.
25 апр, 2016 08:44 (UTC)
для альтернативно одаренных - ещё и ещё раз
В этой главе вообще нет речи об иконографическом каноне.

Только о стиле.
25 апр, 2016 15:53 (UTC)
Re: для альтернативно одаренных - ещё и ещё раз
"the artist being simply unable to render differently a depraved man and an ascetic, a female saint and a whore"

That is what's inaccurate. The "Дама Трыкъ и Панъ Трыкъ" illustration, for example, show, through gestures, postures, warts on faces, that the personages are ridiculous and depraved. When the angels are depicted blessing a kneeling saint, the gestures and postures become saintly and well rendered as such.

So the difference exists, whether you would classify it as a difference in style or in adherence to the canon.

Edited at 2016-04-25 15:54 (UTC)
26 апр, 2016 08:06 (UTC)
through gestures, postures, warts on faces
Да разумеется :-)).

Вот "the gestures and postures" - это и есть область иконографии.

А не стиля!

Вы бы ещё надписи вспомнили :-)).
26 апр, 2016 18:20 (UTC)
Re: through gestures, postures, warts on faces
Usually -- I appreciate your effort to clarify the terminology, but usually -- when people describe the Byzantine icons, they mention both elements of style in the narrow sense and atmospheric things like gestures. And certainly the inscriptions.

I've come to agreement with you that "canon" is a misleading term, better left off. But there is something more than the visible aspect altogether, whether it is style or "gestures and postures", to a good icon. This is what I have in mind.

An artist, -- Polenov, Raphael or Rouault, -- makes a painting with a Christian theme. I am not ascribing him vanity, let's say it is a sincere and pious artistic effort, and the result is good, -- not a bastard where the result is laughable. Still, that artist is fully in charge of the style, the composition and the mood. He, moreover, would hesitate to repeat works of other artists on the subject; the originality of his work will be counted by critics as an asset.

His work will go where paintings go: private collections, museums and exhibitions. They are not likely to go to a church.

Now in contrast there is an iconographer doing essentially the same thing; again we assume sincerity, piety and quality. But his piety would often have an extra dimension: he is expected to pray and fast as an element of his overall pious disposition. He is decidedly not in charge: there is a finite number of iconographic types which he either will execute directly or, in the rare case that it is a new type, will make it fall in line with existing types. Likewise the style and the mood must fall in line with the expectations of serenity and holiness. If the iconographer violates some aspect a bit, he is on his own, his work may be praised for that, but just as likely it may be rejected for originality.

The iconographic product typically goes to a church, or in private possession it is still used as icons are used: people pray in front of them and to them.

So this is a huge difference in social role of the two. Sure, an artist can create an icon undistinguishable of what an iconographer would produce; an iconographer could paint something secular, or some sacred art in free style. Yet these are distinct roles.

No, since we deprecate the notion of "canon", that social distinction still remains. Does it have a name?

Edited at 2016-04-26 18:24 (UTC)
26 апр, 2016 22:35 (UTC)
Re: through gestures, postures, warts on faces
Понятно, что "usually -- when people describe the Byzantine icons, they mention both elements of style in the narrow sense and atmospheric things like gestures. And certainly the inscriptions". За этот прискорбный факт мы должны "благодарить" парижское "богословие иконы", блокировавшее науку об иконе на сто лет вперед. Что ж теперь, застрелиться и не жить :-))?

Относительно "huge difference in social role of the two" - у меня есть готовая статья: http://mmekourdukova.livejournal.com/248937.html, выношу сюда несколько строк:

"...вплоть до самого октябрьского переворота в церковном культурном сознании России и других православных стран сохранялся нормальный, исконный, веками сложившийся и испытанный консенсус о том, что иконопись есть искусство, и притом самое главное искусство. Самое комплексное и сложное, самое богатое технически и стилистически, наиболее достойное имени творчества, наиболее глубокое по духовному, психологическому, интеллектуальному и нравственному содержанию, наиболее широкое по охвату феноменов, исследуемых через художественный образ. Требующее от художника наибольшей ответственности, наиболее влиятельное, постоянно экспонируемое, наиболее сосредоточенно созерцаемое, наиболее сильно апеллирующее к зрительскому вниманию, соучастию и единомыслию. (...)

Никому и в голову не приходило определять иконопись как не-искусство, иконописцев – как не-художников, икону – как не-художественный образ обоженного человека или вочеловечившегося Бога. Художниками назывались лица, владеющие ремеслом в рамках той или иной школы, иконописцами считались те из художников, которые – опять же в рамках любой школы, от академической до кустарно-ремесленной – избирали священный жанр. Любопытная очарованность некоторых образованных художников русским и византийским средневековьем, а иногда даже серьёзная их увлечённость стилистическими достижениями предков вполне укладывалась в рамки этого консенсуса, не рвала его, не разрушала, не отделяла агнцев (тех, кто выбрал средневековую стилистику) от козлищ (тех, кто работал в академической манере)."

Кстати, она (статья) была опубликована и на русском, и на английском.

29 апр, 2016 01:36 (UTC)
Re: through gestures, postures, warts on faces
Good article. However, aren't you forgetting another reason for the separation of sacred art from secular art? That reason is that modern art, with its emphasis on the self-expression and the perceived need to shock the viewer, is indeed separate from the entirety of art as the Christian civilization knows it.

To restore the unity of sacred art and academic, and other secular art in pursuit of beauty is possible within a generation or two of education by artists and thinkers who have faith, and is a worthy goal. To blur the line between artistic exhibitionism and real art, let alone to unify the two is not salutary.
29 апр, 2016 08:12 (UTC)
modern art
Нет, я ничего не забыла. С предисловия до заключения вся книга именно о том, что пора вместо фальшивой демаркационной линии, проведенной "богословами" Серебряного века, вернуться к различению плохой иконы от хорошей, а исходя из разумения этой базовой разницы - и к различению плохого искусства от хорошего.

Книга "Опыт введения" уже полностью посвящена этой задаче (похоронив мутные тени Успенских-Флоренских).

Водороздел между плохим и хорошим проходит не между древним и современным - если бы это было так, то это значило бы
а) что Церкви уже нет
б) что сам рассуждающий не имеет права голоса, будучи современным (modern) критиком.

Те три иконы, что Вы признали "каноничными", - это самое настоящее modern art в худшем смысле слова.

В то время как в не-сакральном искусстве последнего столетия, особенно в русском, есть и было много хорошего, истинно христианского. Иначе как бы произошла быстрая и успешная конверсия светских художников 50-х, а затем и 60-х годов рождения - в иконописцев?

29 апр, 2016 15:52 (UTC)
Re: modern art
The issue was that of three bad (poorly, even ridiculously written) icons, all three with elements of Byzantine style, I considered two formally "canonical".

But all three showed an attempt to adhere to something higher than the purported iconographer's self.

Modern exhibitionist art, in contrast, considers such attempt in itself anti-art. That's the dividing line: not the époque per se, but the insistence on self-expression. An iconographer submits himself to historical continuity and theological accuracy. An academician submits himself to anatomical accuracy. But a modern exhibitionist artist is only interested in self-expression, the more shocking the better.

Of course, there is much good in the art of our time and you are right that conversions into iconography can happen, for some artists - should happen, and it is a good thing.

Further, there is much good in modern exhibitionist art. For example, Dali or Picasso, with their focus on novelty and self-expression, have merits within their paradigm of art.
29 апр, 2016 18:27 (UTC)
with elements of Byzantine style
Эти три (пусть здесь будет ссылка для удобства читающих http://mmekourdukova.livejournal.com/468642.html?thread=22249890#t22249890 ) соответствуют только пунктам из Вашего списка, не более того.

Я и показала их Вам для того, чтобы намекнуть, что список некорректен по отношению к исторической правде (хотя вполне может соответствовать той или иной опубликованной "духовной" жвачке того или иного гуру).

Ни к одному из стилей, присущих художникам времен Вмзантийской империи, эти три испакощенные дощечки отношения не имеют никакого.
Не только я, но и кто угодно сразу опознает их как современный продукт. Самое настоящее modern exhibitionist art, гораздо отвратительней всех Шагалов или Дали.
29 апр, 2016 19:09 (UTC)
Re: with elements of Byzantine style
They formally, often imperfectly, matched the list "from one or another guru". They are, indeed, obviously a modern dabbling in iconography.

My point however, is not what's more "disgusting" but the attitude of the creator. A bad iconographer may produce bad icons, even to the point of ridicule, but he does so with the intention of reproducing a style (or, at least in his mind, some "canon"). A good artist in the tradition of anti-traditionalism and self-expression may produce something amusing or thought provoking, but he still does it in the spirit of vanity.

It is the distinction in the attitude of the creator: Piety vs. Vanity, regardless of the success of the intentions, that I don't want to get lost. This distinction reminds us of the "tyranny of relativism", as Pope Benedict called it, that is characteristic of modernity.

Yes, there were vain artists in the past; yes, there are pious artists today; yes both groups can produce bad results per their intentions, or good.

1 май, 2016 20:02 (UTC)
The Icon - Truth and Fables
Пользователь ursusanglicanus сослался на вашу запись в своей записи «The Icon - Truth and Fables » в контексте: [...] Chapter 7 - Style in icons (part 2): http://mmekourdukova.livejournal.com/469603.html [...]
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