word ďiconĒ is usually used for religious paintings done with a particular
technique that, according to an acclesiastic tradition turns them to
ďsacramentalĒ that to symbols of Grace. So the icon is not only a work of
art, but a token and a religious expression of the Eastern Christian
civilization and particularly of the Christian-Orthodox Church and of the
Catholic one with Byzantine rite.
The painter of icons wasn't interested in reproducing statically the man and the nature, but in revealing the Essence that is in the people and in the things.
For the Orthodox Church the icon is as a window on the Mystery, on the Eternity; itís a meeting place. It has the function to consecrate the believerís Soul through the prayer and the sight, its placing is the Church or the best corner inside the house. So it is more than a religious image, itís true sacred art that has a well-determined place in Religion and in the private devotion; itís an effective way to know God, Godís Mother and the Saints. Itís not only an art illustrating the Holy Scriptures, itís a simple and direct expression that strikes and can show all that regards a Mystery. In painting icons, the artists must respect severe rules of behavior in order to evoid the heresy and for this reason they followed the texts approved by the Orthodox Church. Moreover they were controlled both in their studies and in their private life.
The painters of icon were monks who combined painting, penance and spiritual ascesis.
The iconographic monk, consecrated by his Bishop and blessed by his Monastery, to become a painter of icons, spent a month observing a fast and praying before beginning his work.
He didn't look for a true concept of beauty, but for the Truth that is in the icon itself.
He looked for the concept of beautiful according to the religious language that is the artistic representation of the Truth of the things. For this reason the rules of the iconographic art weren't created by the painters, but preserved and handed down by the Fathers of the Church.
To reveal this Substance that is hidden in the creation, the iconographic experts accentuated some aspects, changed the proportions, stylized some elements according to their human and cultural sensibility, but always following the original pattern.
On these paintings there arenít the artistsí signatures of the dates of execution as the images mustnít arouse human emotions but let us perceive the Supernatural Reality even to those who have no specific knowledge but have a great faith and spiritual thirst: so they have the same purpose. From about 700 to 843 (seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicea) the iconographic art had a long iconoclastic period during which the icons were confiscated and destroyed because of the wrong impossibility to porttray humanly the Divinity.
The iconographic art reached its greatest splendour in Russia during the 14th century with Andrej RublŽv, who is considered a genuis in the art.
Later, from the 18th century a process of decadence began for the iconographic art : the icon lost its religious significance and it became only an artistic object and consequently more and more sophisticated decorative forms were added.
The icons took on aspects of the baroque art, they were covered with precious metal coverings except on faces and hands, altering the meaning and losing the harmony of the image and the unity of the composition.
After the Soviet revolution numerous icons were destroyed, the other ones were considered only for their artistic value and so they lost their true nature that is contemplation and prayer.