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Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (Byzantine), c. 1400, tempera and gold on wood, 39 cm x 31 cm (British Museum, London) Speakers: Pippa Couch and Rachel Ropeik. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user LouLou Schiavo
    What is Orthadoxy? Sorry but i`v never heard of it
    (5 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Bruce Patterson
      Not quite Frederick; Orthodoxy is the name associated with churches from the Eastern Mediterranean whose historical roots go back as far as Rome, and which remained allied with Constantinople at the time of the 'Great Schism' that split them from Rome in the 11th Century. The Orthodox converted the Russians, so the main church in Russia and elsewhere in the East is Orthodox. Orthodoxy is best seen as a third strand of Christianity, along with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

      In the context of the painting, the triumph lies in the adoption of the attitude of icon acceptance, which is seen as a major element of Orthodox belief, as is to be seen in Orthodox churches, in which icons play a major role.

      Not to be confused with Orthodox Jews...
      (18 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user caroline.hpr
    Is this considered Renaissance art? It looks more typical of medieval art (gold colors, vertical figures with unrealistic proportions and unnatural gestures, little background, etc). Is this because it is an icon?
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user caharbick
      This was happening at the same time as the Italian and northern Renaissance, but the Renaissance as we usually think of it was based in Italy at this period. It had not yet fully traveled to the east (although some Islamic caliphates were going through their own artistic awakenings). There is a reason that medieval art is often referred to as Byzantine Art--these types of semiotic images remained in vogue there for most of the Byzantine empire's history.
      (13 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user schmicker1
    It seems at the close-up of the virgin at that we again see a star on the forehead and one on the right shoulder, like the ones we see in Duccio's and Martini's works. What do they signify?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Sarah
      They signify her Eternal Virginity, both before and after she gave birth to Christ. They can be seen on her garments in nearly every icon of her. Sometimes (very rarely), Christ is also shown with these stars. This is incorrect and indicative of an iconographer who perhaps was not aware of the symbolism.
      (6 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Seraphim Winslow
    The empress who brought back the veneration of images was not Theodora, but Irina.
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Barbara
    The Christ child's right hand thumb and ring finger touch. What is the significance of this hand gesture?
    (5 votes)
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    • leafers tree style avatar for user Michel El Hachem
      Okay generally speaking the raised hand is undoubtly a blessing. But more specifically the touching finger and thumb not only spell out “C” (see below for the spelled word and its meaning ) it also attests to the Incarnation: to the joining of divine and human natures found in the body of Jesus Christ.

      The fingers (just google any blessing hand picture) usually spell out “IC XC”, abbreviation for Jesus in greek - 'Jesus' (IHCOYC) 'Christ' (XPICTOC).
      Since Christians believe that it is by the name of Jesus that they are saved and receive blessings;

      As well, the three fingers of Christ – as well as spelling out “I” and “X” – confess the Tri-unity of the Father (god) , Son (jesus) and Holy Spirit.
      (2 votes)
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user george.gallagher
    8th Century ?
    Theodora (1) the sixth Century wife of Justinian
    Theodora 9th century wife (Theophilus the iconoclast) secretly a defender of icons .
    Is there an 8th century theodora ?
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Manna Tsao
    At , the speaker says that "because they felt that you shouldn't be representing Christ in any way because of "Thou shalt not worship false idols"" but is it not because of Exodus 20:4 (which is the second commandment) that those images were banned? "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:" Thanks!
    (3 votes)
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  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user John G. Tatum
    Does this refer to the Greek Orthodox church, or the Roman Catholic orthodoxy of the pope, etc.?
    (2 votes)
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  • piceratops seed style avatar for user Mikael Fetch
    That is very detailed art it was thought out very well and I love how they get so much from just that small mosaic.
    (3 votes)
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  • leafers sapling style avatar for user ĦäɹϷϵɹ
    Is this piece of artwork on wood? Thanks in advance :)
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

(jazzy music) Female 1: Here we are at the British Museum. We are looking at the Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which was made in about 1450 in Istanbul not Constantinople, although it was Constantinople then. Female 2: At the time, yes. Female 1: Because we're still in the time of the Byzantine Empire when this was made. I think what always grabs me the first about looking at icons is the contrast of the colors against the gold background. Female 2: Yes. Female 1: It makes the colors seem that much more vibrant, but also it draws your attention to the gold background itself. Female 2: The gold, of course, is the spiritual. It's the heaven. It's what you're not supposed to represent. When you're looking Byzantine art we must remember that what happened was at the period otherwise known as Iconoclasm where there was a war fought over images. Image producing became completely illegal. People went around destroying icons, images, church imagery. There was a good 150 years where people couldn't make art. They fought wars for it and they destroyed art, because they felt that you shouldn't be representing Christ in any way because of "Thou shalt not worship false idols" in the Bible. Female 1: So not that different from the Islamic idea of not representing figural folks. Female 2: The same idea from the same book, same words, exactly. What we have in this icon is very interesting. It doesn't function simply like the traditional kind of icon where you look at it and you're worshiping through it, you're meditating on it and having it as a channel to the figure represented on the panel. This has also got some commentary about the history of icons itself. The name of this, of course, is the Triumph of Orthodoxy. It's split into two registers. If you look at the upper one, quite obviously there's an icon within an icon in the middle. It's being held by two angels surrounded in red material. Female 1: If they've been destroying images for a good long time there, then here is not only an image, but they're showing an image within the image. So they're kind of emphasizing that it's okay now to paint these images again. Female 2: To the left-hand side we've got the empress, Theodora. Her name is written above her there, identifying who she is. On the lower register we have a whole list of figures there. You've got priests and monks and there's one single woman on the left-hand side as well. Female 1: She's holding a little tiny image. It looks like it's Christ in there, I think. Female 2: Yeah, because you can see it's got the cross nimbus. That's not just a normal halo. It's got the cross in the background so that's how you know that's definitely Christ. Female 1: We've got lots of images within images here. Female 2: And this is an icon made in the 1400s with a load of people and an empress from 800. Why are they looking back? What are they doing? Female 1: Yeah, and it seems like the emphasis really is on that tradition of image making and putting Theodora in there makes sense because she's the one who was responsible for bringing back the tradition of image making. Female 2: She's restored image making. She was the one that brought back the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the fact that we could worship images again. It's interesting because the image in the icon within the icon there that the angels are holding is one of a type called the Hodegetria. It means, basically, she who shows the way. You see the way she's holding her hand and she's pointing to her son, the Christ child on her lap. Look at her face. She's sorrowful. She's very sad. With her hand, you see, she's pointing to him and her face is jumping ahead to what she knows is going to happen next, that he's going to be crucified. Female 1: It is a very common type of Virgin and Child that you see in icon paintings specifically. Female 2: And it's very important because the original version of this, they say, was painted by St. Luke from life, from Mary. Female 1: St. Luke the evangelist, of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This is Luke. Female 2: Yes, and he's the patron saint of painters now because of this. They said that this particular icon, the original one, that they said that St. Luke had painted was kept in Constantinople. They did lots and lots of copies of that icon. Each icon you copied would be exactly the same, more or less, but it would take the inherent property of the original one, that power, that St. Luke had put into it. The lower register, then, if we're looking at the top one that's celebrating the empress who brought this back on the upper register, to the lower register, we have this whole array, as we said before, of monks and saints and the lady on the left-hand side. They are all people who are martyred in the cause of trying to protect imagery during the Iconoclastic years. Female 1: They've all got these lovely beards, except for, of course, our one lady on the end. But look at all their robes as well, the vertical lines of all these robes, kind of putting them into rank and really kind of making a unit of them. Like look at all of the many people who've been martyred for this important cause. Female 2: So the question, again, then is why in 1400 are they looking back to a scene from 843 that they've kind of composed? Because we know actually that maybe not all those martyrs would have been born at that time. Some of the them were martyred later on. Why would they do that in 1400? Female 1: Well, let's think about what was happening with the Byzantine Empire at the time. Female 2: It had reduced. They inherited the Roman Empire. It was vast. It reduced now to just basically the area we now call modern-day Turkey. Of course the Islamic people had been coming across and barraging them. Their faith doesn't use imagery and they're battering these people. They've run out of wealth, They've run out of money at the Byzantine Empire. They're going around and they're even coming to the courts in the West of France, traveling great distances asking for support and money to help them fight these armies. And they say no! Female 1: This is in a way, maybe, trying to connect to a previous time in the Byzantine Empire's past where they were stronger. Female 2: And the image saved them. With having all the help removed from them and other powers in Europe saying, "No, we're not helping you, we're not giving "you money, we're not supporting you," they go back to that, "Well, we better just try the images again." They make their special image with an image of triumph for power and glory in the hope that that will save them from the onslaught. Female 1: It doesn't really work, sadly. Female 2: No. Female 1: The Byzantine Empire doesn't really survive. I'm struck by that emphasis on the power of image making and images themselves, because as art historians that's something we kind of continue to believe to this day. Female 2: And the power that drove people to kill each other because of the power of the image. (jazzy music)