Icons and Iconoclasm in the 15th Century Byzantine Era

Icons of the Byzantine era cater to the simplistic thread of art, in that they are made largely of materials already available during the 15th century, such as wood, marble and precious metals. The term simplistic could also refer to the fact that they don’t really invite much scrutiny at first glance and the non-discerning viewer is more likely to simply shrug his shoulders and leave. However, icons hold more weight than they seem. In the 15th century, icons were used as symbols of the divine family and their tribulations [Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the crucifixion, etc.].

The purpose of which were to convey a story, a biblical truth, a teaching and, more spiritually, a gateway to heaven. The Virgin Eleousa (see Appendix), for instance, which was created in the early Byzantine days, depicts a serene-looking Virgin Mary with the child Jesus on her chest, as if to stress an emotion of great joy and happiness for His birth. Icons at the time were more than just visual aids. They were windows into the life and times of Christ and acted as middle grounders, or representatives, of the Divine here on earth.

Hence, people kneel in front of icons in veneration, not because they worship the object itself, but because they feel a deep sense of gratitude and awe with what it represents. People venerate the Icon with Virgin Eleousa because it brings to form the Sacred Virgin’s consummate motherhood and love for her child and for the rest of humankind. Debate has sprung that iconoclasm is some sort of idol worship. Supporters of icons reject this, again, stressing that while believers place much reverence over the earthly, man-made figures, it is the spiritual sense of the objects that is prime above all things.

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