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» Iconofile Forum   » Art and Theology   » The Forerunner with Wings? (Page 3)

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Author Topic: The Forerunner with Wings?
Jill
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quote:
Originally posted by daniel:
Thanks, Jill. That was a pretty good reply. One of the difficulties I have found is that so many of these images occur among the Orthodox, and there is no agreement nor generally an authoritative source. I got this image from a Russian Orthodox icon, so thought it was okay. I know, the Russians also frequently paint God the Father as an old man, and that is one of the relatively few prohibitions that it is hard to argue with (it was stated by an Ecumenical Council). There is a real lack of clarity, even among the Orthodox, so it isn't hard to see why the rest of us get confused.

Daniel, having some historical sense as well as knowledge of Orthodox praxis will show you that the 16th-18th centuries in the Orthodox world in general, for a multititude of reasons, find that it was a period of influx of all sorts of artistic and theological ideas into Greece, Russia, and elsewhere. Some of this was beneficial to Orthodoxy, a great deal of it was inimicable to it. The difficulties of geographic separation and less than adequate education among some clergy and laity, to name but two reasons, led to the creation and perpetuation of many of the uncanonical or dubious images with which we are now familiar.

Many of these images were produced with honest, pious intent, but their existence and perpetuation during this period shows that the knowledge of the Ecumenical Councils, liturgical and patristic references, were not as well-known as they perhaps "should" be.

These days, particularly in this internet age, where entire liturgical libraries and large collections of saint's lives are available free online, it is much easier for a practicing iconographer to have the chance to learn enough to minimise making iconographic mistakes. Of course, it is still necessary for an iconographer to be an active participant in the life of the Church, where so, so many of the subtleties which will add to one's knowledge and experience will be absorbed. Otherwise, painting icons could be little more than a "paint-by-numbers" exercise.

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John_Curran
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Jill, your reply was excellent, and it seems like I was on the right track!
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daniel
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Oh, and I am happy to see the forum coming back alive after its long sleep; I missed our spirited conversations.

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daniel

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daniel
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Thanks, Jill. That was a pretty good reply. One of the difficulties I have found is that so many of these images occur among the Orthodox, and there is no agreement nor generally an authoritative source. I got this image from a Russian Orthodox icon, so thought it was okay. I know, the Russians also frequently paint God the Father as an old man, and that is one of the relatively few prohibitions that it is hard to argue with (it was stated by an Ecumenical Council). There is a real lack of clarity, even among the Orthodox, so it isn't hard to see why the rest of us get confused.

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daniel

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Jill
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Putting wings on St John the Baptist is a reflection of the title Angel (Messenger) of the Desert, and such images indeed first appeared several centuries ago. However, St John was entirely human, "born of woman" as Christ Himself said, therefore he should be portrayed as a human being, sans wings.

quote:
It cannot be because John historically did not have wings; after all Mary did not have little stars on her robes, and Christ never held a bound book. I could multiply the instances of symbolic language in icons infinitum.

A basic principle of iconography, Daniel, is to show the subject in his sanctified, perfected, but still human nature. Christ Himself, the perfect, divine man, God revealed to us, is shown thus, is He not? And it is the very reason for the prohibition of symbolic or metaphysical images of Christ such as the Lamb of God, Holy Wisdom, Angel of Blessed Silence, etc.

If it were permissible to show St John with wings, then just about all monastic saints, these "earthly angels", as well as the OT prophets, who were also holy messengers, could also be shown winged. Yet this has never happened, and neither should it happen. A winged Baptist is an honest and pious mistake, but it is still an error.

Regarding symbols, they do have their place, but the life and history of the Church shows that certain symbols indeed do have a place, in some cases, an essential one (such as the Mother of God's insignia I referred to on another thread). But these symbols do not take the place of the primary subject, nor can they be contrary to the inherently incarnational nature of icons.

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John_Curran
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Having had time to give this a bit more thought, John the Forerunner was a messenger ... so the wings might have been considered appropriate by some (for right or wrong) for that reason.
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John_Curran
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May I hazard a guess that the reason is that the wings are symbolic of angels, and John is human and is not an angel?
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daniel
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Tom mentioned, in passing on another thread, that the image of St John the Forerunner with wings was not proper. I had done this icon some years ago, copied from a Russian prototype, and had never heard any objection to it. What are the reasons that this is not proper?
It cannot be because John historically did not have wings; after all Mary did not have little stars on her robes, and Christ never held a bound book. I could multiply the instances of symbolic language in icons infinitum.
So why not wings for the Angel of the Desert?

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daniel

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