what is iconoclasm and its consequences in art

o que foi o movimento iconoclastaIn this post we will see what is iconoclasm and what its consequences at the artistic level.


Cover image: ÍconByzantine icon Mother of Perpetual Help, source: Wikimedia.


what is iconoclasm and the iconoclastic movement

The use of icons was very popular in the Christian world. However, beginning in the 6th century, certain factions rose within the Christian Church condemning the use of the iconographic representations and accusing it of being idolatry. These factions, called Iconoclasts, publicly destroyed several sacred representations, arguing that only the crucifix is worthy of veneration.

So what is iconoclasm and what was the iconoclastic movement? A religious and political movement of the Byzantine Empire against the veneration of icons, started in 730 by Emperor Leo III (717-741).

Thousands of masterpieces were destroyed. Among them, were the best examples of the apogee of Byzantine art – causing also a strong obstacle on creativity and artistic representations.

Unfortunately, we don’t have many copies of mosaics, frescoes, sculptures, paintings and illustrated books dating from before this movement

Situation that was only appeased in 787 by Empress Irene, who was in favour of iconolatry. (meaning: the worship of icons., in oxforddictionaries).

Finally, and after much debate over the issue, at the Council of Nicaea in 787 AD, the use of icons and related representations was approved, as an integral part of the Christian tradition.

To better understand what is iconoclasm and  the iconoclastic movement, let us see the importance of the icons in the Christian religion.

the icons in the Christian religion

The presence of symbols is common to various societies and religions.

Derived from Judaism, in which, traditionally, iconographic representations of God are forbidden, the Christian religion brought forward the idea of materializing divinity, in continuity of the idea of the incarnation of God in the figure of Jesus Christ

The idea of creating archetypes within the religion became understood as a form of paying homage to a particular religious figure, through its materialization. This elevates its importance, unlike the previous thought that dictated that we should not veneer an object, such as a religious figure.

the Counter-Reformation

The issue of idolatry / iconoclasm will rise again only with the Counter-Reformation, the Lutherans having been those who fought with greater vehemence against the use of images, even those of Christ.

Catholics, however, maintained and even intensified the use of religious images. In a certain way, they believed that the image was a way to overcome the material and tangible world and reach the transcendent.

Text based in the online courses:

Iconography of the Saints, by Yolanda Silva and Treasurs of Architecture I, by Diana Ferreira.

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