Notes on the Theology of Icons, Part 3: Time and Space

As we saw with stylization and the use of light, icons also approach issues of space and time in a theological manner. As noted before, a failure to appreciate this theological approach cause confusion in the reader of the icon. (Icons are not "painted," they are "written." An iconographer "writes" an icon.)

Given that icons approach subjects theologically there are aspects of icons, as we have been noting, that make them less interested in "realism." The way icons approach time and space is a further example of this.

Specifically, given that icons attempt to depict the Vantage of Heaven traditional notions of physics and temporality are eshewed. Theologically understood, Heaven is outside of or transcends both time and space. Thus, icons routinely depict events from different times in the same space. A good example of this are icons of John the Baptist (see above). Specifically, John is often depicted with two heads. One on his shoulders and the other after his martyrdom. This is a good example of two different times being conflated in a single icon.

A second example of this conflation of time and space aimed at creating a View from Eternity are the Nativity icons. In this icon, a very busy one visually speaking, a variety of events that happened at different times and places are depicted in the same frame: Manger scene, shepherds in the field, and wise men. (Also, if you look closely, there are also extra-biblical events depicted. An interesting one is the Temptation of Joseph. Church tradition tells of Joseph being approached by the devil in the guise of an old shepherd. The devil tempts Joseph by asking him to question if the child of Mary is truly God's and not the offspring of some illicit encounter Mary had with another man. Look for this scene in the icon presented above. You may need to click on it to make it bigger. The scene is in the lower left corner.)

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