Christian Iconography

932 words | 4 page(s)

Christian iconography and art return to the principles of naturalism and even supernaturalism during the early and late medieval periods. This trend can be seen vividly via such valuable Christian artworks as Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well from the Vienna Genesis and a painting Ecce Homo by Agostino Carracci. These works present how a more symbolic approach to the most important Christian images called supernaturalism has been transformed to the detailed naturalism.

Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well was made in the early VI century using tempera, gold, and silver on purple vellum. It is an illustration at the front of the Vienna Genesis by an unknown artist. It is believed that the artist had to work in Syria or in Constantinople. Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well as a part of the Vienna Genesis can be considered the oldest illustrated part of the book surviving till today. The book the Vienna Genesis is a fragment of a Greek copy of the Book of Genesis (Woldman “Introduction to Christian Art”). Despite being an artwork of the VI century, the illustration is detailed, realistic, and full of veracity. Realistic detailing was one of the key features of the ancient art, therefore, this feature was adopted by Christian iconography as well.

puzzles puzzles
Your 20% discount here.

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
"Christian Iconography".

Order Now
Promocode: custom20

As the early Christian work, Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well can be referred to supernaturalism that states everything is a manifestation of divine agency, including any human event, religious activities and revelation, and the overall development of the world. The scene depicted in the folio is deeply symbolic because it illustrates how Rebecca assists Isaac, and that means that the Lord ensures Isaac, a son of Eliezer for a marriage. The scene means the divine intervention into the life of His people, especially those who respect Him most. Isaac and his father Eliezer are those people God loves and protects, therefore, He provides Isaac with a good and faithful wife Rebecca.

The folio presents a classic biblical scene from the Old Testament that was of the great importance for all the Christians. The artist who depicted this scene and made it a part of the Vienna Genesis did not care about realistic details of the images. The figures of both Rebecca and Isaac lack naturalism, realistic proportions because they were the symbols of the divine power and intervention more than physical beings. The scene lacks natural linear perspective since there is no separation between the first plan and the background. All the figures are similar in size, and the artist does not make them differ as human individuals. The true sense of the work is spiritual insight, biblical content, and symbolism.

Transition to naturalism can be seen vividly in Christian iconography of the late Medieval period. The work Ecce Homo by Agostino Carracci is oil on copper and dated nearly XV century. The painting makes apparent that in the late Middle Ages, the image of Jesus Christ was the most important in Christian iconography. There are various ways and approaches to Christ’s image among medieval artists, however, representation of Jesus in the human form is the most popular. In Ecce Homo by the Italian artist Carracci, Jesus is depicted as a Christian who lives in Mesopotamian area but with the divine aura. Such an image is based on the Syriac School’s approach, and Christian iconography still uses it till today.

On the one hand, the painting is still deeply symbolic and depicts a biblical scene of Jesus’ sufferings before the crucifixion. Christ has a tragic look in his crown of thorns and he feels pain because drops of blood can be seen on his forehead. Naturalism illustrates that the image of Christ in Carracci’s Ecce Homo is realistic, human-like, and detailed. The Italian master Carracci illustrates a classic approach of the late Medieval art that tends to depict biblical images as the real people. Jesus has a body similar to an ordinary man with bones, muscles, and tendons depicted. Proportions, light and shadow, detailed approach to clothing are the features of naturalism in the painting by Carracci.

These features make Jesus look like a Mesopotamian man with long hair and beard, and only a specific divine aura and crown of thorns make him the Son of God. Two other men behind Christ are depicted even with more details in relation to their faces, postures, and clothes. Because of naturalism, the work Ecce Homo by Carracci looks far more anthropocentric, detailed, and emotionally tense than any other work from the early medieval period including Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well. Naturalistic approach makes Christian iconography closer to the adepts because it depicts feelings everyone can perceive and understand. While supernaturalism fixes the most important images and events of the Christian religion, naturalism makes Christianity close and clear to people.

Christian iconography of the early and late medieval periods are fundamentally different in their approaches to the most important Christian symbols and images. While in early Middle Ages, the artists referred to supernaturalism with its focus on symbolic insights and the divine content of human life, artists of the late Middle Ages strive to depict human passions, tragedies, and religious images as real-life objects. Supernaturalism does not rely on details, while naturalism depicts the religious scenes in a detailed and vivid manner. Two prominent works of Christian iconography, Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well by the unknown artist and Ecce Homo by Agostino Carracci, present sharply diverse approaches to imagery, symbolism, and details.

  • Woldman. “Introduction to Christian Art.” Web. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/early-europe-and-colonial-americas/medieval-europe-islamic-world/a/vienna-genesis

puzzles puzzles
Attract Only the Top Grades

Have a team of vetted experts take you to the top, with professionally written papers in every area of study.

Order Now