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Interesting facts about arts: Traditions of Icon-Painting

Icon painting traditions came from Byzantine Empire (the eastern part of the Roman Empire), IV century BC.  Generally speaking, any painting of the Holy Family, the Saints or Angels usually are considered as an icon. However, icon-painting has strong traditions and some rules and not all images are deemed as icons.

For example, all colours and objects in cons symbolize something. Let’s start with colours.

Goldcolour means joy, God's grace and beauty of the world, or the God. The gold of the sun defeats demons and symbolize magnificence of the Heavens, where it’s always sunny and no night. Sometimes artists used yellow or ochre instead of gold. So, these colours mean the same as gold and symbolize power of the Angels.

Symbolizing the Emperor, the Lord’s representative on the Earth, the purple color was very popular in the Byzantine Empire. Only the Emperor could sign orders with purple ink, seat at the purple throne and wear purple boots or clothes. Also the Bible’s used to be covered with purple fabric. The Virgin Mary’s clothes are painted in purple to show that She is the Lady of the Heaven.

Red colour is the most noticeable in icon-painting as it stands for love, life, and pure energy. Red colour is also an Easter's symbol, showing the win of life. Martyrs were always painted in red clothes or surrounded by a red background.

White color is a symbol of the God’s light, purity, holiness, and simplicity. Saints usually were painted in white, as well as newborns and angels.  

Blue colors symbolize the sky, of course, which means eternity. Also, blue is a color of the Virgin Mary, who represents simultaneously the Earth and the Heavens. That is a reason why the churches built in the fame of the Virgin Mary are full of blue shades.

Green is obviously nature’s colour, which symbolize the beginning of the life. Christmas scenes are usually painted in green.

Brown belongs to earth’s colors and shows that everything on the earth is temporary. The Virgin Mary’s clothes usually has royal purple and earth brown, reminding that humans will die.

Black color in icon-painting stands for death and evil. For example, caves (a symbol of tombs) and the hellhole were painted in black. Sometimes black could stand for a secret.

Gray is the color that never being used in icon-painting as it’s a result of black (evil) and white (good) mixture, which cause contradictory interpretations.

In addition to color symbolism, there are some other features that distinguish icon-painting from other styles. One of them is reverse perspective. If normally all foreground objects are bigger and brighter, in reverse perspective they can be opposite, as well as vanishing point can be somewhere in front, rather than at the horizon line.

Also all Saints are usually painted with ignorance of a light source. So, icons usually have no cast shadow or significant shades, which make all the objects flat. Proportion can be distorted too. For example, a body can look longer or shorter than normal.

Anyway, artists should use professional paints and brushes in icon-painting. Our clients choose White Nights watercolors Roubloff squirrel or Kolinsky sable brushes.

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