Images of Theotokos

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Theotokos pictures are the artistic images that focal point on the Virgin Mary as used in the Eastern Orthodox Church or the mother of God as known via many Christians. There is a great amount of such photographs but the paper will delve deeper into three. One is the image of “Virgin and Child with Saints and Angela” placed in Monastery of CCatherine, Mount Sinai, Egypt. The second image is the “Mosaic of the Theotokos and Christ” in Hagia Sophia. Finally, the picture of “Enthroned Madonna and Child, Byzantine.” The intent of the analysis is to compare and distinction the three images highlighting their background and historic context, location, historical period, the effect of iconoclasm and relation to it and the exact part of religion from which the image is extracted.

Virgin and Child with Saints and Angela, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, Egypt

Byzantine Background

The image can be traced back to 600 CE (early Byzantine period) and the belief which Christians in Byzantine held. The ancient Greeks were fervent Christians who believed in the representational art to depict scenes from the Gospels and the Old Testament. Owing to their belief, their churches were often decorated with mosaics, which had a figurative meaning.

Location of the Theotokos

The Theotokos was located at the foot of Mount Sinai in as early as 600 CE. The artwork is currently located at St. Catherine, St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Cultural Roots, Technical Approaches, Content and Historical Context

The image is an outstanding icon representing the Virgin Mary. In the image, the virgin is supporting Jesus Christ and is surrounded by two saints. One of the saints is the St. George on the left and the bearded St. Theodore on the right. Behind the three stand two Archangels with wide-open eyes. The angles are staring at the hand of God which emit a beam of light towards the ahead of the Virgin.

According to Tsironis and Vassilaki (80), the icon was meant to present a synthesis of the hieratic nature of Christianity as a religion and the general profound meaning of theology as a doctrine. From the image, it can be seen that the hands of God symbolize the unfathomable incarnation of the Child Christ and the Gory of Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ. The open-eyes of the Archangels also point to the cultural belief of the power of God as depicted through the angels and that is shown in the image when the angels appear to behold the mystery of the incarnation.

Historically, the masterpiece can be dated back to the period of the Justinian leadership and connected to the imperial atelier of Constantinople because the image depicts the formal severity and the hieratic character of monumental art during Justinian’s era.

Stylistic Effect and Relationship of Iconoclasm on the Object

Iconoclasm in Byzantine was the period in which the authorities within the Eastern Church opposed the use of religious images (Brooks 24). Iconoclasm affected the icon since the artists had to make it portable to avoid the destruction by the authorities. For this reason, the artists used Encaustic on wood in creating the object to ensure it was light enough for portability reasons. The second commandment says that “Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shall not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them (Exod. 20:4, 5)”. This is the commandment that was used to support iconoclasm. However, the impressive work from Saint Catherine Monastery was preserved because it had faces and figures of Christ and the Virgin. The image or the icon was part of the Church as it was viewed back in 600CE.

Mosaic of the Theotokos and Christ, Hagia Sophia

Byzantine Background

The image of Mother of Christ and the Holy Child was created around 1118. The height of the mosaic is about 2.47 meters and the width is 2.76 meters. The mosaic had several evolutionary changes done on it like the addition of inscriptions over the shoulders of Christ one century later. The position of the mosaic was also key as it was placed just above the door leading directly into the nave of the sixth-century church, which, only the emperor could use. This was in the middle Byzantine Period.

Location of the Mosaic

The mosaic was located in Isidore which replaced the 4th-century church destroyed by the Nika Revolt of 532. However, the current location is Hagia Sophia which is well known to many as the Church of Holy Wisdom. The church became a mosque in 1453 as a consequence of the conquest launched by Ottomans under Sultan Mehmed II. In 1934, the mosque was officially converted into a museum by Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey.

Cultural Roots, Technical Approaches, Content and Historical Context

Historically, the Byzantines believed that the mother of Christ Mary had supernatural powers used the mosaic and that carrying her icon could be a blessing. Around 10th century when the mosaic is believed to have been coined, it was the culture of the Christians that icons like the mosaic had to be processed through the streets of the city.

The cultural belief was that the mosaic had to be moved from one church to the next in a very exotic and colorful processions spiced with unearthly chants and rich costumes. These Christians were blindfolded and believed that it was the Virgin who led them (Tsironis and Vassilaki 89).

The mosaic has an amazing technical approaches employed by the artist. In a brief description, Jesus is seen to have a round chubby face with large prominent forehead and is dressed in a chiton and himation of tissue of gold with few breaks of silver-green. The mother of God, holding Jesus, is seen wearing a nimbus of gold with an outline of sealing-wax-red with the commonly known large glass tessellae on either side of Her head (Nelson 21).

Stylistic Effect and Relationship of Iconoclasm on the Object

Iconoclasm did affect the artistic styles used in the Mosaic. Since the authorities were responsible for destroying such images which beliefs themselves held dear, the artist decided to have the original Mosaic with the image of an Emperor and an Empress. Besides, it can only be assumed that the low weight and portability of the mosaic is as a result of iconoclasm. The Theotokos can be considered to be part of a mosque.

Enthroned Madonna and Child, Byzantine

Byzantine Background

The icon was created in the middle phase of the Byzantine period specifically in the 13th century. Looking at the style and subject matter depicted in the image, it can be deduced that it part of the Byzantine artistic tradition which was credited with art production in the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, it is difficult to tell to whom the icon was produced and when it was produced because the “Enthroned Madonna and Child” were generally recognized and widely used artistic type

Location of the Theotokos

The image was originally located in Constantinople but is currently available at the National Gallery of Art found in Washington Dc under the category of digital images and paintings.

Cultural Roots, Technical Approaches, Content and Historical Context

The Theotokos contains the images of two people, the Virgin and the Christ Child. In the image, The Virgin Mary is seen seated upon an elaborate and large throne carrying the Child Christ. The Child is carrying a cruciform around his head while raising his right hand and using the left hand to hold a scroll.

The technical approach in the image was to make it as formal as possible. It is for this reason that Madonna’s body has been flattened with shading and modeling attempted only on her face. However, the background’s solid gold illuminating both Madonna and the Child makes them look both gentle and legal.

Historically, the culture of the Byzantines was that the Virgin played an intercessory role for them and guided them in the day to day life. The Theotokos captured this culture in the image in several ways. One, the large and elaborate throne in the image is a symbol of the status of the Virgin in heaven and the intercessory role played by her. The Virgin’s gesture towards the Child is a symbol that she was pointing at Jesus as the true way for Christians to believe in and follow. The cruciform in Christ’s head signifies his divine nature, and finally, his right hand symbolizes blessings while the left hand holding the scroll symbolizes the Word of God.

Stylistic Effect and Relationship of Iconoclasm on the Object

The image was created after the war on such images had begun, and therefore the paintings and the general artistic design took into consideration what would amount to idol worshipping. This can be the reason as to why the image had little paintings and remained to be legal, formal and gentle. The image can be said to belong to the church.

In conclusion, the images all belong to the Byzantines but differ in the other aspects such as location, cultural roots and historical backgrounds as discussed.

Works Cited

Brooks, Sarah. Icons and Iconoclasm in Byzantium. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.

Nelson, Robert S. Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom Modern Monument. University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Tsironis, Niki, and Maria Vassilaki. “Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium.”, 2005, pp.1- 91.

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