EXAMPLES OF ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO ICONOGRAPHY #
BEFORE YOU TAKE ANOTHER LOOK #
You do not have to be an Art expert to tell, at a glance, that an Icon is radically different from other art forms. It has neither the realism of late classical Greek and Roman art, nor the mystical feeling for Lao-tzu’s “Great All,” inspiring Chinese art. It is neither concrete nor abstract, nor should such be reduced to Western versus Eastern. In fact, it would be better to understand icons as inspirations, through which all the families of the earth might be blessed. Authentic Ethiopian iconography seeks to portray the Invisible made visible. In it, the abstract ideals for which oriental artists seem to pine, confront the concrete, physical consciousness of the West, to portray the Person and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, God made flesh (Incarnate), as the Saviour of the world.
Iconographic art is strictly Christian art. Although it emerged, unselfconsciously, from Judaic roots (Exodus 25:18), adapting contemporary technology, the iconographic tradition conscientiously affirmed the Christian concepts of Creation and Redemption as a challenged to pagan Greco-Roman imagination, at several levels. Almost simultaneously, examples of it emerged from major imperial cities, as well as the lands beyond, which had accepted the Gospel of Christ, and came into its first full bloom by the sixth century.
Although it has distinctive features, Ethiopian iconography, like other ethnic strains of Orthodox Christian iconography, portrays the meeting between heaven and earth. While its subjects are recognizable as being “in” this world, yet the perspective is, consciously, not “of” this world. (John 15:19; 17:15,16; Romans 12:2; 1Corinthians 1:20, 28) Thus, what, in other genres, would be called “picture,” the “Icon” becomes a window between heaven and earth.
Essential distinctions between iconography and other forms of graphic presentation may be aptly summarized, by quoting the title of one book on the subject. That title speaks volumes: “THE IKON AS SCRIPTURE.” The sooner one begins to look at Icons (Ikons) from that perspective, the easier it is to comprehend aspects that viewers are, otherwise, apt to miss. They don’t get the picture, because no one explained to them what it is all about. (Acts 8:31)
For instance, most viewers comment that icons appear rather flat. In comparison to other traditions, iconographic techniques for representing and interpreting perceptions of depth are markedly different. The very fact that viewers are disturbed by what, at first glance, seems to be a primitive treatment of two dimensional media, indicates conditioning by conventions “of” a three dimensional world. Typically, that is why such images are dismissed as “primitive.” With just a couple of hints, in this brief article, perhaps another look, might reveal layers of complexity that would otherwise be missed. What strikes viewers as “flatness,” for example, is the product of two separate purposeful iconographic conventions. Here, we will simply list them. Icons are intentionally written or drawn with an inverse perspective, and shadows are not appropriate to major elements of the composition.