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Book Title: Иконостас|
The author of the book: Pavel Florensky
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 5.43 MB
Edition: Издательство Аст
Date of issue: January 21st 2003
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Reader ratings: 6.1
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What an intensely interesting little book! An intersection of art, history, theology, and metaphysics centered on the icon and its significance to the Orthodox Church.
The author himself is just as fascinating as the book; Fr. Florensky was a Russian priest living in the turbulent years just prior to the Bolshevik revolution. When the old Russia collapsed, he was able to survive for a time because he was also a physicist and scientist. Florensky was a rare sight in the early days of the USSR--he would give lectures and conduct research for the state while wearing his clerical robes. It didn't last, unfortunately, and he was finally purged in 1937 after spending several years in a labor camp.
Florensky wrote this book in 1922. It's short at only about 165 pages, but dense. I found myself re-reading many passages while trying to work out Florensky's train of thought, often mystical and esoteric. Having some basic knowledge of Orthodox theology is a plus as preparation (not that I am any expert).
I once saw a documentary in which an Orthodox priest, speaking of the collection stored at Mt. Athos, said that icons are "not art." I only vaguely understood what he meant at the time in the sense that icons are venerated by the Orthodox. Florensky fleshes the concept out by explaining the spiritual theory behind icons, how they are created, and what they symbolize in the Orthodox mind. The result is something very foreign to western minds, especially if you grew up in a protestant tradition.
He begins with a meditation on dreams. In dreams, time and space are blurred--events happen out of order, the fantastic merges with the realistic, etc. Perhaps most intriguingly, dreams and the waking world intersect. An event that wakes you up often manifests within the dream as something the dream events were leading to--such as a bell you are looking for becoming your alarm clock once you find it!
In the same way that reality and dreams cross, Florensky argues that icons are an intersection between the reality we live in and the spiritual realm. Icons are "windows" into the true nature of the saints they portray. He borrows heavily from classical Greek philosophy (and admits to doing so) when describing this "countenance" or "appearance" aspect of the icon, a kind of parallel to Plato's Image.
Everything about the icon, he continues, is part of this metaphysical purpose. This is where it can become hard to track with him. Florensky starts diving into concepts that would be better understood by an art history major specializing in Renaissance era painting, as well as Orthodox theology. He continually returns to the role of light in art, juxtaposing its use in western art and in icons. His conclusion is that while western art often masterfully depicts light playing on objects, icons _themselves_ are light-giving. Not in the sense that they glow or anything, of course, but in that they are a truer representation of reality; he goes so far as to say that "the icon is executed upon light." As an example he notes the frequent use of gold (assyst) in icons, often in places no western artist would use, such as for the sky. By departing from realism, the icon strives toward making the invisible world manifest, the "real" reality. Gold is not a color here, but a tone--its use allows the iconographer to break free of simple duplication and into the "supersensuous."
These are only a few of the tantalizing ideas presented in the book. There are plenty of others I won't have time to get into--such as his comparison of Egyptian sarcophagus masks with icons (and how they are more closely related than icons and western religious art) as well as his use of the term "time-space" to describe the "ascetic exercise of authentic self-organization." I have no idea what he meant by that, but since he was a physicist I really wish I could have asked him. I'll have to settle for endlessly pondering it by myself.
I have been engrossed by all things Orthodox and Byzantine lately, icons in particular. While I don't share Florensky's religious beliefs, this book is a great way to better understand just how important icons are to the Orthodox: "what the words of the sermon are for the ear, so the icons are for the eye."
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Read information about the authorPavel Alexandrovich Florensky was a Russian Orthodox theologian, priest, philosopher, mathematician, physicist, electrical engineer, inventor and Neomartyr.
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