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2008 | 6 | 31-51

Article title

LEGACY OF BYZANTIUM (Dziedzictwo Bizancjum)

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We are witnesses to an exceptional interest in the art of East Christianity and, in particular, in the icon. In none earlier period of the European culture has painting caused such vivid and common emotions, perceived by some as the utmost embodiment of Christian mysticism, and by others as a negatively evaluated symbol of fossilized traditionalism opposed to vivifying novelty of modern art. It is accompanied by an equally extraordinary 'career' of the very term icon, not only in the scientific but also in the medial and colloquial language, with a simultaneous obliteration of the original sense of the Greek word 'eikon', meaning picture, image, in Latin - imago. Still more and more common is also the inclusion of the research on the icon painting in the scope of theology or history of the Church, perceiving the icon in categories of either laic anthropology or Orthodox bigotry, i.e., beyond the historical order of artistic transformations. Meanwhile, the separation of the two main currents of the European art, originating in the common Greek-Latin source, took place as late as the beginning of the XV century. The West started reflecting nature, whereas Byzantium continued reflecting transcendental reality, permeating Greek-Latin patterns with Christian Neo-Platonist content with the leading concept of gradualistic order of the world and God's emanation. The overcoming of the iconoclastic crisis (726-843) reinforced this Hellenic and mystic character of the Byzantine painting and the development of narrative cycles devoted to the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, clearly reflects the anthropocentric character of Byzantine art, subordinated to the Christ centric doctrine of Christianity. Gradual latinization (occidentalization ?) of the Orthodox Church art after the decline of Constantinople (1453), especially on the cultural frontiers, as e.g.: on the border of Polish and Ruthenian lands, should not be perceived in political-confessional categories, as it is the mark of a natural osmosis and, infrequently, result from individual social aspirations of people aiming at enhancing their prestige by means of endowments following the best, as they believed, alternating artistic patterns - Renaissance-Mannerist, Baroque and classicistic. Works of art created according to this trend are marked with the particular stylistic and iconographic local colour, which cannot be evaluated according to the nineteenth century criteria of esthetic canons or the conception of 'stylistic purity', but should rather be seen in a wider context of cultural transformations.







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  • Malgorzata Smorag Rozycka, Kraków (Poland), for postal address contact the journal editor


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