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Current time:0:00Total duration:6:21

Video transcript

here we are at the British Museum we are looking at the icon of the triumph of Orthodoxy which was made in about 1450 in Istanbul not Constantinople although it was Constantinople that time yeah because we're still in the time of the Byzantine Empire when this was made and I think what always grabs me the first about looking at icons is the contrast of the colors against the gold background yes it makes the colors kind of seem that much more vibrant but also it draws your attention to the gold background itself yeah and the gold of course is is the spiritual it's the heaven it's what you're not supposed to represent because we're looking at Byzantine art we must remember that what happened was the period otherwise known as iconoclasm where there was a war fought over images and image producing became completely illegal and people went around destroying icons images Church imagery there was a good 150 years where people couldn't make art and they fought wars for it and they destroyed art because they felt that you shouldn't be representing Christ in any way because of thou shalt not worship false idols in the Bible so not that different from the Islamic idea of not representing the secular rainbow in the same way exactly and what we have in this icon is very interesting so it doesn't function simply like in the Contra ditional kind of icon where you looked at your worshipping through it you're meditating on it and having it as a channel to the figure represented on the panel this has also got some commentary about the history of icons itself and the name of this of course is the triumph of Orthodoxy and it's split into two registers so if we look at up a while quite obviously there's an an icon within an icon in the middle being held by two angels surrounded in red material so if they've been destroying images for a good long time there then here is not only an image but they're showing an image within the image so they're kind of emphasizing that it's okay now so to paint these images again and to the left hand side we've got Empress Theodora her name was written above her they're identifying who she is and on the lower register we have a whole list of figures there you've got the priests and monks and there's one the woman on the left-hand side as well and she's holding a little tiny image it looks like it's it's Christ in there I think as you can see it's got across Nimbus and that's always you know that's not just a normal halo it's got the cross in the background that's how you know that's definitely Christ so we've got lots of kind of images within images here and this is an icon made in the 1400s with a load of people and an empress from 800 so why are they looking back what are they doing I mean it seems like the emphasis really is on that tradition of image making and and putting Theodora in there makes sense because she's she look the one who was responsible for bringing back the tradition of image she restored image making she was the one that brought about the triumph of Orthodoxy yet the fact that we could voice it images again and it's interesting because the image in their icon within the icon there that the angels are holding is one of a type called the HUD Decker trio and it means basically she who shows the way and you see the way she's holding her hand and she's pointing to the her son the Christ child on her nap and look at her face she's sorrowful she's very sad and she's with her hand you see she's pointing to him and her face is jumping ahead to what she knows is going to happen next that he's going to be crucified and and it is a very common type of Virgin and Child that you see in icon painting specifically and it's very important because the original version of this they say was painted by say Luke from life from Mary so st. Luke the Evangelist of the four evangelists yes Matthew Mark Luke and John this is Luke and he's a patron saint of painters now because of this and they said that this particular icon the original one that they said that Saint Luke had painted was kept in Constantinople yeah they did lots and lots of copies of that icon and each icon you copied be exactly the same more or less but it would have take the inherent property of the original one that power that the Saint Luke had put into it so the lower register then if we're looking at the top when they're celebrating the Emperor's who brought this back on the upper register to the lower register we have this whole arrays we said before of monks and saints and the lady on the left hand side and they are all people who are martyred in the cause of trying to TEKT imagery during the iconoclastic years they've all got these kind of lovely beards except for of course our one lady on the end but but look at all their robes as well the kind of vertical alliance of all these robes kind of putting them into rank and really kind of making a unit of them like look at all of the many people who've been martyred for this important cause so the question again is then why in 1400 are they looking back to a scene from 843 that they've kind of composed because we know actually that maybe not all those martyrs would have been born at that time some of them are martyred later on but why would they do that in 1400 well let's think about what was kind of happening with the Byzantine Empire and it reduced we know used to be inherited the Roman Empire was vast and it reduced now to just basically kind of get the area we now call modern-day Turkey and of course the Islamic people have been coming across and barraging them and their faith doesn't use imagery in their bathroom these people and they've run out of wealth they've run out of money at the rising tanum and they're going around and they've even come into the courts in the west of France traveling great distances asking for support and money to help them fight these armies and they say no so so this is kind of in a way maybe trying to connect to a previous time in the Byzantine empires past where they were stronger and the Panda image saved them and with having all the help removed from them and other powers in Europe saying no not helping you we're not giving you money we're not supporting you they go back to that well we better just try the images again so they make their special image with an image of triumphant power and glory and hope that that will save them from the onslaught it doesn't really work sadly Byzantine Empire doesn't really survive I'm struck by that emphasis on the power of image making and images themselves because as art historians that's something we kind of continue to believe to this day and the power that drove people to kill each other because of the power of the image