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Symbols of Cosmic Descent in Byzantine Imagery

A lecture by Dr Richard Temple of the Temple Gallery.

The contemplative or Hesychast tradition of the early Christian monasteries, drawing on universal traditions of knowledge including Gnostic and Neo-Platonist spirituality, encouraged practices that could lead to mystical insight. The ‘revival’ of Hesychasm in the 14th century coincides with the development in icon painting in the period known as the Paleologan Renaissance. A distinctive new style and mannerisms have established that set the tone for the next three hundred years, echoes of which can still be found in some 19th-century Russian icons.

Academic art historians and academic theologians have mostly overlooked the significance of this innermost or mystical aspect of Christianity though it can be found in the writings of the Desert Fathers and the Athonite Fathers as well as in the symbolism of the abstract forms and expressions in icon painting.

Icons are cosmic diagrams referring us to the laws that govern Creation – the Macrocosm – which are the same laws that govern the Microcosm – ourselves.

Organised by the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts

Made possible with the support of the A.G. Leventis Foundation and the Hellenic Centre.