Portrayal and significance of the Virgin Mary in Byzantine passion iconography during the eleventh and twelfth centuries
Kalodimos, Christina A.
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In the 11th and 12th centuries, following the defeat of Iconoclasm, Byzantine iconography achieved a unique level of interpretation through a new commitment to the visual translation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. By circumscribing the Lord to an image, Orthodox belief concerning the validity of the Natures in Jesus Christ was proclaimed and secured. The visualization of Jesus Christ's death upon the cross consummated the historicity of His physical passion and the fulfillment of the Scriptures. Because the passion and death of Jesus Christ was an event which effected the course of humankind's destiny, its visual representation was carefully presented and embodied the truths and convictions of the Orthodox faith. Throughout the development of Byzantine iconography, the constant presence of the Virgin at the events of the Passion is undeniable. Indeed, the earliest known representation of the Crucifixion (c. 420 A.D.) prominently depicts the Virgin as a witness, present before the Lord at the climactic conclusion of His life on earth. Yet despite her consistent visibility as an enduring component of passion iconography, the image of the Virgin underwent an iconographic and didactic development uniquely independent of the image of her son, Jesus Christ. It is significant to observe that while the image of Jesus Christ in passion iconography maintains a somewhat unchanging visual and theological representation in the Passion, the figure of the Virgin in the 11th and 12th centuries evolves dramatically, revealing the changing perceptions and growing confidence of the Orthodox Church. Passion iconography of the 11th and 12th centuries most clearly reveals the sublimity and comprehensive character of the Virgin as a component of Jesus Christ's mission on earth. As Mother of God, symbol of faith and Intercessor on behalf of humankind, her presence at the Lord's passion functions to fulfill the spiritual and emotional needs of the faithful. My paper aspires to reveal the portrayal and significance of the Virgin as a vital component of Byzantine passion iconography during the 11th and 12th centuries, and to examine the significant contributions of her representation both as symbolic witness and human participant, to the meaning and message of the Lord's self- sacrifice.