The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Byzantine Art

What is a Byzantine icon?

In Greek, the word icon means, “image” and it is an important part of religious worship in the Orthodox Christian church. An icon is a sacred representation of a holy person usually a saint, Christ, or the Virgin Mary. Byzantine icons were usually painted on wooden panels, but also included ivory, mosaics, textiles, and more. Icons held powerful religious significance—some icons were even linked to miracles. Towards the end of the sixth century, a conservative group of iconoclasts (literally “image-smashers”) worried that the icons themselves were being worshipped, and icons became targets for destruction during the Iconoclastic Controversy in the eighth century.


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