8 Comments

  1. Thank you for this interesting perspective. On the subject of damage from kissing and lipstick, I often wonder how old the practice of kissing icons really is. I have heard that there are few references to the practice from centuries past.

    My own observation has been that an unprotected icon on an analogion in church can easily wear right through to the gesso in 10 years of being kissed. Damage of this kind can be seen in most any Orthodox church nowadays. However, looking at antique icons in museums, we do not observe this particular kind of damage. If these antique icons were used (kissed) for centuries, why would there not be bare spots worn through on the hands? I’ve just never seen it. So I can only conclude that, historically, icons were not kissed in the way they are today. And I don’t think this can be ascribed to lipstick being a modern invention, because it most certainly is not. It has a history older than icons.

    I might speculate that the practice of kissing icons actually co-evolved with the practice of protecting them behind glass – a practice begun in the mid-19th century when large sheets of clear plate glass became available.

    I’d be very interested if anyone can direct me to research on this topic.

  2. Interesting theory on the history of kissing icons, Andrew. Lacking literature on prior practice or prohibition, probably only data provided by conservators could verify the evidence of, and that merely to the invention of women’s lip-grease. The gesture is a natural one, as natural as kissing ones relatives, and may have a very long tradition.

  3. Thanks for the study, Mary. Can you provide us all with a link or means of contacting Elena Valentinovna King?

    1. Baker, here is contact information for Elena Valentinovna King.
      Email: elena.v.king@gmail.com
      Phone: 773-592-5739

  4. Jansci

    AG great observations perhaps one can also say that ikons have become fetishes in the modern world and that is why they are kissed , paper reproductions are rubbed on originals, they are talked to etc..
    As a monk once said to me in a Russian Church in observing the behavior described above, ” if these people were from the islands ( meaning the Caribbean ; people of color) people would be accusing them of voo-doo.

  5. Andreas Moran

    I would make two comments. First, it appears in the close-up of the icon of St Basil at the top of the article that there are points of light on the eyes such as we see in portrait painting. It is my understanding that this is incorrect because such highlights on the eyes indicate the reflection of natural light whereas in icons the aim is to represent the saint glorified by the Uncreated Light. Secondly, kissing icons was and is not done by Old Rite and Edinoverie Russians, and the practice is arguable.

    1. There is no question that icons such as this St. Basil (which are often termed ‘Italian’ or ‘Romantic’ style) are heavily influenced by western naturalistic painting. So it is not unexpected to see a more naturalistic use of light in them. It would be reasonable to argue that such influences have a regrettable affect on iconography, as they work against some of the pictorial qualities of Byzantine painting that we would consider ‘iconic’. But we must be careful about dogmatizing a style of painting, and calling such things “incorrect”. I am quite sure there is no cannon that forbids shadows and reflections in icons, and even some venerable Byzantine images exhibit an occasional shadow. (For instance, the great Deesis mosaic at H. Sophia). I tend to think it is most helpful to simply observe that there are certain pictorial techniques that support the iconicity of an image, and others that undermine it, but that there are always some contextual exceptions to any ‘rule’ one might devise.

      Your information about the Old Believer practice is very interesting. I would be interested to learn more about this.

      1. Andreas Moran

        My wife (who is a Muscovite) and I used to visit the Edinvorie community at Mikhailovskaya Sloboda south-east of Moscow. We knew well the priest there who speaks fluent English and he explained some of the Old Rite practices to us which include not kissing icons. Old Believers follow the same practice. I do not know when the practice of kissing icons was introduced but like all post-Nikonian practices, it is rejected by the Old Rite and Old Believers faithful.

        As to highlights on the eyes of saints portrayed in icons, one would have to say that we are talking here not about style but about meaning. There are many ‘icons’ perpetrated today that are obviously uncanonical in ways which are not addressed by the canons but which nevertheless flout established tradition.

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