- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Penn State University Press; 1 edition (October 11, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0271035838
- ISBN-13: 978-0271035833
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.9 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,442,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium 1st Edition
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“The Sensual Icon is a major new contribution to Byzantine art history and will be an important turning point in our understanding of the aesthetics and reception of the icon in Byzantium.”
—Henry Maguire, The Johns Hopkins University
“The Sensual Icon is a dazzling book, rich in content, brilliant in argumentation, and impressively original. Tracing cross-currents of production, perception, and thinking about the sacred icon within a firm historical context, it proposes a radical reconceptualization of the major form of Byzantine artistic expression.
“A work of flawless scholarship and spirited imagination, The Sensual Icon animates a remarkable artistic legacy and the historical and theological forces that engendered it. Like Hans Belting’s Likeness and Presence, it is destined to guide a whole generation’s view of medieval art.”
—Herbert L. Kessler, The Johns Hopkins University
“In this, far and away the most ambitious new account of the Byzantine icon, Pentcheva explores the powers and limits of visualization. A book sure to have resonance way beyond its field.”
—Joseph Koerner, Harvard University
“Bissera Pentcheva’s book represents a new departure in Byzantine studies; it focuses on relief icons rather than painted icons. The author introduces a long-needed phenomenological approach by studying the conditions of the icons’ perceptual experience. The Sensual Icon needs and deserves a discussion of its attempt to link icon aesthetics and icon politics.”
“Bissera Pentcheva's stimulating The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium . . . functions on the cutting edge of art historical method, drawing not only on recent trends in the study of visual and material culture but also [on] anthropology and film theory. . . . This is a volume that will transform the discipline of medieval art.”
—Rebecca W. Corrie, Studies in Iconography
“Pentcheva’s preferred direction is away from ‘lifelikeness’ towards the ‘living icon’, an image that ‘was literally ‘in-spirited’ (empsychos, empnous, from pneo and pneuma, ‘to breathe and breath’), receiving human breath and responding with a spectacle of shimmer and glimmer’ (p. 122). Her works trace the philosophical and sensual emergence of the living image, the eikon, no longer understood as the flat painted panel of the sixth to ninth centuries, nor only as the metal bas-relief icon that dominated in eleventh-century Constantinople, but rather as the ideas that shaped both.”
—Paul Stephenson, Oxford Art Journal
From the Inside Flap
Today we take the word "icon" to mean "a sign," or we equate it with portraits of Christ and the saints. In The Sensual Icon, Bissera Pentcheva demonstrates how icons originally manifested the presence of the Holy Spirit in matter. Christ was the ideal icon, emerging through the Incarnation; so, too, were the bodies of the stylites (column-saints) penetrated by the divine pneuma (breath or spirit), or the Eucharist, or the Justinianic space of Hagia Sophia filled with the reverberations of chants and the smoke of incense. Iconoclasm (726 843) challenged these Spirit-centered definitions of the icon, eventually restricting the word to mean only the lifeless imprint (typos) of Christ's visual characteristics on matter.
By the tenth century, mixed-media relief icons in gold, repouss, enamel, and filigree offered a new paradigm. The sun's rays or flickering candlelight, stirred by drafts of air and human breath, animated the rich surfaces of these objects; changing shadows endowed their eyes with life. The Byzantines called this spectacle of polymorphous appearance poikilia, that is, presence effects sensually experienced. These icons enabled viewers in Constantinople to detect animation in phenomenal changes rather than in pictorial or sculptural naturalism. "Liveliness," as the goal of the Byzantine mixed-media relief icon, thus challenges the Renaissance ideal of "lifelikeness," which dominated the Western artistic tradition before the arrival of the modern. Through a close examination of works of art and primary texts and language associated with these objects, and through her new photographs and film capturing their changing appearances, Pentcheva uncovers the icons' power to transform the viewer from observer to participant, communing with the divine.
Top customer reviews
An opening premise of the book is that our knowledge of early Byzantine icons is limited - our first-hand experience is restricted to the few that exist - most notably those at St. Catherine's monastery in Mt. Sinai. Were there more types, more variations, more formats and materials used in icons back then? Such as carvings, mosaics, wood panels with encaustic or tempera, brass cast icons, etc? Materials of ivory, copper, bronze, silver, gold, jewels? The author says yes, all these were choices but for various reasons most have perished.
Pencheva then suggests that the pinnacle of the icon's expression was reached with the 3-dimensional (relief) icon, generously decorated or embellished with precious metals and jewels (luxury), housed in a worshipful environment of flickering candles, incense, chanting, etc. (performative). To illustrate her point, the book focuses on a luxury relief icon of St. Michael the Archangel and shows its performative (coming alive) nature through multiple photos and text explanation.
The value of the icon in devotional worship is not just that it functions as visual words or "Logos" via painted brush strokes of images on wood, it's actually much much more. But it doesn't happen with an icon within a glass case, or under bright lights.
In the right context, through tactile, visual, auditory, etc. interaction between the worshiper and the icon, we begin to see how "the Word became flesh"; we can experience a tangible, earthly visitation of the Spirit of God
A fascinating book and well worth reading if you have any interest in the spiritual power of icons. It helps to have a dictionary close at hand, and if you read Greek, so much the better (but not required).
A website gives a brief video introduction to her concept of a performative image but it cannot replace an actual experience with an icon.