Iconoclast vs. Iconodules

After the age of Justinian, the development of Byzantine art and architecture was disrupted by the Iconoclastic Controversy, which began with an imperial decree of 726 prohibiting religious images. The controversy raged for more than 100 years, dividing the population into two groups: the iconoclasts, who are in favor of the iconoclasm which is led by the emperor and supported mainly in the eastern provinces, insisted on a literal interpretation of the biblical ban against graven images as conducive to idolatry, the commandment “You shall not make for yourself an idol. They want to restrict religious art to abstract symbols and plant or animal forms. They also believed that the icons might have been of a Nestorian nature because according to their view, these works of art could only depict one of two nature of Jesus, either human one or divine one. If the icons portrayed the human side of Jesus, they were objects of the propagation of Nestorian Christianity opposed to Nicene Christianity.
On the other hand, the iconodules, led by the monks and centered in the Western provinces claimed that Christian religious icons were not idols for the reason that religious depictions of a different religion to Christianity were idols and Christian images, illustrated genuine persons while idols depicted unreal identities since they were representing other Gods, which where automatically unreal. Moreover, iconodules also believed that icons were legitimate because they were portraying Jesus’ flesh. They also claimed that the emperor had no right to decide this canonical matter because it was the church’s role. Finally, one of their most considerable arguments is Acheiropoieta, icons which had come into existence by the hand of God, made icons genuine.
The conflict between the two groups went on. As a consequence of this controversy, it marked the final break down between Catholicism and Orthodox faith. It had a greater impact on Byzantine religious art because they reduced the production of sacred images. Also, in terms of
Architecture, the churches of the Second Golden Age and after were modest in scale and
monastic rather than imperial or urban in spirit. Their usual plan is that of a Greek cross (a cross
with equal arm length) contained in square, with a narthex added on one side and an apse
(sometime with flanking chapels) on the other. The central feature is a dome on a square base. It
often rests on a cylindrical or octagonal drum with tall winndows, which raises it high above the
rests of the building, as in both churches of the monastery of Hosios Loukas in Greece. They also
show other characteristics of later Byzantine architecture: a tendency toward more elaborate
exteriors, and a preference for elongated proportions. The full impact of this vertically, however,
strikes us only when we enter the church (Katholikon). The tall narrow compartments produce a
sense of crowdedness, almost of compression, which is dramatically relieved as we glance
toward the luminous pool of space beneath the doom.


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