Maria Vassilaki

in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780199252466
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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The icon may well be one of the most important legacies of Byzantium. Icons were pervasive in Byzantine society and the most characteristic products of the Orthodox Church. The funeral portraits known as Fayyum, named after the homonymous oasis in Egypt where they were found, are considered the forerunners of icons, but they were not the only antecedents of icons. In the third century, the Romans were already producing painted panels in the form of tondos, diptychs, and triptychs. The Letter of the Three Patriarchs to the Emperor Theophilos, a text believed to have been written during iconoclasm, lists twelve miraculous icons not made by human hands (acheiropoietai). One such miraculous icon is that of the Virgin Hodegetria, the most renowned and venerated painted panel ever produced in Byzantium. The richest collections of Byzantine icons can be found in the monastery of St Catherine's at Sinai and in the monasteries of Mt Athos.

Keywords: icons; Byzantium; funeral portraits; Fayyum; painted panels; Virgin Hodegetria; monasteries; tondos; diptychs; triptychs

Article.  4155 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Middle Eastern Languages

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