Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (Constantinople, Byzantine Empire, AD 1400). Located in Britsh Museum.

Brief IdentificationEdit

The Triumph of Orthodoxy is one of many icons painted during the post iconoclasm period of the Byzantine Empire, or the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. It is believed to be painted by the Evangelist St. Luke in AD 1400, and exhibits the Annual Festival of Orthodoxy, which is
celebrated on every Sunday of lent. Christian worshipers would pray to the figures portrayed in the icons, which acted as mediators to God. The Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy can be seen today at the British Museum in London, England.

Technical EvaluationEdit

Like many iconic paintings created in 14th century Byzantium, The Icon of the Triumph of
Orthodoxy was painted on a wooden panel with egg tempura and gold leaf. Gold was acquired
from Armenia and the streams of Thrace, Greece. The Byzantium style of art in these areas
exhibits the spread of iconography as well as gold through trade. Gold was considered a symbol
of glory and was used on holy figures to represent a transcendent reality [“Icon", 3]. After
the gold was inlaid, the painting was covered with gesso and linen.

Iconic paintings of this period were generally linear; however, objects were depicted in levels to
create the perception of depth. In the Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy Virgen Mary Hodegetriaappears at the top of the painting with eleven bishops and saints below. As Icons were created for ceremonial purposes, such as processions and prayer, the images were life-like and had
emotional expressions [“Byzantine Art and Architecture”, 1].

Local Historical SignificanceEdit

In the 14th Century, the Byzantine Empire, centered around Constantinople, was slowly
falling to the Ottoman Turks. Previously the prevalent Orthodox Church had experienced a
movement, Iconoclasm (AD 730-843), where all relics and scripts containing religious figures
were banned and destroyed [Elsner 1988, 9]. John of Damascus argued against the cross as
the sole representation of God, preaching that Christ is the image of God through man. An
emergent ladder of images from God to his people was depicted in paintings of feasts, where the
most important figures appear above the lesser [Elsner 1988, 17]. The Icon of the Triumph of
Orthodoxy is perhaps the most important festival painting, as it marks the end of Iconoclasm. It
was declared that followers were part of the orthodox church as long as they were faithful to the
pope and ecumenical councils.

Member of the imperial family Empress Theodora restored the use of Icons in the Orthodox
Church in 843, and attended the feast of the triumph of the church in 1370. She appears to the
left of Virgin Mary Hodegetria in the painting next to her son Michael III (r. AD 842-67). To the
right is the Patriarch Methodios (r. AD 843-7) accompanied by three monks.

Artists at the time were very prestigious, because monks often partook in the painting of
religious icons. Although artists many times remained anonymous, it is thought that St. Luke
painted the Icon of the Triumph of Christianity as well as other icons of the Virgin Mary.

Icons were often placed on walls and floors of churches and were worshiped by all Orthodox Christians. Members of the church practiced worship over these icons by burning incense and
praying to the figures depicted.

World-Historical SignificanceEdit

When Iconoclasm began in 730 Christians in the Byzantine Empire were feeling threatened
by the rise of Islam. By banning the physical representation of religious figures, the Orthodox
Church became similar to Islamic faith, which emphasizes monotheism and refuses the depiction
of God as a physical being [Elsner 1988, 19]. The icon marks the triumph of orthodoxy as a
religion that worships God as a deity and as Jesus Christ as the church steered from Iconoclasm.

The Icons that became central to Orthodox Christianity once again resembled those of Greek Orthodox art. Both styles involved two dimensional stiff figures. The trend of painting icons during a feast represents the hierarchy of God, the saints, and his followers; depicting a
movement of art that symbolizes the religion of Orthodox Christianity as a whole [Elsner 1988,
10]. Paintings also showed social hierarchies, as priests appeared above worshipers.

The Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy is still significant today, as it marks the first celebration
of lent-something followers celebrate yearly. BBC proclaims, “The Triumph of Orthodoxy icon
is not a simple work of art. It is a symbolic proclamation of the power of images.”


Elsner, John. 1988. "IMAGE AND ICONOCLASM IN BYZANTIUM." Art History 11, no. 4: 471. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2011).

2010. "Byzantine art and architecture." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition 1-2. Academic Search

Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2011).

2010. "Icon." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition 1. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost

(accessed April 20, 2011).

BBC “A History of the World,”

The British Museum “Icon of Triumph of Orthodoxy,”

“Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy from BBC’s History of the World Series,”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art “Byzantine and Its Influence on Neighboring Peoples,”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art “Byzantine Art: An Introduction,”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art “Icons and Iconoclasm in Byzantium,”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art “Materials and techniques,”