Saturday, 16 February 2008

Julius de Basil and his icons

After all that depressing stuff I wrote about websites, let's have a nice picture of an icon. Nowadays we use the word most often in one of its two modern meanings. The OED says:

1a. An image, figure, or representation; a portrait; a picture or illustration in a book
1b. An image in the solid; a monumental figure; a statue.
1c. Computing A small symbolic picture of a physical object on a VDU screen.
2. Eastern Church A representation of some sacred personage, in painting, bas-relief, or mosaic, itself regarded as sacred, and honoured with a relative worship or adoration.
3a. Rhetoric A simile. (Obsolete)
3b. Philosophy A sign which represents its object by virtue of having some character in common with the object.
4. A realistic representation or description in writing. (Now rare or obsolete.)

Oddly, the other modern meaning apart from 1c appears in the OED as a draft addition from 2001, though it was recorded in print fifty years earlier:
A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol, esp. of a culture or movement; a person, institution, etc., considered worthy of admiration or respect. (e.g. "Hollywood's female gay icons Jodie Foster, Susan Sarandon and Jamie Lee Curtis").

But never mind about those, or about the bits of art that clutter up our screens. Meaning 2 has the best images, and here's one from the 6th century: the oldest icon of Christ Pantocrator (encaustic on panel, ca 6th century:Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai). My friend Julius de Basil, a bit of an icon himself, is dotty about the things, and has some nice ones among the family anecdotes in his blog.

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