The Reverse of the Orthodox Icon: an Aspect of Holy Images at once Obvious and Hidden
This text is the outcome of a research made by the author during his stay in Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in October–December 2012 and is based on the public lecture held by him in the same institution. Texts of other scholars are taken as a starting point to view the role, function and typology of the images, signs and inscriptions on the reverse of the Eastern Orthodox icons. The author attempts at a more convincing differentiation between the icons with equal by its quality bilateral painting and the icons with only decorative elements on the back. The first have been used in the service while the latter were designed to hang on the wall. Therefore the messages on their invisible side have addressees limited in numbers and with obscure training. In this light the thesis of the main apotropaic function of such inaccessible decoration is criticized with the argument of lacking of mechanism for attracting and neutralizing the evil. Actually, for any Orthodox Christian the image of holiness probably has no “face” and “back”. All these considerations however remain in the sphere of the interpretative hypotheses because there are no sources about the theological treatment of the case or instructions in the painters’ guides, nor are there evidences about the recipients’ behavior in front of this aspect of the icon.