Icons: seeing in reverse perspective

I’m reading Gabriel Bunge’s The Rublev Trinity in the the hope that the nature of this icon, along with others, will help me better understand and read modern day (creational) icons.

Listen to this illumining paragraph; “Like the Church’s preaching of the word, icon painting makes use of its own principles. It consciously submits to its own rules and thus renounces much that is essential for profane painting. So, it rejects what the world considers to be the natural, or central, perspective, which issues from the standpoint of the beholder, and chooses what can be considered the unartistic reverse perspective, which forces the beholder to surrender his own standpoint, his sense of distance. Likewise, neither are shapes and objects illuminated from outside, rather they have their own source of light within themselves.” (page 18)

I find the idea of using reverse perspective to force the viewer to surrender their standpoint compelling. A huge impediment to knowing God is our stubbornly inherent propensity to think the world revolves around us. We think we are the beholders, when in fact we’re the beheld. To know God is to be known by him, to see him is to be seen. We have no idea how close he is most of the time.

Couple this perspectival corrective with the unique way light is sourced within the painting, and the viewer is left in a more humble, receptive, and submissive stance relative to the image (to the God who you’re hoping to experience through the icon).  Visually, before you even begin to contemplate its content, the painting shakes you up, shakes up what you think you know about seeing.

Without fail, all of the numinous experiences of God that I’ve had in recent years (via iconic creational texts) have happened to me. They’ve surprised me. They came out of nowhere… the light was already within the icon.  God was already hiding in behind the created thing.

Is this the way it always has to be? The Spirit blowing where it wills?  Or is there a way to build more of a reverse perspective worldview into your life? I think this is what has been happening for me over the past 10 years. Even as many a Benedictine monk has sat before Rublev’s Holy Trinity, as a contemplative discipline, often, I feel as though I’ve kind of engaged in a similar discipline, except the icons have been continually changing; a song, a film, a river, an idea, a colour, a person. Increasingly I walk through life expecting to see the light in behind things.


One thought on “Icons: seeing in reverse perspective

  1. JVS

    “A practical effect of reverse perspective is that since our vision has its greatest acuity at the focus, a visual representation which enlarges things which are not at the center will tend to even out the lack of discernment of detail, thus aiding in the envisionment of the image as a gestalt.” Wikipedia

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