Florensky on Gold

March 19th, 2008

Three more icons (see previous post), and Florensky (again, from Iconostasis) on the use of gold-leaf in iconpainting.

Vernicle icon

The Holy Face (The Vernicle) icon, 16th century.

“The whole of iconpainting seeks to prove — with an ultimate persuasiveness — that the gold and the paint are wholly incommensurable. The happiest icon attains this, for in its gold we can discern not the slightest dullness or darkness or materiality. The gold is pure, ‘admixtureless’ light, a light impossible to put on the same plane with paint — for paint, as we plainly see, reflects the light: thus, the paint and the gold, visually apprehended, belong to wholly different sphere of existence. Gold is therefore not a color but a tone” (p123).

“Depicting this unmingling mingling is the representation of the invisible dimension of the visible, the invisible understood now in the highest and ultimate meaning of the word as the divine energy that penetrates into the visible so that we can see it” (p127).

Archangel Michael icon

Archangel Michael icon, 14th century.

“In the iconpainting process, the golden color of superqualitative existence first surrounds the areas that will become the figures, manifesting them as possibilities to be transfigured so that the abstract non-existents become concrete non-existents; i.e., through the gold, the figures become potentialities. These potentialities are no longer abstract, but they do not yet have distinct qualities, although each of them is a possibility of not any but of some concrete quality. The non-existent has become the potential. Technically speaking, the operation is one of filling in with color the spaces defined by the golden contours so that the abstract white silhouette becomes the concrete colorful silhouette of the figure — more precisely, it begins to become the concrete colorful silhouette of the figure. For at this point, the space does not yet posses true color; rather, it is only not a darkness, not wholly a darkness, having now the first gleam of light, the first shimmer of existence out from the dark nothingness. This is the first manifestation of the quality, color, a little bit illumined by light… Reality is revealed by the degrees of the manifestation of existence” (p138).

St. John the Baptist icon

St. John the Baptist icon, 15th century.

“I call your attention to this remarkable sentence: the icon is executed upon light — a sentence perfectly expressing the whole ontology of iconpainting. When it corresponds most closely to iconic tradition, light shines golden, i.e., it is pure light and not color. In other words, every iconic image appears always in a sea of golden grace, ceaselessly awash in the waves of divine light. In the heart of this light ‘we live, and move, and have our being’; it is the space of true reality. Thus, we can comprehend why golden light is the icon’s true measure: any color would drag the icon to earth and weaken its whole vision” (p136-7).

2 Responses to “Florensky on Gold”

  1. Greg Pass Says:

    Note that for illustration purposes I have moved two of the icons from the last post to this post, replacing them with two new icons.

  2. Dr. Mistero Says:

    Solum Principium Aurificandi Aurum
    The only Principle to make Gold is Gold


    Anthony MIstero

Leave a Comment