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A Comparison of the Organic Dyes Used in Icons and Textiles of the Mediterranean Area in the Byzantine and Post Byzantine Period

A Comparison of the Organic Dyes Used in Icons and Textiles of the Mediterranean Area in the Byzantine and Post Byzantine Period

By Ioannis Karapanagiotis and sister Daniilia

ICOM-CC International Conference, Icons: Approaches to Research, Conservation and Ethical issues, Athens, Greece, December 3-7, 2006. Edited by the Benaki Museum (Greece, 2006)

Introduction: The colours are the necessary tools to transform a drawing to an icon or painting. Although the message of an icon that a spectator perceives is the result of the combination of the drawing and the colours, the latter constitute an independent “entity” as they convey their own messages/meanings. Although people respond to different colours in different ways, there is usually a symbolism that it is hidden behind the use of a particular colour. In the religious Byzantine iconography the “colour language” uses its own rules of communication and symbolizes its own meanings. For example, the purple colour represents (usually) “power” while the use of a reddish hue is many times chosen to represent “divine love”. White usually stands for “purity”.

The above attempt to clarify the symbolic meanings of the colours is based on the Byzantine iconographic tradition. However, further decryption of the “colour language” requires the identification of the colouring materials used to provide the desired hues. Furthermore, the analysis of the colouring components of an icon, or more general of an art object of the cultural heritage, contributes to the optimization of the applied conservation strategies and reveals valuable historical data associated with the provenance of the art work and the relevant pigment technologies, dyeing procedures and painting techniques.

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