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Last updated:

March 28, 2023


Unlimited Duration


This course includes:

Unlimited Duration

Badge on Completion

Certificate of completion

Unlimited Duration


This course provides a quick overview of the Byzantine icon; its function, the spaces it occupies, and the subjects it depicts. The course spans two weeks.

In Week 1, you will explore what an icon is, its function and importance within the Byzantine culture, and Christian Orthodox religion. This course doesn't require extensive prior knowledge of Christianity, though you will need to study the context within which the Byzantine icon was developed and the purpose it served (and still serves). As such, the Bible is a vital source for understanding the subjects depicted on Byzantine icons. Once you're familiar with the concept of the Byzantine icon, in Week 2 you will learn how to ‘read’ an icon. Since the subjects depicted on icons rely on the narrative of the Bible, in Week 2 you will be taught some basic skills on how to approach and identify the subject matter of an icon.

This course is a short journey into the rich world of Byzantine artistic production via its most illustrious representative – the icon

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • understand what an icon is
  • describe the origins and the concept of the Byzantine icon
  • outline the functions of the Byzantine icon
  • acknowledge the artistic contribution of the Byzantine icon in the development of art history
  • develop basic skills on how to 'read' an icon.

Course Curriculum

    • Introduction: the geography of the icon Unlimited
    • Learning outcomes Unlimited
    • What is an icon? Unlimited
    • Iconoclasm and the triumph of the icon Unlimited
    • After iconoclasm Unlimited
    • Virgin and Child Unlimited
    • The Virgin Hodegetria Unlimited
    • The functions of an icon Unlimited
    • Sacred I: The Byzantine Church Unlimited
    • Sacred II: Icons in church, liturgy and worship Unlimited
    • First zone Unlimited
    • Second zone Unlimited
    • Third zone Unlimited
    • Secular I: Icon in public and private spaces Unlimited
    • Secular II: Icons in the market Unlimited
    • Madre della Consolazione Unlimited
    • The place of the icon in the development of art history Unlimited
    • From Giorgio Vasari to Sir Steven Runciman Unlimited
    • Icon and modern art Unlimited
    • Summary of Week 1 Unlimited
    • Introduction Unlimited
    • ‘Reading’ an icon: Byzantine iconography and Gospel narrative Unlimited
    • The Betrayal Unlimited
    • The Nativity of Christ Unlimited
    • The Washing of the Feet Unlimited
    • Identify the iconography Unlimited
    • Summary of Week 2 Unlimited

About the instructor

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Open University UK