The Holy Theotokos (Mary) remains central or in a prominent place even when patrons, saints, and other figures are added to the scene. Her dress has changed from blue to red over the centuries and this is due to theological victories within the Orthodox church. You will still find the Theotokos robed in blue as it depends on the Orthodox promoter.
I think it is important to ask why Mary is placed in the center. According to one source:
"Between the two angels stands Mary the Mother of God, hands raised in prayer, not staring up, but peacefully toward us. Already overshadowed by the Holy Spirit since Christ’s conception, Mary appears to understand the deep mysteries of her Son’s birth, death, resurrection and ascension, already hoping on Christ’s return."
Orthodox icons, including contemporary versions.
The Syriac Rabbula Gospel contains one of the first known studies of this biblical scene.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has referenced the Rabbula Ascension until today and it can be regarded as one of their standard prototypes. There are local stylistic preferences, of course, and certainly, it has transitioned in several ways.
The Rabbula Depiction
Overall, and this depends on commission specifications and artistic tastes, we see fewer angels depicted in later scenes.
The biblical winged seraphim charioteer is an item that has been removed for the most part, probably because it has been confusing in some ways (I haven't researched the details). There are references to winged chariots going back into ancient times. Plato, for example, was the first to describe a charioteer driving a chariot pulled by two winged horses. In contrast, Elijah, an old testament prophet, was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot.
The mandorla with Christ in the center is still used although, for example, Christ might be robed differently, the scroll might be rolled up, He could be holding a book or He could be portrayed seated in glory- suggesting that the scene is outside space and time:
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
“The meaning of Christ’s Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Changes in ART
Western icons have undergone a more notable transformation from one century to the next. Gothic and Renaissance tastes, for example, demanded new representations corresponding to current tastes and values. With every entering wave of western art influences (or revolution), you will find artists experimenting with new innovations, however, even then, some of the most crucial elements prove consistent and are often reintroduced to viewers in contemporary representations.
Again, you will find a thread of continuity among many of the most popular historical pieces, but also such a divergence that it is nearly impossible (and time-consuming) to present a complete overview in anything less than a very thick book.
The HUGE variety existing today with all sorts of contemporary and modern examples (not necessarily liturgical). Some are impressive while others are directionless or just plain silly and simply useless for Christian contemplation and prayer. How many will survive into the next century?
The gallery below demonstrates a progressive change in scene from past centuries.
Notes, Art, Photography CMJENTZ ©2013-2018
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