Released this month is a Kindle version of an interesting book that reveals a very different approach to death taken by Eastern Christians, an approach that looks death in the face and avoids the cowardly dodges so many take today. Originally published in 1997 by a leading classicist and historian who is well acquainted with Byzantine iconography is Robin Cormack's Painting the Soul: Icons, Death Masks and Shrouds.
About this book we are told:
Icons are among the most elusive subjects in the history of art, but at the same time their study constitutes possibly its fastest expanding field, and with the opening-up of the former Soviet Union many new objects are being discovered, studied and exhibited. In this book, Robin Cormack considers the icon as an integral document of society and gives us new insights into the nature of Byzantine art. Painting the Soul explores both the creation and the development of the icon. After the early Christians – like the pagans before them – had come to expect their god to be visually present among them, endless questions confronted both the artist and the Church. What did Christ look like? How should Christ be represented? Should Christ be represented (as he is for example on the Turin Shroud)? Appropriately, Cormack’s study ends with Venetian Crete, where the icon underwent its final development and transformation into the art of the Renaissance. Here, established Byzantine forms of religious art confronted developing Renaissance modes of expression: the first ‘icons’ of El Greco were painted in Crete. Painting the Soul is beautifully illustrated, featuring many little-known works of art. Even so, Cormack treats the icon not as a mere artistic product, but as the symbolic face of medieval Europe. He shows how this new field within the history of art – the study of the icon – will transform our understanding of European art and culture.As noted, Cormack is the author of Byzantine Art (Oxford UP, 2000), 256pp. as well as Icons (Harvard UP, 2007), 144pp.