Textual Sources of Elements in Ukrainian Icons of the Last Judgment

John-Paul Himka, University of Alberta

The icon of the Eastern church is a different sort of image. Unlike many other visual images, icons are meant to be read in a way closer to the way a text or graph is read. Many purists today insist that icons are not "painted," but that they are "written." Although this insistence derives from some faulty etymology, it is nonetheless correct to point out that there is something very text-like in the composition of an icon, and not simply because all images can be considered texts.

The most complex and narrative icon of all is the icon of the Last Judgment. It is composed of numerous discrete elements such as angels rolling up the scroll of the heavens, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the throne of judgment, the Pantocrator, the emblems of the four evil kingdoms, Satan, the jaws of hell, the torments of sinners, St. Peter leading the saints to the gates of paradise, the Mother of God with two angels and the good thief in paradise and many more. Every element depicted has one or more textual sources that validate its presence in the icon and determine its presentation. The most important texts in the background include the visions of Daniel, the gospel of St. Matthew, the writings of Ephraim the Syrian (Graecus) and the apocryphal account of the Mother of God's wandering in hell. Icons of the Last Judgment composed in Ukraine have some peculiar elements not found in the Greek or South Slavic equivalents, such as the parade of peoples (Jews, Tatars, Moors, etc.), the aerial tollbooths where accounts of sins are drawn up and the alms-giving fornicator. These new elements were drawn from different texts, particularly from miscellanies such as the Izmaragd or Studyt.

It is the purpose of this paper to examine the new elements in the Ukrainian icons in light of the texts that seem to have generated them. What exactly were the texts? Why those texts? How did the texts translate into images? What happened if the generating text fell into disuse, but the element remained in the icon? Did elements evolve the same in texts and in icons? How did the audiences of the texts and icons differ?