Byzantine icons are sacred paintings (icons, frescoes and mosaics) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, of the Most Holy Mother of God, and of the Angels and Saints. 'Byzantine' refers to the Byzantine Empire where icons became an integral part of the Orthodox Faith. Characterized by vivid colors and often gold coloured backgrounds, the persons depicted in icons seem to float and often are longer than their natural counterparts.
The bust of the Savior is life sized, a common feature of early icons, and shows a traditional monumental image of Christ holding a Gospel book in his left hand while blessing with his right. The icon has been amazingly well preserved in the dry air of the Sinai Peninsula. The Saviour presented on the Sinai icon has a magnetically attractive face.
It is slightly asymmetrical, perhaps indicating the dual nature of Christ or his protective and judgmental sides. One can sense an affinity between the eyes of the Byzantine image and those that would be produced in Russia in the coming centuries, especially Andrei Rublev's.
In Byzantine theology, the contemplation of icons allowed the viewer direct communication with the sacred figure(s) represented, and through icons an individual's prayers were addressed directly to the petitioned saint or holy figure. Miraculous healings and good fortune were among the requests.
Icons created by divine agency were known as acheiropoieta ("not made by human hands").
This category of miraculously created image was accorded special veneration throughout the history of Byzantium. A significant number of acheiropoieta originated in the Early Byzantine period, before the advent of Iconoclasm in the early eighth century.
Artistic characteristic of Byzantine art began to develop in the Roman Empire as early as the 4th century. As the classical tradition declined in vitality, eastern influences were more widely felt. The founding of Constantinople in 324 created a great new Christian artistic centre for the eastern half of the Empire. Artistic traditions flourished also in rival cities. Constantinople established its supremacy after the fall of Alexandria and Antioch to the Arabs, and Rome to the Goths.
The earliest written records available of Christian images treated like icons are in a pagan or Gnostic context. Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-235) kept a domestic chapel for the veneration of images of deified emperors, of portraits of his ancestors, and of Christ, Apollonius, Orpheus and Abraham (Lampridius, Life of Alexander Severus xxix.). Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies 1:25;6, says of the Gnostic Carpocratians.