So as I mentioned I had a lot of meetings today for possible contracts. One was with the Western Center for Eastern Orthodox Idolatry. They have come across an ancient infographic explaining color symbolism in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Because it is so ancient the some of the fonts aren’t readable by modern western instruments and thus the information has been lost. They need someone to do research and fill out the lost information in this infographic. I’m just so busy I told them I couldn’t help, but then I remembered how much you LOVE graphs, in general, and, especially, those that involve JUST writing so I told them that I’d let you know about it and that you might be interested in filling it out for them.
Thanks for the connection. I haven’t interfaced with the WCEOI directly before but the name is familiar. They fund a lot of the work in Chromacross Quarterly, a popular competitive idolology journal. I don’t really compete myself but I like to follow the better players (favorite Chromacrotestant: Robert Campin).
This icon diverges drastically from traditional Eastern Orthodox style cues (as you may know, icon design is extremely formal). It’s likely an early image from the Turkish/Baltic Catholic spur. I’m not the best source for pre-Augustinian graphs in general, but I can provide some basic low-level interpretations that may be useful.
If I recall correctly, the WCEOI doesn’t provide monetary compensation, is that right? Payment in spiritutils is fine. I’ll try to get a first pass analysis over to you by Monday.
I’ve given my take in the attached report. Hope this proves useful to your confederates at WCEOI.
Use of Symbolic Color in Bartimaean Iconography
Mainstream Eastern Orthodox iconography was dominated by formal convention. Monks strictly adhered to tradition to govern composition, subject matter, style, and color. A symbolic language of color was used consistently throughout the Eastern Orthodox world.
However, a small sect of Turkish monks developed an alternate tradition of iconography. Not intentionally, it should be noted; isolated in the forests of the Ilgaz mountains, the monks had little contact with the outside world, and their sole source of religious tradition was the sect’s founder, a colorblind mystic, who had evangelized and converted them despite a hostile caliphate. The mystic’s original name is unknown, as are the names of all the other monks in the sect; they all referred to themselves as Bartimaeus. For convenience, the founder of the sect is referred to as Bartimaeus the Elder (BE), because he was old.
Like more traditional Orthodox sects, the monks made icons as a sort of mantra, paying close attention to craft, never signing their work or experimenting. But the sensory limitations of their mentor left significant gaps in their knowledge: they knew the colors and compositions of their icons should be consistent and symbolic, but they had no point of reference to draw from. They had to start from scratch.
The so-called “Desert Virgin” manuscript, recently procured by the WCEOI, offers a rare example of the Bartimaean system. The manuscript is believed to be the original color reference for all Bartimaean iconography, likely drafted by an anonymous monk working closely with BE. The presence of a cactus and the mythical “sky goldfish” are believed to be a nod to the migrant monks’ past and an aid in color consistency, though as we will see they are a source of scholarly confusion.
Primary sources are scant, but some fragments of letters do exist. It’s difficult to determine who wrote which letter, as they are all to and from Bartimaeus, but the information in the letters is mostly consistent; all but one or two are considered canonical. I’ll include quotes and paraphrase where pertinent.
Gold is God’s color, the color of the “sacred rays… His hands made.” It symbolizes the untouchably holy, that which “can only be seen askew” lest the viewer be blinded. For this reason, Bartimaean monks only apply gold leaf while looking in a mirror, or peeking through closed fingers. Surprisingly, the craftsmanship of their images has not suffered at all.
Green is “patience in renewal,” the “water in the rock.” Scholars believe BE could not distinguish green from red, conflating the cactus (green, full of water, with spikes facing out) with the blood of Christ (whose body bled water when stabbed with a spear). This color is believed to symbolize the fruit of martyrdom and disregard of earthly concerns, as in the cloak of John the Baptist and the tattered cloth left on the cross.
We don’t know what this color symbolized, and it is suspected the monks had no idea either. No fragments describing its meaning have been found, though the color consistently appears on the Virgin Mary’s shawl just as it does in traditional Eastern Orthodox icons.
Here BE’s poetic license is in full swing. “[The savior’s] face was white… [like] virgin cloth… the color of the cloudless sky.” Scholars suspect the Bartimaean monks were as confused by this description as we are today, writing “white” and “light blue” in the same general area of the color guide. Later icons show light blue used exclusively for the sky (always cloudless) and white used as a neutral color, usually for undercloaks.
When the three wise men (in some texts mystics or kings) approached the newborn savior, “they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” To this BE added: “And when they saw his face, they wept tears yellow as their crowns, for they knew He was the son of God.” Yellow is therefore used as the color of revelation and divine knowledge: later icons show saints reading yellow Bibles and weeping yellow tears. BE’s justifies describing gold objects as yellow with this: “Even the purest yellow riches cannot outshine the light of the Lord.” This fragment is less old than the majority of the monks’ correspondence, so it is possible BE’s justification is post-hoc.
BE describes the three wise men as wearing “the cloth and jewels of Tyre.” The monks of Bartimaeus would have recognized this as purple: Tyrian dye was used for royal and ceremonial cloths throughout the region. Amethyst was not a common stone for adornment, so they may have been humoring BE by painting the jewels and the cloth the same color. Unsurprisingly, purple is used to convey high social standing in Bartimaean icons, particularly kings and priests.
Here we see a significant divergence in scholarly interpretation. Some hold that the red figure is demonic in nature, the color red symbolizing the taint of sin. Others hold (and this is, to my mind, the more probable interpretation) that BE intended the figure to be green instead of red: the figure is a curious Muslim being exposed to Christ for the first time. In this case red (or rather green) is the color of the seeker, pilgrim, or in some cases the oppressor.
Black simply denotes darkness. Even a layman can see there is no possible spiritual interpretation.
Much has been said about the “hidden creature” known today as the sky goldfish. Various fragments refer to it as “a one-eyed squash, [but] longer and more delicate,” “the fish among the stars,” and “icthys ascendant.” Some scholars believe the fish is a literalization of the acronym “ΙΧΘΥΣ” used by the early church, but the use of a stylized fish as a Christian icon was not seen elsewhere until the 20th century. Other scholers tenuously claim the symbol comes from a misinterpreted haiku about koi. Still others think it was a vandalization or an accident, an argument lent weight by the conspicuous absence of orange from later icons.