Liturgical Art Iconography

Symbolism and Color

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It all means something: the position of hands, fingers, and the body, along with facial features, clothing, and objects

  • a person standing in profile indicates one who is not open to the divine or has not yet reached holiness
  • a hand raised in blessing with the last two fingers touching the thumb reminds us of the divine and human natures of Christ
  • The Trinity is represented when the blessing shows the ring finger touching the thumb
  • categories of saints are distinguished by their clothing, the objects in their hands, and age: evangelists wear tunics and display their books
  • bishops, dressed in liturgical vestments, hold a book or scroll
  • monastics are clothed in habit and stand straight and disciplined like columns
  • soldiers might be in a position showing movement, in military uniform or carrying weapons
  • a large forehead represents spiritual wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit


GOLD, color of the noonday sun, reveals the divine light which permeates all of the transfigured world and is the color for Christ himself. It is most commonly used as the background of an icon, creating a space that is out of the dimensions of this world.

WHITE represents the light, the eternal, those who are penetrated by the divine light, and purity. It is the color of the Father because he was never incarnate but always invisible.

BLUE is the color of faith, of transcendence, humility, the mystery of divine life. Blue and white are the colors of the Virgin Mary who is detached from this world and centered on the divine.

RED signifies youth, beauty, wealth, health, love, and war. It is the color of the Holy Spirit, of sacrifice and of altruism. On its other side it can express hatred, pride or hell.

PURPLE is both royal and priestly.

GREEN, derived from plants, symbolizes spiritual regeneration, peace and calmness, and is often used for the prophets and of John the Evangelist who herald the Holy Spirit.

Pure YELLOW stands for truth but pale YELLOW for pride, adultery and betrayal.

BROWN is the tone of the earth, the transfigured land, or as in the case of monks' habits, shows a slow death to the world, like decaying leaves.

BLACK is the denial of all light so it suggests chaos, anxiety, and death, but in contrast promises the coming light and new creation. The damned are painted black and sometimes demons.

Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God – Rule of Benedict 43:3


palette day 1
St John the Baptist - palette at the end of day 1