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Bulgakov argues that the representation of divine realities was permitted not, as traditionally argued, because the invisible God in the Person of Jesus had assumed flesh and thereby become visible but because in Jesus the human 'image of God' had become visible without the taint of sin acquired through the Fall. The Old Testament, which forbade any representation of earthly things, had indeed permitted the representation of angels in an anthropomorphic appearance, since the angels were without sin. The idolatry of the pagans consisted in venerating or worshipping the image of man subject to the passions.

Talking not just about the icon but about the role of the artist in general he shares Denis' antipathy to naturalism:

'The first temptation, when one wants to define the tasks and nature of figurative art, is to understand it in the naturalistic or photograohic manner, like Apelles' apples, giving a certain force to the illusion of reality ("it looks real", "just as if it's alive'"!). But photographic naturalism is not yet art. As it contains elements of art they are expressed by the way in which the thing represented or photographed is grasped, that is, by a deliberate or predetermined stylisation ... As for pure naturalism, it is above all a Utopia since art cannot (and certainly must not) overcome the abyss that separates the ideal figure of the thing and its reality ... At its best, in naturalism, we have a counterfeit, that is to say a deceit, or perhaps a sort of bait, that is to say a hallucination with a loss of the feeling for reality, a darkening of the first intuition of being, the images which are ideas (les images idéiques) being taken for reality. Moreover, naturalism replaces by a subterfuge the fundamental task of art as the fashioning of an image of being (iconisation de l'être) and so it cancels it out. Art in fact doesn't seek to substitute itself for reality or to create beside reality a new being (that would be a sterile luciferism): it wants to show the word, the idea, the image as idea of reality. Consequently its domain is not that of the real but of the ideal, not that of being but that of meaning.' (22) (pp.44-5)

(22) Père Serge Boulgakov: L'Icône et sa vénération, translated from the Russian by Constantin Andronikof, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1996. My translation from the French.

Thus far he is in broad agreement with Denis and we may feel that the revolution Denis was part of, the late nineteenth century revulsion against naturalistic art, helped prepare the way for the new understanding of the icon represented by Bulgakov. But Denis had a relatively modest idea of the artist's role. The non-naturalistic images he envisaged were symbols not so much of the things they represented as of feelings evoked within the artist. Bulgakov's artist had a much more lofty function to fulfil. He was charged with showing not the appearance of the thing as met in the street but its 'prototype', its idea as it existed in the Wisdom (Sophia) of God:

'The relative act of art, making an image of (iconisant) a thing, consists first of all of seeing in it its prototype ... In this respect the art is a hieroglyph of the ideal prototype, not a repetition or a copy of a given thing but the mark of the true first image which, through the thing represented, has a real being in the world.

'This thing, although it is the original for its icon, is not, strictly peaking, the first image. The artistic figure of the thing (of the original) bears witness to its ideal prototype which is not in the reality of the word, but above it ... obviously we are talking about the Platonic ideas, noetic, heavenly prototypes of everything created. These are not abstract notions, detached from the things themselves ... but existing noetic images possessing an energy of being which is realised as the final internal causes of the things (their entelechies).' (p.47)

''Thus figurative art, which is to say making an image of (l'iconisation) things has for its basic principle not a subjective-anthropological accommodation of these things to the poverty of human representation (as even the defenders of the icons thought) but the objective and anthropocosmic foundation of the world, the sophianic prototypes by which, created by Wisdom, it exists.' (p.48)

Which is quite a challenge for the artist! In insisting on the objective truth of the image Bulgakov might be thought to be coming closer to the thinking of Desiderius Lenz who also argued that the artist's job was to recover the prototype human form as it was realised in the perfect forms of Jesus and His Mother, re-establishing the original forms of Adam and Eve prior to the Fall, but where Bulgakov counts on the noetic vision of the artist to 'see' and thereby copy the prototype, Lenz argued that since God creates all things 'according to number, measure and weight' (Wisdom 11.20) it is by number and measure that the appearance of the prototype can be built. It is a job for a craftsman, not for a saint gifted with noetic vision.