From the Gaze of the Icon to the Truth of Sacred Chronotope: An Interpretation of Pavel Florensky’s Theory of Reverse Perspective


Author: LI Xue, Post-doctoral lecturer and Assistant Research Fellow, School of Chinese  Language and Literature, Shaanxi Normal University.


In response to the classical Western spatial form of painting known as “perspective,” Pavel Florensky holds in high regard the principle of “reverse perspective” found in Russian Orthodox icons. Reverse perspective primarily manifests in the scale of objects and the arrangement of shadows, imparting a sense of holiness to the icon’s visage.

By combining the theories of Marion and Bakhtin, it becomes evident that the face of the icon, within the space of reverse perspective, serves as an intermediary between paradise and earth. It forms a “crossing of gazes” with the viewer, giving rise to a sacred chronotope between them. At an individual level, this chronotope benefits the viewer’s spirit, while in a universal sense, it counters the inherent subjectivity of human perspective, paving the way to the universal truth of God and resonating with the desire to address the troubles of the times and seek a path through Orthodox spirituality within Russian religious philosophy. The sense of mission that arises from artistic theory reflects Florensky’s unique contribution to Russian religious philosophy.


reverse perspective, face of the icon, holy chronotope, Orthodox, truth

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