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In images: The meanings of hand gestures in icons

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A classical Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition survives in Christian iconography.

Have you ever wondered, while looking at religious icons, why the figures of Christ and the saints make certain hand gestures? Each gesture has a specific meaning, but it’s no wonder we can’t always understand them: they’re “written” in Greek! Classical Greeks and Romans developed a well-established, quite complex hand-gesture code, which was used by both orators and rhetoricians alike, when they were giving speeches in the agora or the Senate, during their private addresses, or even in the classroom. The gestures accompanying the oratory, of course, were a matter of public knowledge at the time. That is, they were quite common and understood by almost everybody. But not by us. So we need a bit of help to decipher them.

Take a look at the slideshow to discover what hand gestures in icons mean!

 

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