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Iconoclast, Iconoclastic, and Iconoclasm: Notes Towards a Genealogy

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image of Church History and Religious Culture

This article aims to contribute to a better understanding of the genealogy of the terms 'iconoclast(ic)' and 'iconoclasm.' After some observations on the beginning of early Christian art that stress the necessity of abandoning a monolithic view of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic art regarding their iconic/aniconic aspects, it is noted that 'iconoclast' is mentioned first just before the start of the iconoclastic struggle and always remained rare in Byzantium. It became known in the West by Anastasius's Latin translation of Theophanes' Chronographia Tripartita. From there it was probably picked up by Thomas Netter, whose Doctrinale against Wycliffe and his followers proved to be very influential in the early times of the Reformation when images were a focus of intense debate between Catholics and Protestants. Thus the term gradually gained in popularity and also gave rise to 'iconoclasm' and 'iconoclastic.' The present popularity of the term has promoted the grouping together of events that probably should not be considered together. It has also made scholars focus on Protestant vandalism during the Reformation period rather than on the much greater damage to medieval art caused by the Catholic Baroque period.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies & History of Christinianity, Oude Boteringestraat 38, NL-9712 GK Groningen, The Netherlands;, Email:


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