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Iconoclasm [1] is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be figuratively applied to any individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".[4]

Conversely, one who reveres or venerates religious images is called (by iconoclasts) an iconolater; in a Byzantine context, such a person is called an iconodule or iconophile. [5]

The term does not generally encompass the specific destruction of images of a ruler after his death or overthrow (damnatio memoriae

Iconoclasm may be carried out by adherents of a different religion, but it is more often the result of sectarian disputes between factions of the same religion. Within Christianity, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by those who adopt a strict interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which forbid the making and worshipping of "graven images or any likeness of anything".[6] The later Church Fathers identified Jews, fundamental iconoclasts, with heresy and saw deviations from orthodox Christianity and opposition to the veneration of images as heresies that were essentially "Jewish in spirit".[7] Degrees of iconoclasm vary greatly among religions and their branches. Islam, in general, tends to be more iconoclastic than Christianity,[8] with Sunni Islam being more iconoclastic than Shia Islam.

Religious iconoclasm


In the Bronze Age, the most significant episode of iconoclasm occurred in Egypt during the Amarna Period, when Akhenaten, based in his new capital of Akhetaten, instituted a significant shift in Egyptian artistic styles alongside a campaign of intolerance towards the traditional gods and a new emphasis on a state monolatristic tradition focused on the god Aten, the Sun disk— many temples and monuments were destroyed as a result:

Public references to Akhenaten were destroyed soon after his death.

Comparing the ancient Egyptians with the Israelites, Jan Assmann writes:

Although widespread use of Christian iconography only began as Christianity increasingly spread among gentiles after the legalization of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 312 AD), scattered expressions of opposition to the use of images were reported (e.g. Spanish Synod of Elvira). The period after the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527–565) evidently saw a huge increase in the use of images, both in volume and quality, and a gathering aniconic reaction.

In the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, government-led iconoclasm began with Byzantine Emperor Leo III, following what seems to have been a long period of rising opposition to the use or misuse of images. The religious conflict created political and economic divisions in Byzantine society. It was generally supported by the Eastern, poorer, non-Greek peoples of the Empire[12] who had to deal frequently with raids from the new Muslim Empire. On the other hand, the wealthier Greeks of Constantinople, and also the peoples of the Balkan and Italian provinces, strongly opposed iconoclasm.[13]

Within the Byzantine Empire the government had probably been adopting Christian images more frequently.

The first iconoclastic wave happened in Wittenberg in the early 1520s under reformers Thomas Müntzer and Andreas Karlstadt. It prompted Martin Luther, then concealing as Junker Jörg, to intervene.

In contrast to the Lutherans who favoured sacred art in their churches and homes,[16]Encyclopedia%20o]][17]Reformed Andreas Karlstadt Huldrych Zwingli John Calvin Decalogue's ohibition of idolatry and the manufacture of graven (sculpted) images of God.[17] As a result, individuals attacked statues and images. However, in most cases, civil authorities removed images in an orderly manner in the newly Reformed Protestant cities and territories of Europe.

  • Calvinist Iconoclasm during the Reformation
  • 16th-century iconoclasm in the Protestant Reformation. Relief statues in St. Stevenskerk in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, were attacked and defaced by Calvinists in the Beeldenstorm.[18]The%20Victory%20of%20]][19]
  • by Antoine Caron.
  • Destruction of religious images by the Reformed in Zurich, 1524.
  • Remains of Calvinist iconoclasm, Clocher Saint-Barthélémy, La Rochelle, France.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Basel (in 1529), Zurich (1523), Copenhagen (1530), Münster (1534), Geneva (1535), Augsburg (1537), Scotland (1559), Rouen (1560) and Saintes and La Rochelle (1562).[20][21]Voracious%20Idols%20and%20Vi]]Calvinist iconoclasm in Europe "provoked reactive riots by Lutheran mobs" in Germany and "antagonized the neighbouring Eastern Orthodox" in the Baltic region.[22]

The Seventeen Provinces (now the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Northern France) were disrupted by widespread Calvinist iconoclasm in the summer of 1566.[23]Gardner's%20Art%20]]This is called the Beeldenstorm destruction of the statuary of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in Steenvoorde after a "Hagenpreek", or field sermon, by Sebastiaan Matte. Hundreds of other attacks included the sacking of the Monastery of Saint Anthony after a sermon by Jacob de Buysere. The Beeldenstorm marked the start of the revolution against the Spanish forces and the Catholic Church.

The iconoclastic belief caused havoc throughout Europe. In 1523, specifically due to the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli, a vast number of his followers viewed themselves as being involved in a spiritual community that in matters of faith should obey neither the visible Church nor lay authorities. According to Peter George Wallace:

During the Reformation in England started during the reign of Anglican monarch Henry VIII, and urged on by reformers such as Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer, limited official action was taken against religious images in churches in the late 1530s. Henry's young son, Edward VI, came to the throne in 1547 and, under Cranmer's guidance, issued Injunctions for Religious Reforms in the same year and in 1550, an Act of Parliament "for the abolition and putting away of divers books and images".[25] During the English Civil War, Bishop Joseph Hall of Norwich described the events of 1643 when troops and citizens, encouraged by a Parliamentary ordinance against superstition and idolatry, behaved thus:

Protestant Christianity was not uniformly hostile to the use of religious images.

Lutheran scholar Jeremiah Ohl writes:[30]

The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who had pragmatic reasons to support the Dutch Revolt (the rebels, like himself, were fighting against Spain) also completely approved of their act of "destroying idols", which accorded well with Muslim teachings.[31][32]

A bit later in Dutch history, in 1627 the artist Johannes van der Beeck was arrested and tortured, charged with being a religious non-conformist and a blasphemer, heretic, atheist, and Satanist. The 25 January 1628 judgment from five noted advocates of The Hague pronounced him guilty of "blasphemy against God and avowed atheism, at the same time as leading a frightful and pernicious lifestyle. At the court's order his paintings were burned, and only a few of them survive "[33]

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In the history of Islam the act of removing idols from the Ka'ba in Mecca has great symbolic and historic importance for all believers.

In general, Muslim societies have avoided the depiction of living beings (animals and humans) within such sacred spaces as mosques and madrasahs. This opposition to figural representation is based not on the Qur'an, but on traditions contained within the Hadith. The prohibition of figuration has not always been extended to the secular sphere, and a robust tradition of figural representation exists within Muslim art.[34] However, Western authors have tended to perceive "a long, culturally determined, and unchanging tradition of violent iconoclastic acts" within Islamic society.[34]

The first act of Muslim iconoclasm dates to the beginning of Islam, in 630, when the various statues of Arabian deities housed in the Kaaba in Mecca were destroyed. There is a tradition that Muhammad spared a fresco of Mary and Jesus.[35] This act was intended to bring an end to the idolatry which, in the Muslim view, characterized Jahiliyya.

The destruction of the idols of Mecca did not, however, determine the treatment of other religious communities living under Muslim rule after the expansion of the caliphate. Most Christians under Muslim rule, for example, continued to produce icons and to decorate their churches as they wished. A major exception to this pattern of tolerance in early Islamic history was the "Edict of Yazīd", issued by the Umayyad caliph Yazid II in 722–723.[36] This edict ordered the destruction of crosses and Christian images within the territory of the caliphate.

Al-Maqrīzī, writing in the 15th century, attributes the missing nose on the Great Sphinx of Giza to iconoclasm by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim in the mid-1300s. He was reportedly outraged by local Muslims making offerings to the Great Sphinx in the hope of controlling the flood cycle, and he was later executed for vandalism. However, whether this was actually the cause of the missing nose has been debated by historians.[38] Mark Lehner who performed an archaeological study concluded that it was broken with instruments at an earlier unknown time between the 3rd and 10th centuries.[39]

Certain conquering Muslim armies have used local temples or houses of worship as mosques.

Certain Muslim denominations continue to pursue iconoclastic agendas.

A recent act of iconoclasm was the 2001 destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamyan by the then-Taliban government of Afghanistan. The act generated worldwide protests and was not supported by other Muslim governments and organizations. It was widely perceived in the Western media as a result of the Muslim prohibition against figural decoration. Such an account overlooks "the coexistence between the Buddhas and the Muslim population that marveled at them for over a millennium" before their destruction.[34] The Buddhas had twice in the past been attacked by Nadir Shah and Aurengzeb. According to the art historian F.B. Flood, analysis of the Taliban's statements regarding the Buddhas suggest that their destruction was motivated more by political than by theological concerns.[34] Taliban spokespeople have given many different explanations of the motives for the destruction.

During the Tuareg rebellion of 2012, the radical Islamist militia Ansar Dine destroyed various Sufi shrines from the 15th and 16th centuries in the city of Timbuktu, Mali.[42] In 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former member of Ansar Dine, to nine years in prison for this destruction of cultural world heritage. This was the first time that the ICC convicted a person for such a crime.[43]

The short-lived Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carried out iconoclastic attacks such as the destruction of Shia mosques and shrines. Notable incidents include blowing up the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (Jonah)[44] and destroying the Shrine to Seth in Mosul.[45]

In early medieval India, there were numerous recorded instances of temple desecration by Indian kings against rival Indian kingdoms, involving conflict between devotees of different Hindu deities, as well as between Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.[46][47][48] ded northern India where they looted temples of Ganga and Yamuna. In the 8th century, Bengali troops from the Buddhist Pala Empire desecrated temples of Vishnu Vaikuntha, the state deity of Lalitaditya's kingdom in Kashmir. In the early 9th century, Indian Hindu kings from Kanchipuram and the Pandyan king Srimara Srivallabha looted Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. In the early 10th century, the Pratihara king Herambapala looted an image from a temple in the Sahi kingdom of Kangra, which in the 10th century was looted by the Pratihara king Yasovarman.[46][47][48]

In the early 11th century, the Chola king Rajendra I looted from temples in a number of neighbouring kingdoms, including Durga and Ganesha temples in the Chalukya Kingdom; Bhairava, Bhairavi and Kali temples in the Kalinga kingdom; a Nandi temple in the Eastern Chalukya kingdom; and a Siva temple in Pala Bengal. In the mid-11th century, the Chola king Rajadhiraja plundered a temple in Kalyani. In the late 11th century, the Hindu king Harsha of Kashmir plundered temples as an institutionalised activity. In the late 12th to early 13th centuries, the Paramara dynasty attacked and plundered Jain temples in Gujarat.[46][47][48] In the 1460s, Suryavamshi Gajapati dynasty founder Kapilendra sacked the Saiva and Vaishnava temples in the Cauvery delta in the course of wars of conquest in the Tamil country. Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya looted a Balakrishna temple in Udayagiri in 1514, and he looted a Vittala temple in Pandharpur in 1520.[46][47][48]

Some of the most dramatic cases of iconoclasm by Muslims are found in parts of India where Hindu and Buddhist temples were razed and mosques erected in their place.

In modern India, the most high-profile case of iconoclasm was from 1992.

  • According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites entering the Promised Land were instructed by God to 'destroy all [the] engraved stones, destroy all [the] molded images, and demolish all [the] high places' of the Canaanite indigenous population.[52]
  • In Judaism, King Hezekiah purged Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel of figures, including the Nehushtan, as recorded in the Second Book of Kings. His reforms were reversed in the reign of his son Manasseh.
  • In 305–306, the Synod of Elvira appeared to endorse iconoclasm. Canon 36 states, "Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration."[53][54][2] Proscription ceased after the destruction of pagan temples.
  • During the process of Christianisation under Constantine, Christian groups destroyed the images and sculptures expressive of the Roman Empire's polytheist state religion.
  • Many of the moai of Easter Island were toppled during the 18th century in the iconoclasm of civil wars before any European encounter.[55] Other instances of iconoclasm may have occurred throughout Eastern Polynesia during its conversion to Christianity in the 19th century.[56]
  • After the Second Vatican Council in the late twentieth century, some Roman Catholic parish churches discarded much of their traditional imagery, art, and architecture.[57]
  • According to an article in Buddhist-Christian Studies: "Over the course of the last decade [1990s] a fairly large number of Buddhist temples in South Korea have been destroyed or damaged by fire by Christian fundamentalists. More recently, Buddhist statues have been identified as idols, and attacked and decapitated in the name of Jesus. Arrests are hard to effect, as the arsonists and vandals work by stealth of night."[58]

Political and revolutionary iconoclasm


Revolutions and changes of regime, whether through uprising of the local population, foreign invasion, or a combination of both, are often accompanied by the public destruction of statues and monuments identified with the previous regime.

Among Roman emperors and other political figures subject to decrees of damnatio memoriae were Sejanus, Publius Septimius Geta, and Domitian. Several Emperors, such as Domitian and Commodus had during their reigns erected numerous statues of themselves, which were pulled down and destroyed when they were overthrown.

Throughout the radical phase of the French Revolution, iconoclasm was supported by members of the government as well as the citizenry. Numerous monuments, religious works, and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Old Regime. At the same time, the republican government felt responsible to preserve these works for their historical, aesthetic, and cultural value. One way the republican government succeeded in their paradoxical mission of preserving and destroying symbols of the Old Regime was through the development of museums.

During the Revolution, a statue of King Louis XV in the Paris square which until then bore his name, was pulled down and destroyed. This was a prelude to the guillotining of his successor Louis XVI in the same site, renamed "Place de la Révolution" (at present Place de la Concorde).[59]

The statue of Napoleon on the column at Place Vendôme, Paris was also the target of iconoclasm several times: destroyed after the Bourbon Restoration, restored by Louis-Philippe, destroyed during the Paris Commune and restored by Adolphe Thiers.

Records from the campaign recorded in the Chach Nama record the destruction of temples during the early eighth century when the Umayyad governor of Damascus, al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf,[65] mobilized an expedition of 6000 cavalry under Muhammad bin Qasim in 712.

The historian Upendra Thakur records the persecution of Hindus and Buddhists:

In 725 Junayad, the governor of Sind, sent his armies to destroy the second Somnath.[67] In 1024, the temple was again destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni,[68] who raided the temple from across the Thar Desert. The wooden structure was replaced by Kumarapala (r. 1143–72), who rebuilt the temple out of stone.[69]

Sultan Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir (1389–1413) ordered the breaking of all "golden and silver images". Firishta states, "After the emigration of the Bramins, Sikundur ordered all the temples in Kashmeer to be thrown down. Having broken all the images in Kashmeer, (Sikandar) acquired the title of 'Destroyer of Idols'".[70]

There have been a number of anti-Buddhist campaigns in Chinese history that led to the destruction of Buddhist temples and images. One of the most notable of these campaigns was the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of the Tang dynasty.

During and after the Xinhai Revolution, there was widespread destruction of religious and secular images in China.

During the Northern Expedition in Guangxi in 1926, Kuomintang General Bai Chongxi led his troops in destroying Buddhist temples and smashing Buddhist images, turning the temples into schools and Kuomintang party headquarters.[71] It was reported that almost all of the viharas in Guangxi were destroyed and the monks were removed.[72] Bai also led a wave of anti-foreignism in Guangxi, attacking Americans, Europeans, and other foreigners, and generally making the province unsafe for foreigners and missionaries. Westerners fled from the province and some Chinese Christians were also attacked as imperialist agents.[73] The three goals of the movement were anti-foreignism, anti-imperialism and anti-religion. Bai led the anti-religious movement against superstition. Huang Shaohong, also a Kuomintang member of the New Guangxi clique, supported Bai's campaign. The anti-religious campaign was agreed upon by all Guangxi Kuomintang members.[74]

There was extensive destruction of religious and secular imagery in Tibet after it was invaded and occupied by China.[75]

Many religious and secular images were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, ostensibly because they were a holdover from China's traditional past (which the Communist regime led by Mao Zedong reviled). The Cultural Revolution included widespread destruction of historic artworks in public places and private collections, whether religious or secular. Objects in state museums were mostly left intact.

During and after the October Revolution, widespread destruction of religious and secular imagery took place, as well as the destruction of imagery related to the Imperial family. The Revolution was accompanied by destruction of monuments of past tsars, as well as the destruction of imperial eagles at various locations throughout Russia. According to Christopher Wharton, "In front of a Moscow cathedral, crowds cheered as the enormous statue of Tsar Alexander III was bound with ropes and gradually beaten to the ground. After a considerable amount of time, the statue was decapitated and its remaining parts were broken into rubble".[76]

The Soviet Union actively destroyed religious sites, including Russian Orthodox churches and Jewish cemeteries, in order to discourage religious practice and curb the activities of religious groups.

During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and during the Revolutions of 1989, protesters often attacked and took down sculptures and images of Joseph Stalin, such as the Stalin Monument in Budapest.[77] The fall of Communism in 1989-1991 was also followed by the destruction or removal of statues of Vladimir Lenin and other Communist leaders in the former Soviet Union and in other Eastern Bloc countries. Particularly well-known was the destruction of "Iron Felix", the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky outside the KGB's headquarters. Another statue of Dzerzhinsky was destroyed in a Warsaw square that was named after him during communist rule, but which is now called Bank Square.

Other examples of political destruction of images include:

See also


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