Iconoclasm accompanies conversion in a fresco of St. Benedict by Lucca Signorelli (1441-1523). While St. Benedict preaches the gospel, monks are busy destroying a pagan idol.

          Strictly speaking idolatry denotes the worship of deity in a visible form, whether these images are symbolical representations of a “true” God or of a “false”God they are divinities which have been made the objects of worship. Christianity was built in part on pre-existing Roman and Judaic cultures. Episodes of idolatry are numerous throughout the Old Testament. The first and second commandments of Moses (Exodus 20:3-4) prohibit idolatry of every form.  Individuals and communities were equally amenable to the
rigorous code as idolaters were denounced and punished. Idolatry was dangerous to early Jews and Christians because of its association with paganism.
          The first allusion to idolatry or idolatrous customs in the Bible is the account of Rachel stealing her fathers teraphim (Genesis 31:19) “When Laban the Aramaean had gone to sheer his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods...” During their long stay in Egypt, the Israelites defiled themselves with the idols of the land and it was long before the taint was removed. They clamored for some visible shape in which they
might worship God who had brought them out of Egypt until Aaron made the golden calf, the embodiment of Apis and the emblem of the productive power of nature (Exodus 32).
          Under Samuel administration idolatry was publically renounced (1 Samuel 7:3-6) “If your return to the lord is wholehearted, banish the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from your shrines; turn to the Lord with heart and mind and worship him alone, and he will deliver you from the Philistines.” but all of this was forgotten during the reign of Solomon. “When he grew old, his wives turned his heart to follow other gods, and he did not remain wholly loyal to the Lord his God as his father David had been.” (1 Kings 11:4)
The aged King Solomon, surrounded by his wives, kneels to worship an idol, represented as a pagan figure on a free-standing column, by Johann Teufel, 1572.
          The Christian church never denied that idolatry should be condemned, however, the problem was how to define and separate proper visual representation from incorrect idols and how to operate within those boundaries. The fixing of faith in images was crucial to the practice of Pre-Reformation Christianity. Salvation depended on a system of iconic signs. Representation presented an illusion of coherence in an unstable world.
The destruction of 'pictures' and 'molten images' from an Italian Bible, c. 1490.

          The prohibition and destruction of religious imagery is as much a part of the history of religion as the shaping and veneration of these representations. Iconoclasm is an intense religious phenomenon that can be defined as any movement against the religious use of images, especially those dealing with figural representation. In a conventional sense, iconoclasm is the destruction of paintings, sculpture and other disapproved images and along with this disapproval can also be included the buildings which contained and displayed such elements and the ceremonies themselves which were performed inside.
          Iconoclasm implies a spirited attack that can be verbally violent or actively violent on certain unacceptable images, but does not totally repudiate all images, which is iconophobia. It is hostile to false art but not anti art, since its hostility implies a true and acceptable art, applied to laudable purposes. Iconoclasts didn’t view disapproved images in terms of works of art. The sanctioning of images and defining the proper function of religious imagery, in terms of totemic value versus ornamental purpose, could lead the viewer to either the salvation of heaven or the eternal damnation of hell.
King Josiah, abolisher of idols, from an Italian Bible, c. 1490.
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