Icons may be aesthetically pleasing, and they may contribute to our sense of beauty of the church in which they are housed, but they don’t have to be decorative nor instructive. Their purpose is to act as a lens or focus for prayer for the faithful. As has been said, they’re intended as “windows to heaven”.
That said, the exhibition Icons of the Orthodox Christian World at the Art Gallery of Ballarat is indeed impressive. There are only three rooms, but there are 80 icons representing a broad cross-section. I read that most of the icons originate from Greece and Russia, but there are also examples from Cyprus, Syria and Palestine, and that they range in time from the twelfth to the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. They’re really well arranged too; the first room is “Angels, Prophets and Saints”, the second is “Icons of the Mother of God” and the third is “Icons of Christ and the Great Feasts of the Church”.
The majority of the icons on display are attributed to a “private collection, Sydney”, but a little delving reveals that this is a reference to the collection of John McCarthy AO.
The exhibition is well worth a trip to Ballarat for anyone who has even a slight interest in icons.