In a previous posting I mentioned the kiot.

It takes its name from the Greek word κῑβωτός, which in modern Greek is pronounced kee-vo-TOS. In Russian it is found in two forms,
киот (kiot) and кивот (kivot). The Greek kivotos (in old pronunciation kibotos) means a box-like container in which something is kept. Its archaic equivalent in English is the word “ark,” (today we would say “chest”) which we still find used in Bible translations for the box-like ship in which Noah and all the animals were saved from the flood, in the old legend. In early Christian catacomb art Noah is depicted floating in his ark, which looks very much like a large box.

The word “ark” is also used in the Old Testament for the Ark of the Covenant, the box in which the tablets of the Mosaic law were said to be kept.

So we know that a kivotos or kiot or kivot or ark is a kind of box.

A kiot is not an icon. In icon terminology, it is a special box, a case for an icon. It consists, essentially, of a wooden box with a hinged, framed glass door in the front. The icon is placed inside, and it may then be hung on a wall or placed on a shelf. That is the basic kiot, but there are many variations on it, for example this rather grand, shaped wooden kiot:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Looking at a kiot reveals its purpose. It not only protects the icon from dust and smoke, and to some extent from sudden variations in temperature and humidity, but it also serves to ornament the icon, which is why we frequently see ornate carved and gilt liners that surround the icon in the kiot, and we also see kiots in a number of ornamental shapes, though of course some kiots are extremely simple and little more than a glass frame hinged to a box.

Here is a rather basic kiot, which includes a little drawer in the base:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is another kiot with gilt inserts:

(Courtesy of Jacksonauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonauction.com)

And here is another “shaped” kiot, with door open and a gilt insert of vine leaves and grapes:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Even when a kiot is simple, a carved and gilt insert can often make a very striking show, as in this example surrounding an icon of the Archangel Michael as heavenly commander:

(Courtesy of Jacksonauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonauction.com)

The kiots (yes, I am using an anglicized plural) one ordinarily sees generally date any time from the latter half of the 19th century onward. Keep in mind that one cannot judge the date of an icon by the kiot containing it. Kiots are still made today, and it is a simple matter to put an old icon in a new kiot, or a new icon in an old kiot. So in dating, always go by the icon itself, not by its riza (metal cover) or by the kiot in which it is kept.

You may wonder why we call a kiot by its Russian name, and not simply by the English “ark.” That is to avoid confusion with the other “ark” (kovcheg) in icon terminology, the indented square or rectangular part of an icon panel in which the main image is painted. So there are two main “arks” in icon lingo, the icon case (kiot) and the panel indentation (kovcheg). Be careful not to confuse them. The word kovcheg for “ark” is Slavic, while the word kiot is a variant borrowed, as we have seen, from the Greek.

Just keep in mind that one may call the icon panel indentation either a kovcheg or an ark, but a kiot should just be called a kiot.


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