One of the most striking elements of Christian iconography is the curious and specific posture of the hands with which the idols are usually represented in their portraits. This was a characteristic inherited from the Greco-Roman tradition, who developed their own method of distinguishing gestures, which was used by orators in their speeches, whether in the senate, agora, classes, or private conversations. This method was not exclusive to the elites, it was in the public domain.
This is why early iconographers used this repertoire of hand gestures in portraits and representations of Christ, his disciples, and his angels. The following are some of the best-known and most basic examples of hand postures in sacred art.
The raised right hand with the index and middle fingers raised while the little finger and ring finger were held by the thumb, was used when a person was about to say something important.
An open palm denoted trust, sincerity, and the absence of evil. It was generally used by people who spoke to the saints.
Another of the hand postures that used to accompany the figure of Christ was that of “blessing”; the right-hand attempts to imitate the letters “IX XC,” a widely used abbreviation of the Greek words for Jesus (IHCOYC) and Christ (XPICTOC). This gesture also represents the Trinity and the Unity of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Reference to a Text
A gesture that was used when the character in question was quoting a specific text. It is distinguished by having the middle and ring fingers folded, the other hand usually carrying a text.
Starting to Speak
To distinguish the beginning of a speech people were portrayed with the hand stretched upwards while the ring and middle fingers were touching.
Saints who had overcome various trials in life and had remained faithful to Christ were usually portrayed with the backs of their hands crossed over their chests.
Attention was signaled in a manner very similar to today, with a clenched fist gesture and raising only the index finger.
The right hand placed on the chest indicates that the saint was successful with his prayers throughout his life.
A person with both palms facing the sky was an indication that he was performing a prayer.
These are only a few examples of interpretations of the meanings of hand postures in sacred art; however, it is appropriate to analyze the works in an integrated manner, considering their own context.
Story originally written in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva