Teaching Icon classes as I do in monasteries, churches and art centers, the question that always arises at the end of class: How can I continue with Icon painting? Practice is what I always say. For that reason, this month’s blog for the American Association of Iconographers is a collection of information and links to help with further studies.
Ideally, someone who is learning to write Icons will choose a style or a teacher which whom to study. But even with that, one can only realistically take one or two workshops per year. What to do in the meantime? Here are my suggestions:
Using sketch paper and pencil, draw as much as possible. Copy Icons from books, prints, or the internet. Drawing is the number one art skill needed in Icon writing, as it is in all painting. Learning to think on paper is a valuable skill. A book that I recommend to beginners is: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. You can copy Icons in some of her exercises and you will be surprised at how quickly your drawing will improve.
Sketch of Icon
Tonal sketch of Icon
Icon to be copied
Use watercolor paper and the four basic color of Icon writing: red ochre, black, white and yellow ochre. Make color and tonal studies of Icons on water color paper. Again, this simple practice will yield large results.
Icon Retreats and Workshops
For those who choose to study with me, here is a link to upcoming classes. My teaching method is always evolving and inspired by my prayer life. I particularly enjoy helping students who have had some experience writing Icons and now want to create their own Icon (still copied from before the Renaissance). If you do sign up for one of my classes and wish to do this, please email me well before the class date so that we can prepare you for getting the most out of the retreat.
Resources for viewing Iconographic Imagery
Kolomenskaya Versta is a site selling Icon books and materials. It is based in Russia and they regularly post free images to copy as well as links to all kinds of Iconographic information. Also known as Russian Modern Orthodox Icon, here is a link to their FB page.
Having just finished an Icon writing workshop where we painted the Archangel Michael, and today is the day the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, this blog is full of information about the angels!
We celebrate the Feast Day of the Archangels each year at this time, but who are the Archangels and what do they mean to us?
The angels are known to us as ministering spirits, sent to announce or accomplish the will of God on earth.
We read in the Bible that the angelic hosts seek to defend creation against the spiritual powers which seek its ruin.
In Revelation 12:7-9 we read of the Apocalypse and the celestial war in which Archangel Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his angels.According to L. Ouspensky in his book “The Meaning of Icons” ,this is….” a war that continues on earth in the spiritual combats in which men are assisted by angels.Hence the warrior like character that angelic apparitions often take.”
Saint Michael Prayer
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.Amen.
In Joshua 5:13-15 the Captain of the Host of the Lord appeared to Joshua with a sword in his hand.Again, quoting from “The Meaning of Icons” by Ouspensky “
“The Archangel Michael “chief captain ofthe host” presides over the struggle against the forces of demons: “there where thy grace appears, the power of the demons is pursued; for the fallen Lucifer cannot bear to see thy light.We pray thee then to extinguish his burning features, directed against us…and to free us from his temptations.”
The name Gabriel means God is my strength. In the Gospel of Luke, Gabriel is the angel who announces to Mary that she will give birth to a son and name him Jesus. He is known as the patron saint of communication, giving strength and helps children is many ways.
We learn about the Archangel Raphael, the heavenly guide and companion from the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha.He is known as the healing angel, also the patron saint of travelers.
The Prayer of St. Raphael
O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us;
Raphael, angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.
May all our movements be guided by your light and transfigured with your joy.
Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of him on whose unveiled face you are privileged to gaze.
Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country.
Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.
May your prayers before the angels always be heard, and may you sleep with the angels!
This month I am recommending two articles that have been published in an on-line journal- The Orthodox Arts Journal– as elements contributing to good training for Iconographers. As I go around the country teaching an “Introduction to Icon Writing Class”, I am aware of how little knowledge people in general have about Icon painting. It is impossible to gain enough knowledge of this art from a few classes to be able to make truly authentic Icons. I recommend two things: look at as much art and as many Icons as you possibly can. Books, online resources, museums, all of these will help your painting to become mature as you practice what you see. The second thing I recommend is to read as much as you can about the history as well as the technique of Icon writing. Both of these activities go hand in hand with taking workshops and practicing at home.
Two Articles for Iconographers in Training.
The first article is written by English Iconographer Aidan Hart and it is entitled, ” The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,: A Chinese Painting Manual Offers Inspiration to Iconographers.” This article contains quotes from the Chinese manual as well as comments by Aidan Hart as to their usefulness for Iconographers. It is quite a beautiful and clear article that speaks to some of the nuances of Icon painting. Here is a quote from that article. The italics are quotes from the manual, and the regular text is Aidan Hart’s commentary:
“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. (17)
When we learn a second language, we consciously study its rules of grammar and learn its norms. But as we gain knowledge and confidence, we find our own voice. Iconography should be the same.
I have heard it said by some Orthodox thinkers that iconography is not art. I disagree. The icon is indeed more than art because it is part of the liturgy and exists for more than aesthetic delectation. But it is at least art. Although the icon’s sacred purpose means that its aesthetic categories are more extensive than those of secular art, it should nonetheless include them. The same universal colour theories and composition principles apply.”
One more quote:
“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.(19)
Hard work is the only path to the authentic abstraction. In the years that I have taught iconography I have found that drapery is the most common stumbling block for learners. Prolonged and analytical study is required to understand the drapery that the icon tradition abstracts. Drapery’s complexity needs to be mastered in order to make sense of its simplification, otherwise it becomes irrational, not supra-rational. Lines need to be understood as horizons of forms and not strings hanging in space.
The Second article is written by Anton Daineko “The Living Icon”, also published in the Orthodox Arts Journal. In this article, Anton grapples with the issue of what is the criterion used to make authentic Icons? This is not a simple or easy question to answer. He cites examples of Iconographers from the past such as Andrei Rublev, Hilandar and Panselinos in order to visually show the necessary qualities of good Icons.
In this article, he also speaks about the importance of the Iconographer’s direct experience, through prayer, with God.
Commenting on copying in iconography, Father Igor, a priest from Minsk and himself an icon painter, noted that “There are no icon copies; each icon is a REVELATION”. Naturally, this raises questions: is it even possible to define such a delicate matter as REVELATION, and what aspects should be included under the resultant definition?
It cannot be answered in a few simple words. With some icons, everything is easy: one look at the Redeemer from the Zvenigorod deesis tier, and you feel that it really is a REVELATION. But with most icons, the matter is far more complicated.
“It would be appropriate here to recall the words in the epigraph to this article, the Apostle Peter’s reply to Our Lord’s question “Who do you say that I Am?” – “YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD“.
Perhaps this line holds the key to understanding much about the Church, including the canonical texts: in those texts, the early Christians saw an image of the LIVING GOD, crucified and raised from the dead. And that is what is most precious in the Church. It is precisely the PRESENCE of the Living God that sets the Christian Church apart from other religions and other communities. And it is precisely this PRESENCE that we can observe in scripture as well as virtually everything else in church life. The icon is no exception in this regard.
The iconic image consists of many simple elements: strokes, stripes, and smudges, while the different colors are obtained by various combinations of minerals and egg yolk. Taken separately, none of these elements carry any artistic – let alone spiritual – meaning in and of themselves. But when these elements come together in a particular combination, a miracle occurs: the strokes, the stripes, and the smudges cease to exist, and we see the Face of the Living God looking directly at us. It is as much of a miracle as the image of the Living God emanating from the simple words of the Gospels’ narrative.”
I suggest again, reading the entire article in order to fully understand the nuances and also to see more examples of the Icons mentioned in the article. We are so blessed today to have great contemporary Iconographer who are sharing their wisdom and experience to those who are eager to learn.
Enjoy, as we come to the official close of summer, and may God bless all of your Icon writing with His Presence.
“The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your Glory.” Isaiah 60:19
The summer stretches out before us with plenty of opportunity for good reading. This past month I have been reading Francoise Gilot’s “Life with Picasso”. While I am surely not a fan of Picasso’s, I believe that the creative output of that era has many important facets worth gleaning for art practice today. You may be surprised, as I was, with the following quote of Picasso’s, as related by Gilot in the book:
” You have to go all the way back to the Greeks and the Egyptians. Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production ism submitted to rules. They- the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians – did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was a painters sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals….what the artist gains in the way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.”
The Value of Order in Icon Writing
Surprising as this quote is coming from Picasso, it underscores what we as Iconographers have been blessed to experience, i.e., the order and beauty of Icons brings with it a sense of peace and fulfillment that can be found in no other form of art. If you’ve read my book, Eyes of Fire, you know that I have made the correlation between contemporary art making and Icons. The reason for this is that Icon writing is a living art form for today. While we seek to incorporate the canons of Iconography into our work today, we also need to allow God to speak to our hearts as we work. We need this practice of praying and painting in order for the Icons we create today to be authentic to our time.
Icon Writing Retreats
Order was very apparent in the recent Icon writing retreat at Holy Cross, an Episcopal Benedictine Monastery in West Park, NY. Here we were able to participate in the Monk’s reciting of the daily hours: Morning prayer at 7AM, Breakfast at 7:45, Eucharist at 9AM, then Icon writing until Diurnum at noon. After lunch we had more Icon writing until Vespers at 5, then supper, and at 8pm, Compline. Great Silence was observed from 8PM until 8AM. We were able to fit these intervals of prayer and silence in between Icon writing sessions and experience the refreshment this practice gives. Painting and praying all through each day, being part of a living community of praying people allows us to experience the lift and support needed to practice the spiritual discipline of Icon writing.
In a community of Iconographers, people share their experience, knowledge and good ideas! Iconography, like almost any worthwhile activity, benefits from cultivating a sense of community amongst practitioners, admirers, patrons, and students.
We all love and participate in the larger community of Christ’s Church – worldwide. Within this context, there is astonishing variety of practice and interpretation amongst Iconographers. Some of this is culturally determined, and some of the variety comes from different approaches to the Traditions of the Church.
Tolerance is the buzz word of today. Since Icon writers (painters) need to avoid egotism and reactionism in order to be authentic Iconographers, it naturally follows that the love of Christ extends to each person, regardless of their “style” of painting Icons.
Icon writers are humble servants who are able to keep their eyes on God’s purpose with sacred and Holy images, inviting creativity to partner with prayer to create images that inspire the viewer to a closer relationship with God.
Today, while there is a hint of interest in the renewal of sacred art, there is a need for education and training for sacred artists. I think it would be useful to create a place on the RESOURCE page on this blog, that lists credentialed degree programs of sacred art that will be helpful for future Iconographers. Please email me with suggestions or links that might be included. In this way, we can work together to insure the future and quality of sacred art development.
SUMMER OF 2020
This summer my goal for my own Icon writing is to approach the drawing of Icons from a more creative place. Reading Aidan Hart’s book “Beauty, Spirit, Matter, Icons in the Modern World”, I found this quote from Paul Evdokimov “ …the icon painters’ community needs to rediscover the creative power of the ancient iconographers and find an exit from the static immobility of the “copyists” art.
I still love copying from the great master Iconographers, and so I am using them as my models, just as the secular artist uses nature as her model. I am also studying from books like George Kordis’ “Icons as Communion” book the concept of rhythm, movement and dynamic flow in Byzantine Iconography. It’s not an easy task!! But I am getting help from Sister Petra Clare’s tutoring in her online course for Iconographers. She has created a closed Facebook Group where she posts exercise and examples, and we post our sketches and drawings for her comments. So, it’s an online community and we are learning together- it’s a lot of good creative fun! Her website is: eastxwest Online Studies, and she might have room for one or two more students.
The first is September 26-28 at St. Patrick’s Church, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the second is October 24-26 at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Bradenton, Florida. Please email me if you’d like me to save a space for you.
That’s all the news for June, 2019.
May God bless your Eyes, Mind, and hearts, and hands, that all that you say, do or think will be honorable and pleasing to Him!
This month of May, we celebrate Mary, Mother of God, with our prayers and special Icons. This month, Mary Jane Miller, a member of the American Association of Iconographers, has written an article expressing her views of Mary and how perceptions of Mary have changed through the centuries. Here at AAI we are open to informative articles about Iconography from our members, and will publish them from time to time. Email email@example.com for more information if you are interested in writing or publishing an article about Icons that would benefit the Icon writing community.
Mary Icons: a New Contemporary Trinity by Mary Jane Miller
There are three classic prototypes of Mary Icons. Their collective messages point towards a new contemporary trinity of interconnections. As our society has changed, the concept of Mary and her message brings to light provocative and meaningful perspectives on loving. It has been through contemplating her image, and painting icons of her that I have come to realize a deeper mystical message. Her popular iconography may have the keys to how we are to care for creation and one another in the world.
Mary looks directly at the viewer, beckoning us towards poised stillness and constant prayer with palms extended outward in total surrender to what she receives. She contains the Creator of the Universe in her womb.
Mary Icons of the Theotokos
Mary is portrayed as the feminine energy which tenderly nurtures Jesus to become a teacher, rabbi, master and lord. She is the icon which reminds us to love one another, to love life, and to love creation.
Mary Icons of the Hodegitria
Mary becomes a mystical location, she is the challis that holds the “Way” in her lap. She offers us an example of one who can show us what is necessary to give ourselves to God and one another. We like Mary are called to release to the world what we most love and cherish.
The image of Mary has mutated many times throughout centuries of iconography. From the mother of creation Diva, to a Mother of God gazing into the unknown, to a weeping, anguished mother of Jesus she has changed as our society changes. The Renaissance painters in the 16th century changed her image into a more human mother, one of pain or of joy. Mary’s identity has given rise to many doctrinal wars, decrees and debates but her image is more than cult, idol, mystery or divine. She is a fountain of motherhood image, triggering great reflection and contemplation, and she has triggered a wonderful epiphany in me.
Mary Icons Defined Through History
Theologians of the Middle Ages deliberated in detail the Forever Virgin condition of Mary. They had to answer how it could be that Christ was born to someone as common as one of us? Since ‘ Christ is All man and All God ‘ , His mother would have to be, in some way, all divine. The Roman Catholic Church fashioned the idea of the Immaculate Conception. The concept of Mary being miraculously conceived was declared doctrine in 1854. It was a theological creation which became dogma at considerable expense to women. It made her more perfect and exhausted than any women’s capacity to achieve. Ironically, Mary was lifted to the highest place among men, yet somehow, though she was seemingly divine, she had no voice and no ability to act in any other way but constant surrender.
Nearly 100 years later another detail of her divinity needed clarification. Since Mary was immaculately conceived then where would her divine body go at her death? The Orthodox Church specifically teaches that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon her death, and that her body was resurrected. On the third day after her ‘ repose ‘ her body was taken up into heaven. It was decided Mary did not die but rather “slept”. This statement became an Article of Faith in 1950. The Roman Catholic institution needed an example of undefiled sexuality, perfected womanhood with divine meekness and they found it in the Virgin Mary, from beginning to end.
We are now living in 2019. Where is Mary’s message and identity now? Has it changed or will the theologians of this age allow a change?
I have painted many images of Mary and I believe she continues to send messages to us today. The wisdom that women have learned through years of service and observation have undoubtedly helped shape society. I believe one critical message we have yet to understand is that humanity does not own anything, we have been lousy stewards of creation. In actuality we share our common energy and common space on the planet. Mary is the queen of teaching us to love. Over time, I have become increasingly aware of all that we have been given. How have we nurtured it? Will we one day be able to Give It Back to the world? Mary gave away the very thing she loved the most. It takes enormous selfless love to do such a thing.
I find it ironic that Christian mystics, mostly men, have spoken and expanded the spiritual understanding of God for nearly two thousand years. In doing so, they have controlled and shaped our society. Mary has not spoken, making our understanding of her elusive. Mary is a woman who, by her human act, gave birth to the most transcendent truth which is love, a love completed in offering. This is by far the very thing the world needs for its healing.
The next three icons illustrate a new teaching and trinity: to receive, nurture and release. The interconnection between these three states of being are precisely the clue we have to discover a new future. It is found in the value of being loved and loving another with no ownership. The idea is not only Christian, it teaches a new attitude towards creation. It is obvious to everyone how much humans are creating. It is obvious how much we love what we create. Will we come to a time when we have the wisdom to give away to the world what we have created? Nothing is truly ours, it never has been. It is all the potential of Love that has been given by God that makes any of this make sense.
Mary Jane Miller
Author Bio. Mary Jane Miller is a self-taught Byzantine style iconographer with over 28 years of experience. For the first 15 years she produced unique and unorthodox collections of sacred art and continues to have them exhibited in Museums and churches in both the United States and Mexico. Miller writes luxuriously, blending historical content, and personal insights to arrive at contemporary conclusions about faith. The author of 4 self-published books include Icon Painting Revealed, The Mary Collection, In light of Women and The Stations. Miller has been published online and in publications such as Divine Temple Russian Orthodox Journal, Faith and Forum Magazine, Liturgy Today and Profiles of Catholicism. She teaches 4 courses annually, 5 day immersion workshops throughout the US and Mexico. website: www.sanmiguelicons.com and http://sacrediconretreat.com/
Thank you so much, Mary Jane, for your thoughts and images of Mary. Next month, the blog will be on the topic of Light and Color in the Icon.
This month the focus is on the fifteenth century Iconographer, Dionysus.
Born sometime in the 1440’s near Borovsk, a small town southwest of Moscow, Dionysus’ earliest works are wall paintings at the Parfuntiev Monastery. Throughout his life, he was attracted to the beautiful and colorful Novgorodian style of Iconography. Dionysius’ colors were delicate and transparent and his elongated figures increased the elements of elegance and symbolism in his work.
Certainly he must have been aware of the work of Andrei Rublev (c.1360-1430), who painted in the old Iconographic tradition. However, Dionysus’ work reflected a new development in compositional style that increased the energy and vitality of the Icon.
One of the Last of the Old Master Iconographers
Dionysius’ style was called “Muscovite Mannerism” and it bridged the gap between Novgorodian Icon painting and the later Stroganov school. His best frescoes are in the Ferapontov Monastery, which include the beautiful “The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth”. Dionysus and his sons completed all the frescoes on the Virgin and scenes from her life at this monastery. In addition to egg tempera, he was a master of encaustic painting as well.
Dionysus ‘ color palette was strongly influenced by a group of early Renaissance artists from Italy who arrived in Moscow. This can be seen in the delicately blended and balanced soft pigment colors such as pink, lilac and turquoise, creating harmonious chords of color in his frescoes and Icons. The lyrical effect of his style of coloration affected much of the Iconography of the 16th century.
In 1482 Dionysus was called to Moscow to paint the Deesis on the Iconostasis in the Cathedral of the Dormition. After also painting murals in two of the chapels, he and his sons were asked to paint one hundred Icons for the Volokolamsky Monastery. With this, Dionysus devoted the remainder his life to icon panel painting, but today many of those Icons are either lost or un-restored.
Joseph-Volokolamsk was a wealthy patron who commissioned Dionysius to paint over ninety Icons. But the most comprehensive collection of his work is to be found at the Ferapontov Monastery. It is a series of frescoes depicting the life of Mary.
Dionysus Fresco, Mary
Christ Fresco, Dionysus
When writing(painting) Icons, it is always helpful to study from the great Iconographers of the past. Although their work speaks specifically to their time, these early Masters used principles of composition, color, and space in harmonious ways, and that kind of perspective has been largely missing in the art of our time. Copying these works helps educate Iconographers and helps bring valuable knowledge forward into today’s Icons.
This blog is created to share valuable ideas and information with Iconographers around the world. Below are some useful links for Iconographic materials. Until next month:
This month is a continuation of last month’s article on Hesychasm and Icons. There is an interesting book that was produced in fifteenth century Russia called, “Message to an Iconographer.” Message to an Iconographer is believed to have been written by St. Joseph of Volokolamsk. It is helpful in explaining the role and meaning of sacred art and Iconography. It is believed that this book was put together at the request of the famous Iconographer, Dionysius for the purpose of training future Iconographers.
Part of the reason for creating Message to an Iconographer was a concern that after Andrei Rublev’s Icons, there was a progressive lack of focus on the spiritual depth and meaning of the Icon in favor of beauty of artistic form. Message to an Iconographer provides an answer to the prevailing heresy of the time and is a defense of the Icon and its veneration. It is also a positive contribution that explains its spiritual content. Here is a quote from “Theology of the Icon, Volume II” by Leonid Ouspensky:
“How much more appropriate is it then, in this new time of grace, to venerate and bow down before the image of our Lord Jesus Christ painted on the Icon by human hands…and to adore His deified humanity taken up into heaven. This also holds true for His All Pure Mother. Likewise, to paint images of all the saints on icons, to venerate and bow before them is equally appropriate. By painting images of the saints on Icons, we do not venerate an object but, starting from this visible object, our mind and spirit ascend toward the love of God, object of our desire.” This statement echoes the defense of Icons by Gregory of Palamas. Taboric light and the divine energies form the basis of this treatise.
The Jesus Prayer
Here is another quote from the Message to an Iconographer: “When adoring your Lord and God…let your whole heart, spirit, and mind be lifted toward a contemplation of the holy, consubstantial and life giving Trinity, in purity of thought and heart…Let your bodily eyes ascend to the divine …venerate them spiritually in your soul and visibly with your body. Be completely turned toward the heavens.”
“The Message” is about a lifestyle of asceticism and inner prayer that is appropriate to an Iconographer.
“Wherever you may be, O beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting or lying down-ceaselessly pray with a pure conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’, and God will hear you. ” “Close your eyes to the visible and look at the future with your inner eye.” These are instructions to an Iconographer from The Message. They are intended to create a platform of prayer and faith from which to work on the Icon.”
I would suggest reading this chapter in its entirety to fully understand the context and intent of the author. It is from Chapter 13 Hesychasm and the flowering of Russian Art, in Theology of the Icon, Volume II, Leonid Ouspensky. There is a great deal of value in the rest of the book also, and I highly recommend it for Iconographers.
One last quote that is a gem:
“The painter must be acutely aware of the responsibility that rests upon him when creating an Icon. His work must be informed by the prototype it represents in order for its message to become a living, active force, shaping man’s disposition, his view of the world and of life. A true Iconographer must commune with the prototype he represents, not merely because he belongs to the body of the Church, but also on account of his own experience of sanctification. He must be a creative painter who perceives and discloses another’s holiness through his own spiritual experience. It is upon this experience of communing with the archetype that the operative power of an Iconographers work depends.”
May God bless your Icons, as you grow in wisdom and understanding in the practice of writing the Holy Image. Next month will be an article on the fifteenth century Iconographer Dionysus.
This article is extrapolated from the chapter, Hesychasm, the Flowering of Russian Art in Leonid Ouspensky’s Theology of the Icon, Volume II. I’ve chosen to share this particular material because of the understanding common to most Iconographers that Andrei Rublev is one of the greatest Iconographers and his work is fruit of the Hesychast period in Russia. Since this article points to some of the conditions present that contributed to Rublev’s ability to create Icons that spoke to his time we can discern important truths to apply to modern Icon writing. Hesychasm and Russian Icons are a unique combination that had a powerful effect on the art of its day.
Message To An Iconographer
Next month, part two of this article will give a synopsis of the “Message to an Iconographer”. This was a document widely circulated for and amongst Iconographers of that day. It attempts to set standards of Iconographic practice and is worth reading and understanding forts bearing on creating Icons today.
Thirteenth. Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Russia
During the thirteenth century, an original artistic language specific to Russia began to appear. It reflected the spiritual life of the people, their holiness and their way of assimilating Christianity. Russian sacred arts from this time are inspired by a direct, living knowledge and experience of Revelation.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the spiritual leader, Sergius of Radonezh, consecrated his church to the Holy Trinity, “so that contemplation of the Holy Trinity might conquer the fear of this world’s detestable discord”. It was a time of feudal wars, Mongol raids, and general unrest, but Radonezh was confident of the power of the sacred image to influence his world.
Revival in Russia
Russia, through its own suffering of the Tartar invasion, experienced the Gospel intensely. There was widespread understanding that the power of Christ was participating actively in the lives of the Russian people, helping them in time of need. From this intensity of faith, Russia’s pictorial art reached its highest expression. Today we appreciate these examples of Iconography for their intense and joyful colors, expressive form and their freedom and spontaneity.
During this period, hesychasm and Orthodox Christianity were closely linked. St Sergius’ monastery became the spiritual center of Russia and the hesychast influence. The theology of hesychasm is reflected in the spiritual content and character of the Icons of that period. Zealous in the life of prayer and fasting, the famous iconographers, Daniel and Andrei Rublev were able to receive divine grace and perceive the divine, immaterial light that we see in the colors of their Icons.
Master Iconographer Dionysius was also guided by hesychasm and the teaching of inner prayer. These great Iconographers were not concerned with earthly things but always prayed to raise their spirits and thoughts toward the divine, immaterial light.
As Iconographers today, may we always seek to keep prayer as the central focus of our praxis, and learn from those who went before us.
Links to Books on Russian Icons
Here are a few links to websites that have books on Russian Icons:
The Month of February Calendar Saints from the book: “Masterpieces of Early Christian Art”, Richard Temple Gallery, London, UK
Writing Icons is a challenging task in many different ways. Learning from the past, incorporating the Traditions of the Church, and still being attentive to the spiritual ethos of our time in order to make Icons that are relevant to people today is a tall order. Icons are more than a spiritual painting
“The Icon is a kind of synthesis of the Spiritual truths and values of Eastern Christianity. It is much more than a religious painting, or a didactic aid. It is a sacramental medium, a meeting point between the Divine uncreated light and the human heart. Its visible, created beauty is aluminous epiphany, a ‘place’ of manifestation, where prayer gains access to the uncreated beauty of God’s grace and truth.” The Glenstal Book of Icons, Praying with the Glenstal Icons, Gregory Collins, OSB, the Liturgical Press
Theophanis the Cretan
As part of an ongoing series of looking at ancient Iconographers, this month the focus is on the Iconographer Theophanis , who painted many of the frescoes and Icons of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita, Mt. Athos, Greece in the sixteenth Century.
A major source for this article is the book “The Cretan Painter Theophanis, the Wall Paintings of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita” by Manolis Chatzidakis, Published by the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita, Mount Athos, 1986.
Theophanis was an Icon painter, trained in the Cretan tradition of wall and Icon painting. This style of Icon painting is considered to be a continuation of Palaeologan painting. However, the mature work of Theophanis encompassed both the Byzantine tradition and certain motifs from Venetian painting of the period. This contact with foreign Italian models of the 15th Century served to freshen the traditional compositions and add an emotional element without detracting from the essential dogma of the content.
“Theophanis lives within the eternal, changeless mystery of the liturgical life and experience of the Church and at the same time is a sensitive man of his own times. It is clear that he continues the Iconographic tradition that has passed through the splendor of the Palaeologan revival.” Archimandrite Vasileios, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita.
At times, the frescoes are painterly in execution, with less bold lines and rendered by brush strokes. In these works, the transitions of light are more gradual and subtle
In the handling of drapery, the accurate rendering of volume and movement through the interplay of light and dark tones. This creates a sense of rhythm that prevents the drawing from appearing mechanical.
In the Nativity of the Mother of God Theophanis renews the Iconographic type and style in his preference for Palaeologic models.
Icons help us remember the presence of the Trinity is always available to us. They serve as visual reminders that God’s light is perpetually shining on us.
Each Iconographer responds to the needs and dictates of his time, while simultaneously brining forward the Traditions of the Early Church. Theophanis is a wonderful example of an Iconographer who created a particular style of Iconography, authentic to his place and time.
May your Icons be blessed, there will be more articles next month.