Distinctions

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

Dormition Icon, early 13th Century, Tretyakov Gallery
Dormition Icon, early 13th Century, Tretyakov Gallery

It has always fascinated me that the more I study, write, and paint Icons, the more I discover further nuances and distinctions between styles and methods of icon painting.  In reading Viktor Lazarev’s article “General Observations on Russian Iconography” in his book “The Russian Icons, from its Origins to the Sixteenth Century”, Lazarev delineates many distinctions between Byzantine and Russian Iconography.

Detail, Dormition Icon
Detail, Dormition Icon

For example, in the tenth century, Byzantine artistic influences began to be seen in Russian art, specifically icons.  The cities of Pskov and Novgorod were the most affected, partly due to their form of government that allowed for more artistic freedom.  By the time of Andrei Rublev, a distinct school of Russian Iconography could be recognized.

Rus appropriated the Byzantine iconographic types such as the Mother of God, portrayals of Gospel scenes, and similar Old Testament compositions. But in Russia, the faces become more gentle and open, colors became more intense, and highlights smaller and more intense which are sometimes barely perceptible. So, in this way, Russian iconography can be said to transform Byzantine iconography in a way that it is less severe and more open to nuances of content and expression.

Nativity of Christ Icon with Saints Eudocia, John Climacus, and Juliana, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Nativity of Christ Icon with Saints Eudocia, John Climacus, and Juliana, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Later, the creation of original prototype independent of Byzantium emerged in Russian icons.  Some examples of this are the Synaxis of the Mother of God, and the Virgin of Mercy.  These changes reflected the every day need for peasant life to be in communion with saints and angels.  Protection for their flocks, houses, trades, and health became the subjects and content of numerous versions of Mary, local saints, and the angels.

Saints Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrystostom, and Basil the Great, Icon
Saints Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrystostom, and Basil the Great, Icon, early 15th century

 

Russians considered iconography to be the most perfect of all arts.  “The art of the icon was invented by God’s very self, who adorns the sky and the stars and the earth with flowers because of their beauty.   Icons were shown the utmost respect.” (V. Lazarev, p.23).  They were bearers of moral authority and bearers of spiritual grace and holiness. Today icons are endlessly attractive precisely because of this moral purity that appears in icons through the fifteenth century, but begins to disappear with the sixteenth century.

St. Demetrius of Thessalonica Icon, mid Fifteenth Century
St. Demetrius of Thessalonica Icon, mid Fifteenth Century

Making efforts to understand  distinctions between different styles of iconography, one begins to develop a real understanding of the essential elements of iconography and a to cultivate a desire to bring forward these distinctions to iconography today.

Iconographic Links of Interest

Face Book groups for Iconographers:

Worldwide Orthodox Iconographers

Painting Best Practices

Online Icon Course Technique

St. Luke’s Guild of Iconography

American Association of Iconographers

Icon Boards Blaturi Icoane

Icon Writing Classes

Icon Classes

That’s all for this month.  May God bless your icon writing and give you His direction and wisdom in your work.

Christine Hales,

Iconographer/teacher       Website

 

 

 

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Christine and Michael Hales

Christine Simoneau Hales is an artist/Iconographer who's works are in many public and private collections. Visit her websites for more information: Paintings www.christinehales.com, and for her Icons: www.newchristianicons.com, and americanassociationoficonographers.com Michael Hales is a world class photographer as well as Chaplain at Freedom Village.