An American School of Iconography

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

Last Supper, School of A. Rublev
Last Supper, School of A. Rublev

This month I wanted to write about the idea of an American School of Iconographers.  Not a brick and mortar school, but a school in the Benedictine sense of a community of people who share values, beliefs, and common goals.  A school of people  who desire to learn from and support each other in the goal of painting Icons would , ideally, be comprised of diversity as well as commonality.

One of the tenets in the Iconographer’s Rules  that we all learn when starting to write Icons is “Never forget the joy of spreading icons throughout the world.”  Although Icon painting is often a solitary process, joining together in classes can help combat the undesirable effects of isolation and promote growth and learning.

Mother of God Hodegitria
Mother of God Hodegitria

Recently, during the stay at- home -order due to the corona virus, several online Icon classes have sprung up, and I suspect that we will see a lot more of these in the future. Will these replace the onsite icon classes taught by iconographers at colleges and monasteries?  No.  Live, in-person classes provide an opportunity for feedback, practice, and personal remedial direction, and that works hand in hand with on line classes at other times during the year.  The on line classes provide an ongoing way to practice drawing and painting that make the in person classes a valuable source of individual instruction.

Writing Icons is no simple task, as most of you have discovered.  Initially, a novice Iconographer is encouraged to copy Icons from before the sixteenth century.  This usually involves tracing the Icon, then transferring the image to a board and painting.  However, after a few years of this kind of practice, one can move on to learning to draw iconographically.  Drawing icons freehand, and learning the basics of sacred geometry composition are tasks for intermediate level iconographers.  Color theory comes next, along with practice, practice, practice.  It’s good to practice on watercolor paper, do studies, learn how to draw garments, and hands.  Then, drawing the face, understanding dynamic symmetry and theology of icons are tasks for advanced Icon classes.

Seraphim Drawing
Seraphim Drawing

There’s always so much to learn and it’s exciting to have such rich subject matter to explore.  When you add all this to the joy of growing closer to God through prayer, contemplation, and icon writing you have an absorbing and life giving practice.

Nun Juliana, Saint Peter Drawing
Nun Juliana, Saint Peter Drawing

Being an active member of a Church and faith community is essential to writing icons also.  Since God, theology and art are so intertwined in this process, it is important to have a spiritual director with whom to ponder and question how God wants to use this art form through your work.  Iconographers need to have an active prayer life and understand how Icons are used in contemplation and liturgy.

Nun Juliana Icon
Nun Juliana Icon

The American Association of Iconographers is a free association of Iconographers who share a common desire to be supportive to each other and grow in faith and icon writing.  We have a Face Book Group ( just search for American Association of Iconographers on Face Book) which you can join.  Anyone who is a member can post their ideas, questions, useful links, etc.  Because it is an Ecumenical group, we practice acceptance of both Orthodox and non Orthodox Iconography.  We usually don’t publicize or promote individual Iconographers’ classes, but instructional video links are acceptable for posting.

It Takes Time to Develop

There have been many developments and changes to the world, as well as to the world of Iconography over the last twenty years.  Similarly, it will take time to develop characteristics, attributes, and a standard for excellence in this field.

It will be helpful to see visual examples and hear of other Iconographers’ experiences in their locations regarding community, learning, creating a standard for quality and relevance.   Perhaps in the future we could have a virtual conference or series of meetings to discuss these topics.  Also, writing blogs for this group can be a way to share experience and perspective.

So far, the guiding principles are: The creation of a spiritually healthy, ecumenical, support group that promotes the practice of Icon sharing, learning, and promoting the love of Icons that can provide direction and possibly regulate a  set of guidelines for future Iconographers.

Please feel free to use the contact form below with suggestions, ideas, and possible submissions for blog posts.

May God continue to bless you in all that you say and do,

Christine Hales

New Christian Icons.com

 

 

Medieval Russian Icons

Archangel Michael, 1300
Archangel Michael, 1300

MEDIEVAL RUSSIAN ICONS  11-17TH CENTURIES

In the creation of Icons today, I find it particularly helpful to keep looking to the past in order to understand the nuances and dynamics of Icon making through the centuries.  Medieval Russian Icons and their development  is particularly applicable to this task.  The following is excerpted from the book, A History of Icon Painting,  and this chapter was  written by Angelina Smirnova; Moscow, 2005.
St. Nicholas, late 12th Century, Moscow
St. Nicholas, late 12th Century, Moscow

Early Russian Christianity

Since the adoption by Russia of Christianity  in 988, Christian art was able to develop and flourish.  Particularly in the metropolitan areas like Moscow and Kiev, the foundation was laid for Christianity and its art to spread through Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine. While in these early centuries Icons were favored by Monks and used as devotional images in chapels, churches and monasteries.  They were very important inRussian Orthodoxy.
The first Russian icons were heavily influenced by Byzantine culture which formed the basis of knowledge concerning the canons and painting traditions of icons.
Our Lady Enthroned with Archangel Gabriel and St. Sergius of Radoneh, 15th Century
Our Lady Enthroned with Archangel Gabriel and St. Sergius of Radoneh, 15th Century
Wealthy princes and czars commissioned spacious churches that required large painted images, resulting in clearer silhouettes and pronounced rhythm and contours that could give a compositional unity.
The themes of overcoming suffering and the hope of salvation dominated the subject matter of these icons which laid the foundation for Andrei Rublev’s painting in the fifteenth century.
“The saints on Russian icons are often endowed with a particularly forceful expressiveness in which Christian spirituality clearly demonstrates the power of saints over the cosmic forces of nature.  The images on Russian icons are more open and direct compared with the refined intellectualism of Byzantine art, which drew more strongly on the Hellenistic tradition and was more remote from the sphere of everyday emotions.”
Prophet Elijah and scenes from His Life, 13th Century
Prophet Elijah and scenes from His Life, 13th Century

Comnenian Icons

The second half of the eleventh century Russian princes  built churches to establish their governments and required monumental icons to adorn them. Most of the themes repeated Byzantine icons but there were some original ones depicting the Russian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb.
Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod
Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod
The Comnenian style, characterized by more muted expressions, light transparent colors, and the addition of a blue/azure color, developed in twelfth century Russia. By the thirteenth century, after the devastating effects of the Tartar-Mongol hordes, icons began to show expressions of strength, resolve, spiritual integrity and power.
A Russian style of icon painting  was becoming clearly evident by the thirteenth century.  In comparison with Byzantine art there was now a flatter picture plane and composition, rich color, and a more open yet inward  expression on the figures.  There were local exceptions, such as Novgorod, which retained a simplicity combined with vibrant colors.
Virgin Orans, Great Panagia, 1224, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Virgin Orans, Great Panagia, 1224, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Moscow Icons

As Moscow became the political and cultural center of Russia in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, a clearly defined style emerged.  Fifteenth century Russian icons represent the ideal heavenly world and God’s grace, in contrast to the fourteenth century icons which showed believers the steps to overcoming obstacles to spiritual development.  Now, ideal harmony was the theme of icons and that is perfectly expressed in Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon.  Rublev’s icons exemplify Byzantine classicism and seem to combine aspects of earlier styles of Russian icon painting in a mystical and beautiful way.  Later, Dionysius would elongate figures and open out towards the viewer, compositional elements and figures. (For more on Dionysius see earlier post on this blog site.)
Dormition, Dionysius, late 15th Century
Dormition, Dionysius, late 15th Century
The Paleologue period of Byzantine iconography, 1261-1453 continued to influence Russian Icons of the sixteenth century, but there was also  more of a theological-didactic narrative to these icons. A western influence began to be seen in the modeling of the faces and forms and a more naturalistic rendering of space.
I hope this brief history encapsulation is helpful to
iconographers of the twenty-first century who seek to maintain the canons of Iconography and also create religious art that relates to and inspires Christians today. 
A good source of images can be found in some of the digital libraries that are now being made public:
May God bless you with a sense of community as Iconographers, and bless you with health and grace.
Christine Hales, Iconographer/artist

Some Useful Iconography Links

Icon Books and more:  Kolomenskya Russian Icons

Icons and Their Interpretation– A blog which features articles about Icons

Christians In The Visual Arts: An international group of Christian artists

Face Book Group: American Association of Iconographers

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

 

 

 

Icons- A Symbolic Language

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

American Association of Iconographers, God the Divine Geometer
God the Divine Geometer, circa 1220 AD

Icons as Symbolic Language

Have you ever wondered about the symbolic nature of Icons?  It is the very source of their power as Holy images that convey the many faceted religion of Christianity.  One dictionary definition of “symbolic language” reads: ” a specialized language dependent on the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude…”

Symbols allow us to bring our spiritual awareness out of the church and into our secular world.  Communion with God through the Icon is achieved through a symbolic language where gestures, clothing, and style of drawing are precise and fixed.  There are only a few gestures that Christ’s right hand will take, and the drawing of the faces and human form fall within a canon of proportion and scale that relates to the theme and subject matter.

American association of Iconographers, Romanesque Style
Romanesque Style, circa 1145AD

C.S. Lewis, when asked to write another book for his adult audience replied that he now preferred to write in symbols and metaphors for a younger audience (The Chronicles of Narnia), in order to intrigue readers with Christianity unawares.  Similarly, Icons can bring the presence of God to people’s hearts whether or not they are Christians at all.

Icons are based on a Greek notion of proportion and symmetry applied to facial features and bodies.  Even color has great significance for understanding the mysteries of our faith. The light emanating from an Icon must be indicative of the uncreated light of God’s Presence and the divine light of grace. Through contemplation on these symbolic images, Icons, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Christ in our everyday lives.

American Association of Iconographers, St. Theodosia
St. Theodosia, 1225 AD

The very nature of Icon writing is that, following the principles of ancient art, we seek to make a sign which will convey religious meaning specific to the subject matter of that particular Icon.

Ancient Egyptian design is at the heart of the Icon.  You can see this in the Fayum portraits, and also in the flat linear depictions of people and religious symbols found in the pyramids. These influences combined with early Greek flexibility of line and brushstroke  form the basis of all early Iconographic composition.

Today, as we Iconographers research, ready, and study to be able to encompass the path to writing authentic Icons that speak to God’s people today, we must still look to the ancients in order to fully grasp the complexity of those seemingly simple designs and processes.

American Association of Iconographers, Duccio Icon
Duccio Icon

Below are some links to resources to inspire and resource your Icon writing in the new decade!  Wishing you all a blessed and joyous New Year!

Christine Hales

Icon Classes                       Icon Prints

Modern Russian Icon Website:  Book of Icon drawings for tracing.  This book also shows where the highlights will go.  Excellent for beginners.

Temple Gallery:  Several Beautiful Books with old Russian Icons – good source for creating Icons

Natural Pigments.com: A very good source for pigments and lots of other Iconographers supplies and materials.

Collecting Icons

Nativity of Jesus Icon from St. Paraskeva Church
Nativity of Jesus Icon from St. Paraskeva Church

Why Collect Icons?

Are you an Icon collector?  Collecting Icons is similar to collecting fine art in that the beauty is often times in the eye of the beholder.  Icons carry meaning in addition to the esthetics we expect from visual art. That meaning, or content, might relate on a very personal level to the viewer and thus have a high degree of value, regardless of the aesthetic qualities.  For example, an Icon of Saint Luke will resonate with artists, Iconographers, physicians, and bachelors because Saint Luke is their patron saint.  Icons have the ability to enhance our prayer life as we venerate the saints depicted.

St. Luke Icon by Christine Hales
St. Luke Icon by Christine Hales

 

Venerating Icons

molennaya

We use the word venerate to talk about our interactions with Icons.  To venerate means to cherish, honor, exalt, be in awe of, appreciate and reverence.  In old Russia, during times of religious persecution, people who could afford it would create a beautiful corner in their homes, or a small chapel.  This would hold the Icons that this family particularly revered and understood as important parts of their family prayer lives.

Icons can deepen our prayer life with specific, focused prayer.
Icons can deepen our prayer life with specific, focused prayer.

Icons can enhance our connection to the God we adore through specific, focused prayer.  Therefore, collecting Icons is a means of keeping our vision on God’s Kingdom in our homes, and sharing that with our families and friends.

Collecting Icons from Antiquity

Another aspect of collecting Icons is that of finding Icons from earlier centuries that have added value because of their age and provenance. One of the foremost Icon Galleries for ancient Icons is the Temple Gallery in London, UK.  It was founded in 1959 as a center for study, restoration and exhibition of ancient Icons and sacred art. With ancient Icons, their monetary value rises in accordance with their condition, provenance, size, and age.

Russian_nativity_icon

People often ask about the value about the icons they have discovered in their travels or have had handed down in their families.  TheMuseum of Russian Icons, in Clinton, Massachusetts, will do Icon evaluations on certain dates. They will also provide conservation and appraisal services upon request.  The museum has a beautiful permanent collection as well as changing exhibitions.

A Living Traditon

Nativity_Icon_Melissotopos_Olishta_19_Century
Nativity Icon Melissotopos Olishta 19 Century

Iconography is a living tradition, bringing the elements of the Christian faith to believers through the centuries.  Icons are often painted in the same way that they have been for hundreds of years.  And, as a living Tradition, Icons painted today are bringing along the traditions of the past and marrying them to contemporary faith and art practices.  Truly it is an exciting time to be collecting Icons!

May God bless your Icon creating and collecting especially this Advent Season!

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

Icon Website     Icon Prints Website

 

 

 

Practice

Dear Fellow Iconographers:
Angel

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:

Practice

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.

Raising of Lazarus Icon Sketch in Black and White Christine Hales
Raising of Lazarus Icon Sketch in Black and White.  Christine Hales

 

 

Simplified Palette
Simplified Palette

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.

 

 

John the Baptist watercolor sketch Christine Hales
John the Baptist watercolor sketch Christine Hales

 

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.

Online illuminated Manuscripts from  Open Culture.  Also, the Book of Kells on line.

A beautiful FB page with many good examples of Byzantine Icons- Byzantine Art

Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union Street, Clinton, Mass.  There is an exhibition of Prosopon Icons currently in addition to their permanent collection.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Nikita Andrei
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Nikita Andreiv

Resources for Icon Materials

Natural Pigments  They have pigments, red clay, gold leaf adhesives, brushes, etc..

Kremer Pigments has a shop in NYC but you can also order on linear an immense array of pigment choices and other materials like stand oil, linseed oil, etc.

Pandora- Pigment sets, Painting Tools, Porcelain Palette

Gold Leaf and Gilding Supplies

Sepp Leaf    www.seppleaf.com

Golden Leaf Products  www.goldenleafproducts.com

Gold Leaf Wholesalers  LA Gold

Icon Boards

Pandora Icon Boards, New York

St. John’s Workshop   Icon boards

 

Icon Painting Videos from You Tube

Villanova University– full process of painting an Icon.

Julia Brigit Hayes teaches online classes for drawing and painting Icons

Prosopon School of Iconology teaches workshops nationally. Another short video of their technique.

East X West online Icon Course with Sr. Petra offers many video tutorials and a thorough grounding in Iconographic history, drawing and painting.

That’s all for this month. Please let me know if this has helped you, and I wish you peace and  joy in spreading the beauty of Icons throughout the world!

Christine Hales

Icon Website 

Print Website

Fine Art Website

 

 

Feast Day of the Archangels

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

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!

Saint Patrick's Icon Class
Saint Patrick’s Icon Class

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.  

Archangel Michael

Andrei Rublev Michael the Archangel
Andrei Rublev Michael the Archangel

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

Angels in Battle
Angels in Battle

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 of  the 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.”

Archangel Gabriel  

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.

Announcing Angels
Announcing Angels

 

Archangel Raphael

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.

Archangel Raphael Icon by Christine Hales
Archangel Raphael Icon by Christine Hales

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!

 

Blessings,
Christine Hales

Icon Website

Icon Materials

Training for Iconographers

Greetings Fellow Iconographers :

Training for Iconographers

St. Basil
St. Basil Icon by Christine Hales

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.

First Article

Mustard Seed Manual of Painting
Mustard Seed Manual of Painting

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.

Here is the link for the entire article.  Enjoy!

Anton Daineko
Anton Daineko

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.

“The Criterion

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.

Confession of St. Peter Icon
Confession of St. Peter Icon

“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.

Christine Hales

Christine Hales’ Icon Prints 

Icon Classes Taught by Christine Hales

 

Mary

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

 Our Lady of Guadalupe Icon by Christine Hales
Our Lady of Guadalupe Icon by Christine Hales

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 christine@newchristiancions.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, Eucharist Icon by Mary Jane Miller
Mary, Eucharist Icon by Mary Jane Miller   Mary Icon of the Panagia

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.

Mary Icon by Mary Jane Miller
Mary Icon by Mary Jane Miller

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.

Mary Speaks

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.

3 Mary Icons by Mary Jane Miller
3 Mary Icons by Mary Jane Miller

Peace,

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.

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Christine’s Website  

Upcoming Icon Classes

 

Dionysus, the Iconographer

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. IMG_6054

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

IMG_6059

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.

IMG_6057

Personal Style

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.IMG_6067

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.

IMG_6062

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.

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:

Brushes,  

Gilding

Sennelier Pigments

Icon Boards 

 

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com