Picasso and Icons

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

“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:

Egyptian painting
Egyptian painting

” 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.

Christ Icons at Holy Cross Icon Class taught by Christine Hales
Christ Icons at Holy Cross Icon Class taught by Christine Hales

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.

Holy Cross Icon Class with Christine Hales
Holy Cross Icon Class with Christine Hales

Icon Retreats in 2020

In 2020 I will be teaching two more Icon writing retreats at Holy Cross, May 12-15 and July 21-24,  and one at their other monastery, Mount Calvary ,  in Santa Barbara, CA, March 3-6.

Interesting Links for Iconographers

Museum of Russian Icons , Clinton, Massachusetts    The current exhibition shows work from  the school of one of my valued teachers, The Prosopon School. The exhibition is called : Wrestling With Angels, Icons from the Prosopon School of Iconology and Iconography.  July 19-October 20, 2019

Icons and Their Interpretation is a blog about Icons and their meanings.

British Association of Iconographers is a group based in London, UK.  They have a website and newsletter available to members.

That’s all the news for this month!  Please keep us in your prayers as you are in ours.  Never forget the joy of spreading Icon writing through out the world.

Christine Hales

Icon Website

Christine Hales teaching at Holy Cross Monastery
Christine Hales teaching at Holy Cross Monastery

 

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

 

 

Message to an Iconographer

Greetings:

Dionysus Fresco
Dionysus Fresco

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.

Dionysus Fresco, Mary
Dionysus Fresco, Mary

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.”

Christ Fresco, Dionysus
Christ Fresco, Dionysus

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.”

Dionysus Icon
Dionysus Icon

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.

Christine  Simoneau Hales

Icon Website

Icon Classes

 

 

 

 

 

Hesychasm and Russian Icons

 

Andrei Rublev, Archangel Michael Icon
Andrei Rublev, Archangel Michael Icon

Hesychasm and Russian Icons

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.

Andrei Rublev, Christ Savior Icon
Andrei Rublev, Christ Savior Icon

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.

Virgin of Vladimir, Andrei Rublev Icon
Virgin of Vladimir, Andrei Rublev Icon

Dionysius

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:

Kolomenskaya Versta

Natural Pigments  

Amazon

Icon Writing Classes in 2019 

Icon Retreats

Click Here To sign up to receive this newsletter:

 

Theophanis the Cretan

The Month of February Calendar Saints from the book: “Masterpieces of Early Christian Art”, Richard Temple Gallery, London, UK

February Saints Icon from "Masterpieces of Early Christian Art", Richard Temple Gallery, photo credit: Davi Hare
February Saints Icon from “Masterpieces of Early Christian Art”, Richard Temple Gallery, photo credit: David Hare

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.

Jesse Fresco; photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis
Jesse Fresco; photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis

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.

Saint Christopher, photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis
Saint Christopher, photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis

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.

Nativity of the Mother of God, Photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis
Nativity of the Mother of God, Photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis

 

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.

Christine Simoneau Hales

Website

 

 

Epiphany

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

Epiphany painting by Christine Hales
Epiphany painting by Christine Hales
Baptism of Jesus Icon by Christine Simoneau Hales
Baptism of Jesus Icon by Christine Simoneau Hales

January 6, 2019 is the day most of us will celebrate Epiphany this year.  The twelfth day of Christmas, Epiphany commemorates the Star of Bethlehem leading the wise meant to the baby Jesus, as well as the Baptism of Jesus.  The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, (Matthew 2: 1-2).

The word Epiphany today has entered our contemporary secular world with the meaning of “awakening, a moment of sudden revelation or insight”.

This concept of an abrupt change of thought, perception or awareness is what I would call a paradigm shift.  A clear change from one perception of reality to another, more enlightened one.  And this idea is one that can be said to characterize the difference between a secular view of reality and a Christian one.  And to take this thought one step further, it can help to make clear the difference between an Icon and a religious painting.

Religious Painting vs Icon Writing

Ethiopian Biblical Illustration of The Three Magi
Ethiopian Biblical Illustration of The Three Magi

A religious painting is usually an attempt to depict reality as it exists here on earth, in nature, as perceived by our earthly and secular eyes. It does convey a spiritual theme, and quite beautifully sometimes, as in the case of many painters and sculptors, notably Michelangelo, and Raphael.  While these works of art serve a purpose to bring the Gospel, or a sense of Christian spirituality to our eyes, they often don’t create that paradigm shift of moving distinctly from one reality to another.

Epiphany_(XVIc)
Epiphany_(XVIc)

Icons do this in a variety of ways, often  using inverse perspective, composition and color to bring the viewer into the same time and space as the person or scene depicted. Icons have a discernible lineage and a historical set of precedents that ensure a continuity and language that transcends our modern sense of time.  There is a sense of reverence, holiness and sacredness that Icons impart because they are conceived and executed with one purpose in mind- to make visible God ‘s world here on earth.

Self Expression vs Iconographic Tradition

The difference between self expression – in religious paintings- and adherence to Iconographic traditions that span centuries is a distinction every Iconographer must learn to make for themselves.  By following the  models of early Icons from before the Renaissance period, we can learn to paint and raw with understanding of the principles we are trying to integrate.  In this way, we begin to read the theology of the Icon we are depicting.  Through our further research on the topic, we make every effort to understand a deep level who this saint was, or how this Biblical scene can be understood on more than just a surface level.  Through prayer, research, and meditation we are then able to approach the creation of an Icon.  At this point the Iconographer becomes thoroughly engaged with the creation of an Icon and this prayerful action of painting is what helps the Icon be the bearer of that shift of perception for the viewer.  The goal is to have an Icon that reaches out to the viewer and brings them in to a deeper communion with God.  This is a different goal than a religious painting.  Both are valuable, they are just not the same thing and do not serve the same purpose.

Saint Luke Icon by Christine Simoneau Hales
Saint Luke Icon by Christine Simoneau Hales

So this year, as we approach Epiphany, I pray God’s blessing of a major, life changing, holy revelation that brings joy and peace to your life forever.

Blessings and Happy New Year,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Contribute Articles to the American Association of Iconographers Blog

For 2019 I am accepting articles by Iconographers, and writers who have material or thoughts that will advance the training of future Iconographers.  It could be insights about a particular theme, or materials, or experience in the field that will be helpful for others.  Please email me with your articles for this blog, a word document is fine, and include some images that support the article.

My Book goes further into detail and is available on Amazon.

2019  Icon Classes 

 

 

Andrei Rublev

Andrei Rublev, Archangel Michael Icon
Andrei Rublev, Archangel Michael Icon

Andrei Rublev

Revered amongst Iconographers as the most gifted Iconographer of all time, Andrei Rublev stands out amongst Iconographers for his ability to convey a subtle sense of spirituality with a highly expert ability to compose and paint Icons that address the issues of his time.

Saint Sergius of Radoneh
Saint Sergius of Radoneh

Born in medieval times, sometime in the 1360’s, not much is known about his life.  He is generally thought to have lived at the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow.  Rublev’s spiritual teacher, Saint Sergius of Radoneh, was the head of this Lavra until his death in 1392.

In 1405, Rublev decorated the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow with frescoes and Icons along with Theophanes the Greek, who was Rublev’s teacher.

Fresco, Seed of Abraham
Fresco, Seed of Abraham

Holy Trinity Cathedral

The Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir and Holy Trinity Cathedral are thought to have been decorated by  Rublev and Daniil Cherni at about 1425.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Russia
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Russia

Rublev’s great masterpiece, The Icon of the Holy Trinity, is the only work definitely attributed to him.  It was only discovered in the early 1900’s when an art restorer in Russia began to clean away the soot and grime that had blackened the surface for centuries.

https://newchristianicons.com/icon-painting-classes/
https://newchristianicons.com/icon-painting-classes/

The power of this Icon was observed and caused crowds of people to come and see it.  I write more about this in my book, “Eyes of Fire, How Icons Saved My Life As An Artist”. 

Rublev’s art combined asceticism with the classic harmony of Byzantine mannerism. His Icons are seen today as ideals of Eastern Orthodox Iconography.

If you’d like to read more about the Byzantine approach to painting Icons with egg tempera, this is covered in the book, Eyes of Fire, in the Appendix.

"Eyes of Fire" Book by Christine Hales
“Eyes of Fire” Book by Christine Hales

In 1966 a now classic film was made by the Russian film maker, Andrei Tarkovsky, called “Andrei Rublev”.  It’s a dark Russian drama that conveys a sense of the medieval times  of Rublev and is in black and white.

Rublev died in 1430, clothed as a Russian Monk and canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1988.

 

Icon Class Schedule 2019 

Sacred Geometry II

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:       images

When we open our eyes to see the sacred geometry inherent not only in nature, but also in Iconographic composition we enter into the world of sacred symbolic language.  The Byzantine culture understood that it is essential to understand and use abstract symbolic representation.  The primary reason is that we are depicting God’s universe, that heavenly realm that operates differently from our humanistic, materialistic world.  We want to  convey this God centered point of view in Icons and the best way to do that is to understand and implement sacred geometry within our compositions.

Shapes and Patterns        images-2

Identifying shapes and patterns helps us understand principles of symmetry, balance, and motion within the Icon. When we cooperate with and work in agreement with universal principles handed down through the centuries, we can participate in creating a universal visual language that can speak the truth of God, the Bible, and the Gospels, bringing our everyday lives into this sense of harmony and cooperation.

Simple Geometric Constructs

Blessed Pauli Murray Icon by Peter Antonci
Blessed Pauli Murray Icon by Peter Antonci

A simple geometric composition for single figure Icons is the triangle which is set upon a plinth.  By measuring the height and width of the Icon composition, finding the vertical and horizontal axis, and drawing the diagonals from each corner of the base to the central axis point at the top of the composition, one can create an Icon using sacred geometry.

In the recent Sacred Geometry Icon Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY, students used this method for the construction of their Saint Francis Icon.

Olifa of Saint Francis Icon
Olifa of Saint Francis Icon

One of the most famous Icons using sacred geometry is the Rublev Holy Trinity Icon.  With this drawing, you can see the figures are arranged in relationship to the circle and contained within the square.  The circle is the symbol of unity, and God, in that it has no beginning and no end, but is energy in eternal motion. Rublev had been asked by Saint Sergius of Radoneh to create an Icon of unity and harmony which the community could pray with.  This now famous Icon was lost to the world until the early 1900’s when a resurgence of interest in Russian Icons caused an art restorer to clean the centuries of black soot and dirt from the icon, revealing a true masterpiece.    dee63ca17b15d01e89cffa4fa7aec172

May 9-12, 2019  Sacred Geometry retreat

Sacred Geometry is a foundational concept for Iconographers who wish to paint in the Byzantine Tradition.  The next Sacred Geometry Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, will be May 9-12, 2019.

New Icon Book

“Eyes of Fire, How Icons Saved my Life as an Artist” by Christine Simoneau Hales is an in-depth study on the evolution of religious arts and iconography, this book is about spiritual strength, timeless artistry , and groundbreaking personal transformation achieved through experiencing Icons. The power of religious images is  well documented in this book, as well as their influence on contemporary art.  There is an appendix containing valuable information to creating sacred art for the twenty-first century.

"Eyes of Fire" Book by Christine Hales
“Eyes of Fire” Book by Christine Hales

This book will be available on Amazon and a Kindle version will be available for a short period of time at no cost during the book launch in early October .  Email to receive a link for the free Kindle book (available during the book launch in early October only).

Blessings and prayers until next month,

Christine

Icon website

 

Understanding Icons Part I

Hello Fellow Iconophiles:

Understanding Icons Part I: Theory and Practice,

This month I am bringing the first of a two part lecture by Sister Petra Clare, an experienced Iconographer, retreat leader, and Orthodox nun currently living in a monastery in Greece.  Sr. Petra has a teaching website where she offers on line classes and tutoring for Iconographers.  There is much background and practical information on her site, which requires a fee to access.

Theoria

When thinking about Icons, there are so many levels of appreciation and engagement to consider.  We’ve talked about several of these in past blogs- Icons as Lectio Divina, Icons for contemplation, prayer, etc., and now we delve deeper into what theory brings to full development in the Icon.  The following paragraphs are taken directly from Sr. Petra’s EastXWest  online Icon Course website, with her permission:

Monastic and patristic tradition, both east and west, call the process of understanding Scripture theoria. The Greek word theoria (*&(“+,) means ‘intelligent contemplation, paying close attention, looking at.’ It could mean looking interiorly, with ‘the eyes of the heart’ or looking exteriorly, with the physical eye. The term is always used by the ancient Greeks to refer to the act of experiencing or observing and then comprehending through interior consciousness. Our word ‘theory’ is derived from it,but has degraded over time, now meaning little more than a hypothesis used to justify a set of actions.

 Cultivating theoria is central to the role of the iconographer. The divine vision is the spark which makes them iconographers. It is the foundation of their vocation. It enables them to shape content and artistic form, generating the visual prototypes which are the counterpart of the scriptural and liturgical canons. Without theoria, the icon would be a purely human product, a ‘painting by numbers.’

St. Fyodor of Rostov was an Iconographer whose love of God surpassed all else. By Christine Hales,
St. Fyodor of Rostov was an Iconographer whose love of God surpassed all else. By Christine Hales

First Principles: Theoria – Inspired Vision.

In the Biblical sense, theoria is itself part of holy tradition, for both Jews and Christians. In the Bible we meet patriarchs, apostles and prophets who receive insight into divine truth.

Breck reminds us that the ‘inspired vision of divine truth, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, enabled the early Church Fathers to perceive a depth of meaning in the Biblical writings which is of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.”

The link between theoria  and the arts is made in Exodus:

‘Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern you were shown on the mountain; said the Lord to Moses (Exodus 25:40). Shortly afterwards God designates a craftsman ‘I have called by name Bezalel (B’tzal’el)’ and fills him with the Holy Spirit to design the artwork (Exodus 31: 1-11). God tells Moses that the design and craft skills are a direct gift from him. The craftsmen are singled out as those whom God has filled with ‘wisdom of heart’ or ‘instructed them with
wisdom’ (Exodus 35:35). He has given them a combination of combination of skill and intelligence (Exodus 36:1) and ‘stirred their hearts’ i.e. called them, to design and make craftwork (Exodus 36:2). He also calls Besalel and Ooliab to pass on their skills – and their spirit – by teaching (Exodus 35:34). Teaching is a gift of the Spirit, as it is later in 1 Corinthians 12:28. the gifts God gives to Moses’ craftsmen clearly depend on theoria to function.

Each time you work on an icon – daily if you are a full time iconographer – pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. You need this charism to develop your witness through icons.

We will confine our study of the relationship between Scripture and icon, to this context, ratherthan getting bogged down with modern textual criticism, which deals with other issues, outside the range of this course. We take as our starting point the text ‘all Scripture is inspired by
God.’ (Timothy II: 3:26). Breck describes this as synergy – a co-operative effort between the Holy Spirit and the human instrument ‘who receives divine revelation and translates it into gospel proclamation.’ This is the mindset the iconographer needs.

Iveron

Take a moment to meditate how you, as an iconographer, ‘receive divine revelation and translate it into gospel proclamation?’ How long do you put aside to meditate on Scripture or the life of a Saint, before beginning to paint? Do you frequently renew your spiritual contact with the mystery while you are painting – stopping for a little meditation? What supportive routines have you developed to retain an inner contact with the person or mystery you are painting during the hours at the easel?Having a good book about a saint or doctrine at hand during teabreak, watching a film about their life or surfing the net about their period of history in free time can all help. These nurture the process and make the icon ‘come alive’ in our hands. In short, do we ‘proclaim,’ out of our inner contact with the mystery, or merely copy?

All of the information above comes from the EastXWest online course: b1a  Old Testament Principles. (Editor’s note:  “Breck” refers to Scripture in Tradition, John Breck, SVS Press 2001 ISBN 1-800-204-2665.)

Thank you for reading, and becoming part of the American Association of Iconographers.

Blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Email for membership information

Christine’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icons as Visio Divina

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

Cloister holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Cloister Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

This month, teaching the “Color and Light in Icons” class at the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY was truly a Holy experience. With such a beautiful monastery, warm and gracious hospitality of Abbot Bernard and all the Brothers, and wonderful people enrolled in the class, how could it not be amazing?

We painted the icon of the Good Shepherd and read aloud Psalm 23 and meditated on it day and night, while writing the icon.

Sine icons are theology in picture form, there is a deep relationship between Holy Scripture and the icon.  The icon is the symbolic picture that the words of scripture describe, enhanced by the prayers and love of God the iconographer brings to the process.

Russian icons, Icon painting retreat, modern icons
Putting the olifa on the finished icon

Through the act of creation we enter into a relationship with God the creator that is enhanced with the addition of His word in Holy Scripture. The resulting icon from this co- creative process becomes a vessel containing God’s presence through His imagery and the iconographer’s prayers.

Good Shepherd Icon, Icon Painting Class, Byzantine icon
Good Shepherd Icon, Icon Painting Class

Meditating on Scripture, and/or on the life of the saint being depicted in the icon is of primary importance in icon writing.  It’s important to make oneself ready to receive divine revelation and then translate that into the painting process with the icon.

Holy Cross Monastery, icon painting retreat, Christine Hales
He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul… Holy Cross Monastery 2018

In teaching icon writing/painting classes, I like to emphasize our shared Christian faith that is being made visible in the revelation and shared spiritual knowledge that is being made available through the process of icon writing. Each student has their own unique conversation with God during the icon writing process, and sharing that communion with others in the class increases the level of revelation available to the group as a whole.  We have a strong belief in the intrinsic value of the icons being created and understand that they affect both the maker and the viewer.  Icon writing is a powerful ministry!

Icon retreat with Christine Hales at Holy Cross Monastery 2018
Icon retreat with Christine Hales at Holy Cross Monastery 2018

Membership in the American Association of Iconographers

Membership in the American Association of Iconographers is now open to all iconographers who have a sincere desire to “spread the joy icons throughout the world”.

Email Christine with your name, website and any additional information. Volunteers to help by being on the steering committee are appreciated.

Blessings,

Christine Hales

Icons