Icons as Service

St. John The Evangelist

Although our inspiration for painting icons comes from early Christian icons, many iconographers today realize that in order for our icons to have a connection to our modern world, we need to understand that icon painting is still a living and developing art form.

If we widen our perspective to look at Christian art as well as icons, questions develop as to what the differences are between the two. While the subject matter might be the same, the function and purpose, as well as the form of an icon, is distinctly different from those of religious art.

The needs of our contemporary churches and worshippers need to be paramount in our thoughts as we contemplate subject matter and formalistic approaches to writing icons today. Whom is this icon for, whom will it serve?

“Contemplating a piece of work, we do better to think Whom is this work for? Whom will it serve? rather than How will it serve me? Once we find a path for our work to be of service . . . then our work goes smoothly forward. It is not about “us” anymore…Whenever we take art back to the realm of the sacred, whenever we make it an act of service in any form . . . we again experience the ease of creative flow and the lessening of our creative doubts. When we ask to “listen,” we create works worthy of being heard and we ourselves hear the heartbeat of our common humanity, which is grounded in divinity.” Quote from a Richard Rohr blog post where he quotes author Julia Cameron.

As we struggle to understand and make use of the vast canons and traditions of the church as well as those of iconography we can hope to transform our understanding and hope to transform the traditions through the filter of our contemporary church. From my studies over twenty years, I have developed an deep appreciation for Byzantine art and icons. In his book, Byzantine Sacred Art, Constantine Cavarnos states:

“Byzantine art has a religious function. It seeks to express spiritual things in order thereby to help man penetrate the mysteries of the Christian religion; it seeks to help man rise to a higher level of being, to lift his soul to the blessedness of God.”

Last Judgement Icon

Another quote from the same book describes the thoughts of Photius Kontoglou, an influential Greek iconographer of the twentieth century:

“Secular art is concerned with external beauty, whereas spiritual art is concerned with inner beauty. Kontoglou emphatically places inner, spiritual beauty above external beauty, and spiritual art above secular art. External, physical beauty, he remarks, is shallow and perishable, while spiritual beauty is deep and imperishable. Physical beauty arouses the outer senses; spiritual beauty the inner senses- it makes us feel reverence,, humility, contrition, the “gladdening sorrow” of which John Climacos speaks.”

There are so many facets of Byzantine spirituality that are evidenced in the iconography and traditions that are incredibly important and valuable to bring forward into our contemporary icons. This would be a service to our culture in many ways. This would make an appropriate topic for many future blog posts and I welcome articles that contribute to this work of discovery and reverence for the iconographic traditions.

It is part of the creative process to be able to remain creative as an iconographer while still upholding the canons and traditions. Evelyn Underhill, in her book “The Spiritual Life” describes another condition of creativity;

“Creativity is the activity of an artist possessed by the vision of perfection; who by means of the raw material with which he works, tries to give more and more perfect expression to his idea, his inspiration or his love.”

In referring to the modern iconographers’ training that impresses the importance of copying from the established Orthodox icons of the past Irinia Yazykova states:

“Many iconographers working today allow themselves to be imprisoned by tradition. Instead of approaching tradition creatively so as to develop it, they too often more or less blindly copy tradition instead. And yet, an image that is not a product of the artist’s own inward spiritual experience cannot be received as a revelation by the viewer.” Irinia Yazykova, Hidden and Triumphant.

As such, it is a balancing act between giving form to the aesthetic tradition as well as the theological meaning of the icon. The service an authentic icon can render to one’s church and community is to express meaningful content in a form that conveys both beauty and prayer.

Today the majority of iconographers are women who have achieved professional success and have moved beyond copying of prototypes into development of new icons of their own.

If this subject is of interest to you, Iconographer Betsy Porter will be hosting an informal online discussion with other interested iconographers on the subject of “Icons and Religious Art- What’s the Difference?” Participants will share images and thoughts on Sunday, September 19, 2021, 5PM EST through Zoom. This is a group that she has been hosting through St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Fransisco for over a year. Here is a link for that meeting.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on “How to Gesso Icon Boards”– it is a description and also contains a link to an excellent video by Paul Stetsenko that demonstrates the whole process.

Also, here are links to the online icon writing classes I am teaching: Pre-recorded classes: online.iconwritingclasses.com , and Live on Zoom : October 19-23, 2021

Until next month, may God bless the inspiration of your hearts and the work of your hands,

Christine

My Website

Gilding

Greetings:

This month we have an article contributed By Olga Iaroslavtseva on a form of gilding that she recommends. There are many ways to gild our icons and it’s helpful to be aware of each one until an iconographer finds the way that works best for them. Thank you so much for contributing your time and experience, Olga!

Gilding Method with Water-based Glue

Gilding Is Important In Iconography

Gold in the icon is a symbol of Divine Light, Truth and Glory. Since ancient times, Byzantine iconographers have used gilding. With its help, they were able to simultaneously convey both eternity – the absence of time and space, and the holiness of the depicted. Such depth can only be conveyed with gold, colors are powerless in this. The gold background looks like the icon has no bottom. Gilding in icons is found already in the IX-XI centuries. This technique came to Rus in the 13th century. Iconographers often gave icons to professional gilders for gilding. Presently, many people can master this skill by themselves.

In my practice, I use only real gold leaf. I don’t use imitation in principle. Holiness, greatness, heavenly world – this is what the gold on the icons symbolizes. All this is absolute truth. Therefore, we should use genuine gold. This is my creed.

Various gilding techniques are known, both simple and more complex. Here, I share the simple technique, suitable for beginning iconographers as practitioners. This is gilding on water-based glue.

Preparation, Shellac and polishing

After the drawing is made on the gesso, the areas for gilding should be covered with shellac. Use a wide, flat synthetic brush for that. Apply several coats of shellac with an interval of 15-20 minutes between them. Each coat should dry before applying the next one. I make shellac myself. For this, I dissolve 5 ounces of shellac flakes in 500ml ethanol – 95%. If you use shellac from a store, I think you may need more layers. Usually, it is a less concentrated shellac than self-made. After all layers have been applied, dry the surface thoroughly. This usually takes one to three days, depending on climate. Dried shellac hardens and is easy to polish.

For polishing shellac, use sandpaper with a grain size of 800 to 2000. When polishing, please be careful not to expose the gesso. Otherwise, the applied glue will absorb during gilding and the gold will not adhere. Also, you can use wet sandpaper. Just drip some water when polishing. This will speed up the process. Eventually, the polished surface should be smooth – without scratches, because  all of that will be visible after gilding. Perfectly prepared surface – perfect result of gilding. After polishing, the icon must be completely cleaned of dust. Also, clean the room from dust before gilding.

Gilding

Now come for the gilding icon. For this I use a cotton pad. I usually mix 1:3 glue with water. I take 1 portion of water to 3 portions of glue. The middle icon consumes a teaspoon of the glue mix. Then I fold the cotton pad in half, dip it in the glue mix and wring it out. With quick, neat, even movements I wipe the areas for gilding. Be careful, please do not leave dry areas. I wouldn’t recommend wiping the same place several times. After the first coat, wait 20 minutes to dry out, then apply a second coat. Wait 20 minutes again and start gluing the gold leaves. You can take your time, the surface remains sticky for a long time.

For gilding, I prefer to use loose gold leaf books, but transfer leaf books can also be used. I cut the gold with a Snap-Off Blade of a common knife. To avoid damaging the gold leaf, I put it between two sheets of paper like a sandwich. Usually, I use one sheet of paper from a leaf book. I cut it to size, then gently slide one piece of paper to the right to reveal the edge of the gold leaf on the left. I apply the open edge of the leaf to the sticky area of the icon, loosen my hand and slowly continue to move my hand with the pieces of paper from left to right. Since the edge of the leaf has already caught on to the glue, the gold leaf neatly lays down in the right place. Paper helps keep the gold leaf from crumpling. Finally, I lightly clap the leaf with a squirrel brush imperfectly, because the final pressing will be after gilding of all areas.

After finishing the gilding, you should carefully examine the surface. If there are holes or cracks, you need to patch them up with small pieces of gold leafs. They usually stick well in these areas. Next, take a new cotton pad and smooth the gilded surface with high quality. Do this with gentle pressure to smooth out wrinkles. Again carefully examine the surface. If the holes remain and they no longer stick, take a toothpick and wrap some cotton wool around the tip. The tip should be like the tip of a pencil. Dip it in the glue mix and squeeze it a little on clean paper so that there is not too much glue. Apply glue with the tip of a toothpick to the holes like a restorer. Try not to go out to the gilding area.  Glue pieces of gold to these places and wait 10 minutes. After, smooth these places with a new cotton pad. This is very delicate work.

Remove excess glue and gold residues from areas under painted. For that, use an ear stick and white spirits. Be careful not to damage the gilded area.

Next day, apply shellac in one or two layers with a soft synthetic brush to protect the gilding.

The advantages of this technique of gilding are

– simple application of glue;

– the ability to glue gold leaf after 20 minutes after application;

– easy to patch holes.

The disadvantage of this technique is streaks remain when applied with a cotton pad. They are visible after gilding, though this may not be noticeable to the non-expert. Looked closely, you will notice the vibration of gloss and dullness.

In summary, the gluing technique with water-based glue is fast, simple and gives a good quality gilding. I use Italian water-based glue Ferrario La Doratura Missione ad Acqua.

Olga Iarolslavtseva and a finished icon

About me

Iconography has been my professional occupation for 18 years. During this time, I have painted hundreds of icons in different styles and techniques. In 2017-2019, I lived in the United States with my husband, a priest in the Orthodox Christian mission. In 2019, there was an exhibition of my paintings and icons in St. Louis, Missouri. Presently, I live in Lipetsk, Russia. I am happy to share my method of gilding with the American Association of Iconographers. Hope, this will help the development of the iconographic arts in North America.

For more information about my experience in iconography, please visit my social media: @facebook.com/OlYAgallery; @instagram.com/olya_gallery. There I share my art, exhibitions and progress.

Blessing and help from God to the American Association of Iconographers and all iconographers.

Artist-iconographer

Olga Iaroslavtseva

May you all be blessed and safe until out next newsletter at the end of August!

Love and prayers,

Christine Simoneau Hales

American Association of Iconographers New Christian Icons Icon Classes

If you have an article you would like to submit that would help other iconographers, please contact me below. Also, if you have any thoughts or comments for Olga, please contact me and I will pass them on to her!

Julian Of Norwich

During the pandemic, being isolated and shut in for months, I began to realize what the life of an anchoress must have been like! By focusing on my prayer life and the practice of icon writing, I have been able to draw near to God more frequently and with greater concentration experience the silence of my heart than would otherwise have been possible. For that reason, I have begun writing an icon of Julian of Norwich with great joy and received many discoveries in the process. I share with you here some of what I have learned about her.

My Julian of Norwich Icon- work in progress!

Born in 1343, Julian lived in the wake of the black plague and lived as well, through the peasant’s rebellion of 1381, and the persecution of the Lollards. May 8 is the Day Dame Julian is remembered in the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She lived a life of seclusion as an anchoress at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England for most of her adult life. Through a window to the outside world in her cell, Julian was expected to be available to provide prayer and counsel to those living in the city of Norwich. Julian sought holiness of life and communion with God in order to be able to intercede more effectively for others. Aelred, the author of the Ancrene Riwle, a tract written in 1200 to guide anchorites and spiritual recluses, summarized the ideal anchoress’s prayer:

Embrace the whole world with the arms of your love and in that act at once consider and congratulate the good, contemplate and mourn over the wicked. In that act look upon the afflicted and the oppressed and feel compassion for them…In that act, call to mind the wretchedness of the poor , the groan of the orphans, the abandonment of widows, the gloom of the sorrowful, the needs of travelers, the prayers of virgins, the perils of those at sea, the temptation of monks, the responsibilities of prelates, the labors of those waging war. In your love take them all to your heart, weep over them, offer your prayers for them.”

Icon by Juliet Venter

After a serious illness, which she prayed to receive, Julian began seeing visions of God. These visions became the source of many “showings” that is, revelations given by God to Julian. The following are some excerpts from these visions. As Julian gazed on the Crucifix, during what she thought was the end of her life, Julian received the first of her visions on the Trinity:

in the same revelation, suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come here. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ and inner Lord Jesus Christ.”

And I leave you with her most famous quote: “Jesus answered with these words, saying: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ … This was said so tenderly, without blame of any kind toward me or anybody else”.

Excerpts from Grace Jantzen’s “Julian of Norwich” are quoted above.

Blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Encounters with God

I first met Sue Valentine during an extraordinary Icon workshop I taught in March, 2020, at Mt. Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara California. It was extraordinary for several reasons- first, we all were just beginning to understand that Covid was seriously dangerous, but our worlds hadn’t changed yet to quarantine measures. Extraordinary too, because sadly, Mt. Calvary monastery is now closed forever. And then there were the students- such an interesting and dedicated group, of which Sue was one. Recently I have seen how profoundly moving her icons are and they are developing in such a wonderful way that I invited her to share about her experiences with Icon writing and here is her article:

The Suffering Servant

While new to iconography, I have appreciated from the very first icon I wrote just one year ago how God is using icons to speak to me.

I have been considering God’s call to be a servant, and learned I both significantly misunderstood how highly the Lord thinks of His servants, and also how profoundly they suffer.  These days I ponder these things as I paint.

I find I am becoming used to the conventions in icons:  a blue outer robe representing Christ’s divinity and a red inner robe representing Christ’s humanity.  Then the Lord pointed out there is no blue robe in this icon, because as Philippians 2:5-8 tells us, Jesus voluntarily removed His blue robe when He came to earth to become one of us, to serve us, to suffer for us, and to save us.  Then, in Matthew 27:28, after Jesus was arrested and convicted, the soldiers stripped Him of His humanity, removing His red robe, and mocked Him, pretending to worship Him as a king, all the while spitting on Him and beating Him.

Jesus’ servant life and suffering stripped Him of both robes.

With the icon now complete, as I gaze on it, I’m feeling the robe I have painted on Jesus is somewhat jarring.  I’ve introduced alizarin crimson, a new color for me.  I can’t even remember why I chose that color.  Only later do I realize that when the soldiers stripped Jesus of His red robe, they put on Him a scarlet robe which is what I have painted.  This icon is the picture of Jesus, not robed in humanity, but covered with the soldier’s scorn for His kingship as they dressed Him in a scarlet robe.  With that realization, I see more fully what He suffered and the servant life I am invited into.

Jesus is no longer robed in scarlet, in red or even in blue, all of which I can attempt to paint as I am learning this new way to pray.  What I cannot capture or even attempt is what I know is true of Jesus now and read in scripture:  Jesus is finally robed not in finite colors, but in the splendor and majesty He deserves. 

John the Theologian

This is John the Theologian.  John is my favorite gospel, and this is the icon of the gospel writer John who had incredible revelations of the Lord later in life, and he wrote them down. 

He has an ink well at the ready, and an angel whispering inspiration in his ear.

The verse written in the book is John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

I have been wrestling with the Lord about how to live out my calling as a teacher.  The Lord has told me until those opportunities open up, I should write.  But writing seems less appealing to me.

So when asking the Lord, “Why this icon of John?”, He reminded me that this type of painting is called icon writing.  If this is the kind of writing the Lord wants me to do, then I’m very interested.  

The Lamentation

This is my first larger icon, 16 x 20”.  I chose it because my daughter was struggling severely, and I felt I needed to sit with many faces of grief, from the demonstrative Mary Magdalene with her arms raised to the strangely peaceful woman in green, as they mourned over the body of Jesus and as I mourned.

Just the process of painting a larger icon forced me to sit with those feelings of grief longer.  

The Disorientation

This is another 16×20” icon, and a sequel to “The Lamentation.”  Jesus is now risen from the dead, leaving only His graveclothes behind, so I am surprised this icon is never called “The Resurrection.”  Of the many renderings of this icon, I chose this one because Jesus was still visibly present, even though only one of the women noticed He was there.  Their focus was on the grave clothes, and so, largely, was mine.  I was feeling a kind of desolation, but at least Jesus was with me.

I found this icon very difficult to do and the larger format made that more plain to me.  There were long periods when I could not work on it at all.  I didn’t even know what I was feeling, and I sought the Lord for insight.  Finally, the Lord gave me a word for it: disorientation, which is how I titled this icon.  That word helped me unpack what I was feeling.  Things were moving very quickly in my life, I was under intense stress, deeply sad, and in shock.  I was just hoping that as I painted, the Lord would keep speaking.

The turning point in completing this icon came when the Lord told me that the graveclothes were my false self.  Like Jesus, I needed resurrection.  I needed to arise from those graveclothes and leave them behind.

As soon as He spoke that to me, the work accelerated and was completed quickly and set in motion the courage to make other changes in my life as I embraced what gave me life.

Sue Valentine is from Chicago.  She has a B.A. in Behavioral Science and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, has a certification in Spiritual Direction from North Park Theological Seminary, and is a licensed minister in the Vineyard Church.  She is a worship leader, teacher, contemplative, practicing spiritual director and aspiring iconographer.

That’s all for this month. If you have a suggestion for an article or wish to submit one, please contact me for submission requirements- we are always looking for articles that promote the joy of icon writing!

Blessings,

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Icon Materials

“He who works with his hands is a laborer,

He who works with his hands and head is a craftsman.

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis
St. Francis Icon Hales

One of the beautiful things about writing icons is the re-introduction of ancient materials and methods. If a modern painter makes a painting of religious imagery without observing the ancient materials and principles of iconography, the effect just isn’t the same.

I realize that many of the readers of this blog are international as well as American, so this month’s news is about materials and where to get them. There are two books that I find extremely helpful that I would like to recommend.

Living Craft

The first is, Living Craft, A Painter’s Process, by Tad Spurgeon. This book contains “creative methods and materials based on older practice, featuring solvent – free techniques. There are also several highly informative chapters on the grammar of color and ninety unique formulas for oils, mediums, grounds, and paint.”

Many materials and processes are explained in detail in this book. For example, there are pages describing the how and why of using cloth to cover the wood surface before gesso application. In this book there are several formulas for glue size, gesso, egg emulsion and varnishes. Even though this is not strictly an icon book, the methods and materials within are of great value to iconographers as well as painters.

Since the philosophy behind this book values the traditional materials and processes of classical painting, there are many sections that go more deeply into materials than most icon books.

“When a painting is constructed with harmonious proportions- a process with both inner and outer dimensions- the result has both beauty and strength. Proportional harmony is involved in three major areas: the color, the composition, and the materials themselves.” And another quote that I find valuable in teaching color theory for iconographers is:

Living Craft, Tad Spurgeon

“Painting light convincingly is not enhanced by color variety, nor by color identity, but by the accuracy and harmony of color relationship within the value structure. These must be finely tuned to feel natural and are far easier to access with fewer colors and mixing based on value and temperature – the logic flight- than with more colors and mixing based on guess work.”

Living Craft, Tad Spurgeon

This is not so much a textbook as a record of one painter’s process of experimentation and research into classical and pre classical materials.

The other book I highly recommend is Formulas For Painters by Robert Massey. (Available on Thriftbooks.com)

Formulas For Painters

This is a book that is easy to see and read and contains two hundred simple formulas for making paints, glazes, mediums, varnishes, grounds, fixatives, sizes and adhesives for tempera, gouache, pastel, encaustic, fresco and other painting techniques.

Here is a quote from the author’s introduction:”Since the Middle Ages- indeed as early as the thirteenth century when Theophilus, the monk of Paderborn, wrote his work, On Divers Arts, – artists and craftsmen have cooked, blended, borrowed, and stolen an amazing variety of recipes and formulas, always striving to concoct a better paint or a quicker drying varnish tonsure the permanence of their art works.”

There are recipes for hide glue solutions, synthetic resin emulsion, egg and water solution, gelatine, and casein sizes to be used in the preparation of gesso. The varnishes section is particularly helpful for iconographers, with many alternatives to the traditional olifa of linseed oil.

I hope that these books prove helpful to iconographers searching to find the methods and materials that work best in their studio, climate, and circumstances.

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

Additional Notes:

A couple of additional points to share: Betsy Peter, an iconographer from California has been hosting an informal discussion, on Zoom, with and for iconographers each Sunday afternoon. Different topics are introduced each week and it is an open forum for sharing links and information. For an email invitation contact me below.

Also, my next online Icon painting class will be on April 13-16th, a morning session and an afternoon session, each of the four days. The focus will be on color and the Icon and we will be painting Saint George and the Dragon in egg tempera. There is a lot of advanced information regarding color theory for the experienced iconographers as well as step by step demonstrations for complete beginners.

I hope this blog is helpful, and provides not only community but valuable resources for al iconographers. Until next month, may God continue to bless the work of your hands and keep you safe and well.

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Icons as Memorial Portraits

Greetings:

The very first Christian Icons were memorial portraits from the Catacombs immediately following the Resurrection and continuing for three hundred years.  They were created to keep alive the memory of the early Christian martyrs.  Until Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, Christians had to hide their faith or risk death or persecution.  Memorial portraits Saints

For the early Christians, it was the memorial image that made the unseen world of their faith live in reality.  The martyrs became  invisible, but constant companions through portraiture and symbolism in the early icons.

Fayum portrait
Fayum portrait

Fayum Portraits

The Byzantine system of sacred portraiture and narrative derives, in part, from the stylistic influences of the Egyptian Fayum period.   A certain standardization of facial features in sixth century icons of Byzantine Saints developed that bears a striking resemblance to the Fayum portraits of the first and second centuries.

Some of the earliest surviving icons of Mary and the saints are from wall paintings and mosaics after the sixth century. The most common subjects of  early memorial portraits were Christ, Mary, saints and angels.

Fayum Portrait

After the period of  iconoclasm, Byzantine portraits of saints began to place more emphasis on the functions and status of the saints depicted in addition to attempting a physical likeness. First, these distinctions were made, for the lesser saints, with words and inscriptions.  Later, visual images symbolically represented status and function, but naming of the icon was still an important element visually.   It allowed the viewer to “read” the icon and know exactly who the icon was honoring.

Saint Peter
Saint Peter

Christian Legend

Early Christian legend has Saint Luke as the first Icon painter, as he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Mary and the Christ Child.  This Icon of the Mother of God is called the Hodegetria.

Hodegetria

A fourth century legend speaks of King Agbar who, in need of healing, had sent his messenger to Christ asking for an audience.  When Jesus was unable to go, He put His face to the cloth and Christ’s image was miraculously transferred to the cloth. The messenger brought this image to the King who was instantly healed.  This legend is attributed to the Mandylion Icon.

Holy Face of Christ Icon written by Christine Hales
Holy Face of Christ Icon written by Christine Hales

Acheiropoieta refers to the holy image that appeared miraculously, as in the case of the Mandylion and also to the Icon of  Veronica’s veil.  This type of icon is thought of as a true image, not made by human hands.

From the sixth century onwards, Icons began to be venerated in the church and  some were  believed to be miracle working images, validating and inspiring the faith of the early Christians.

Comnenian Period

During the Comnenian period, 1081-1185, icons proliferated as murals and mosaics as well as panel paintings for the Iconostasis. Similarly, the Paleologan period, c.1261 saw the flowering of many iconographic mosaics and murals commemorating the saints and the Gospel narrative.

Russian Byzantine Icons

Christ by Andrei Rublev
Christ by Andrei Rublev

Typically painted on wood, Russian Byzantine Icon portraits tend to emphasize the mystical connection between the saint and God. This is achieved through a softer, more diffused portrait with less sharp or hard edges than other styles. Two of Russia’s most famous iconographers, Andrei Rublev and Dionysius, not only continued the previous Byzantine Iconographic tradition, but they also were able to creatively add subtleties and nuances to it that appealed greatly to the people of their time.

Memorial Portraits

In the words of Egon Sendler, ” Icons are images of the Invisible”.  They are memorial portraits that capture visually for us the memories of  the saints who went before us.  They hint at their accomplishments, the intensity of the saints’ connection to God and His Gospel through symbols, words and pictures.

Our Lady of Czestochowska
Our Lady of Czestochowska

Making the invisible world of our faith visible has never been more important.  Our world and culture are crying out for vision, a perspective, that will help to make sense of the chaos.  May God inspire each of us, in the individual way He has for each of us, to reach out and make His world visible and accessible to our loved ones, our neighbors and our world.

During this Covid isolation period, I am offering my icon painting classes online.  Click here if you’d like to see a schedule.

May God continue to bless you and keep you, and bless the work of your hands.

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Please contact me if you’d like to write an article for the American Association of Iconographers.  We would like to hear about your Icon painting practice and the effect icons have on your community.

 

 

 

Saint Raphael

Dear Iconographers:

Raphael
Raphael

During this time of pandemic it’s good to think about Icons of healing and restoration.  There are many that come to mind, but Saint Raphael seems particularly appropriate as he is the patron saint not only of travelers, but also of physicians, nurses, and medical workers.  For this reason, I am offering an online icon painting class in September where we will write an Icon of Archangel Raphael.  His feast day is September 29, and is celebrated along with Saints Michael and Archangel Gabriel.

The story of Archangel Raphael is beautifully told in the book of Tobit in the Apocrypha.  Raphael means God heals.  In the book of Enoch he is believed to have healed the earth when it was defiled by the sins of fallen angels.   In John 5: 1-4, the Gospel speaks of the pool at Bethesda where many sick people gathered, awaiting the movement of the waters.  “An angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond and the water was moved.  And he that went down first into the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he was under.” Because of the healing powers associated with Raphael, he is considered to be the angel in that Scriptural story.

Archangel Raphael
Archangel Raphael

In the book of Tobit, Raphael appears in the form of a man who will accompany Tobias on a journey.  To the recently blinded Tobit (Tobias’ father) Raphael says, “Take courage, the time is near for God to heal you.  Take Courage” Tobit 5:10.

The Archangel Raphael
The Archangel Raphael

During the journey, Raphael heals Sarah of the demons that plagued her so that she could safely marry Tobias.  Tobit is also healed of his blindness by Raphael.  When Raphael finally reveals his identity as an angel of God the two men were afraid and fell down, but Raphael said to them ” Do not be afraid, peace be with you. Bless God forevermore…I was not acting by my own will but by the will of God.  Bless Him each and every day and sing His praises….. They kept blessing God and singing His praises and they acknowledged God for these marvelous deeds of His, when an angel of the Lord had appeared to them.” Tobit 12:16

In this story and also in the meaning  of the name Raphael, credit is given to God who heals, and it is to God that the angels and the saints point and direct our worship and attention.

Raphael is thought to guard travelers on their journeys and is sometimes depicted with a staff and also holding  fish which relates to the healing of Tobit’s blindness with fish gall as directed by Raphael. In Europe Raphael is known as the protector of sailors and is shown in a relief on the Doge’s palace in Venice with a scroll saying “Keep the Gulf quiet.”

Rembrandt
Rembrandt

Raphael is sometimes thought of being one of the three angels who visited Sarah and Abraham. He, along with Archangels Michael and Gabriel were sent to fulfill  God’s will concerning Sodom, Sarah and Abraham.

 

Trinity
Trinity

Flannery O’Connor is believed to have said the Saint Raphael prayer at the beginning of each day:

“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.” Amen

During these difficult times of pandemic, let us pray often for those afflicted and for all those doctors, nurses and medical workers who are at the front lines of this battle.  And we pray also for the speedy discovery of a vaccine cure, in Jesus name, Amen.

Christine Hales

Christine’s Icon Website

Christine’s Icon Classes

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Transcendental Nature of Icons

The Transcendental Nature of Icons

This month, I wanted to share some reflections taken from reading the book, “The Avant-Garde Icon, Russian Avant-Garde Art & The Icon Painting Tradition, written by Andrew Spira.

ELijah and the Chariot of Fire Icon 14th Cent.
ELijah and the Chariot of Fire Icon 14th Cent.

Exploring the potential of icons in the context of the modern world, Andrew Spira speaks to the integration of the ancient spiritual truths found in Icons into modern culture. 

We are looking today at just the first chapter entitled “Icons: An Introduction”, particularly focusing on the development of the Russian iconographic tradition from the seventh to the sixteenth century.

Spira gives a brief history and explanation of the iconoclast controversy that I particularly appreciate due to the information about the widely spreading religion of Islam that was iconoclastic and therefore provided some of the impetus for the negation and destruction of icons in the seventh century.

Archangel Gabriel Icon, School of Dionysus, 1502
Archangel Gabriel Icon, School of Dionysus, 1502

During the iconoclastic controversy, an official theology of icons was developed maintaining that, by incarnating in matter as Christ, God established a principle that it was lawful and appropriate  to represent the Divine in material form.  Like the Eucharist, icons were regarded as extensions of the body of Christ.  It was their sacramentality that mattered, more than the artistic quality or their symbolic meaning. Therefore, The definitive characteristic of Icons lies within their mystical identity.

The effort to create a form of art that could communicate the mystery of the incarnate God took place within the Eastern church before the 10th century.

In 1453 the capital of Russia moved to Moscow from Constantinople after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.  Then, from a spiritual point of view, the monastic discipline of Hesychasm, an ancient practice of unceasing prayer, led to a period of religious fervor that resulted in an increase in the development and proliferation of Icons throughout the church.  Russian icon painting silently reveals God to the inner eye, or heart, of the believer.

St. Boris & St. Gleb with scenes from their life, late 14th century
St. Boris & St. Gleb with scenes from their life, late 14th century

The contrast between a rational, western, didactic approach and the more mystical, contemplative and sacramental approach to Icon writing is something that icon painters today have to come to terms with in order to develop an art that has its own artistic integrity and sacramental presence.  This contrast  can be seen not necessarily as  two polarities, right and wrong, but as both and, permitting a creative synthesis of the two approaches.

Modern Icon Painting

Although the influence of the western Renaissance in 16th century Russia was largely not experienced, there was still a disintegration of the medieval interrelationship between spiritual life and popular culture.  This was evident in modern Russian and Eastern Icons from the sixteenth century onwards.

Russian Icon circa 14th Century
Russian Icon circa 14th Century

In an attempt to change the course of Russian modern icon painting in the seventeenth century from secularization back to spiritual traditions,  attempts were made to formalize the pure tradition of icon painting. But these  undermined the principles of insight and experience that also formed the basis of the tradition.  This resulted in a westernized icon, realistic, narrative, and  in a lack of feeling and spiritual depth in the icons of modern periods.

Many post sixteenth century Icons reflect the lack of depth of feeling that is characteristic of the earlier icons due to rigid adherence to copying icons and focusing on technical skills as opposed to contemplation on theology and prayer.

It is the contemplative tradition that supports the practice and principles of Icon writing from within. This is the spirit of the tradition of icon painting as a sacramental medium for the transmission of the incarnate God to the world.

Angel Icon, Dionysus, 16th Century
Angel Icon, Dionysus, 16th Century

The contemplative awareness that is seen in the expressions of the saints in medieval icons calls for a corresponding orientation on the part of the viewer.

I hope this article has been informative and helpful.  It is my intention to present views that further the development of contemporary Icon writing and provide a sense of community by sharing my research, prayers, and work.

May you all be blessed and prosper in the art and spiritual discipline of Icon writing.

Christine Simoneau Hales

USEFUL ICON LINKS

Icon Boards     Traditional Icon Boards   

Icon Boards Icoane FB Page

Brushes         Dick Blick

Icon Classes 2020