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

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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

New Year and Epiphany 2017-2018

Greetings:   

First, a thank you to all of you who have been subscribers to this blog over the last couple of years.  Particularly, thank you for being patient with all the changes in format and stylistic content as I try to understand the needs and purpose of this community of Iconographers.

I have changed format again, this time getting closer to my original purpose of having a substantial list of Iconographic resources and links to help Iconographers in creating and learning about Icons.  If you look at the left sidebar you will see a page of “resources” on which I have started to add links, and will continue with this throughout the year so that it becomes a valuable resource.

Epiphany Icon
Russian Icon of the Epiphany

As it is New year’s Eve and we are on the verge of the Feast of Epiphany , here are some images of the Epiphany in different Iconographic styles, taken from a more nuanced article by Hokku about the wise men on the blog ” Icons and Their Interpretation”.

Icons for the Epiphany range in subject matter from stories of the wise men finding Jesus in a manger, to the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.

Epiphany is described as the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi- who were not Jews but were from the East; it is also the church feast day commemorating the Epiphany on January 6; and a manifestation of a divine, supernatural being.  Webster’s dictionary describes Epiphany as “ a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.”

Russian Epiphany Icon
Russian Epiphany Icon

The birth of Jesus, the Son of the most high God in a manger certainly fulfills that definition.  Epiphany represents the discovery that Jesus was born for not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles- for the whole world.

Baptism of Jesus
Baptism of Jesus Icon by Christine Hales

In the Baptism of Jesus Icon, we see in the central axis of the Icon, the God the Father, represented by the half circle at the center; The Holy Spirit, represented by the rays of gold coming from the half circle,and Jesus, the Son of God.  In the Gospel, God’s audible voice announces “This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

It is a revelation similar to the one of the magi- a sudden perception that transforms  mundane, earthly existence into one of light, meaning, and grace.

Icons bring to our remembrance important Gospel and Old Testament stories that brighten our everyday existence. As we move into this coming week towards the celebration of Epiphany and then the Baptism of Jesus, let us pray together to receive an Epiphany of God’s grace in each of our lives today, and as Baptism makes permanent and concrete the role of God’s grace in us, may that sudden awareness be awakened and kindled as an important part of our lives in 2018.

Baptism of Jesus
Baptism of Our Lord

Icons by Christine Hales

Icon classes taught by Christine Hales

 

 

 

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Lifestyle of an Iconographer

Hello Iconographers!

Icon of Mary
Icon of Mary by Christine Simoneau Hales

I know that many of you lead busy lives and are able to take Icon classes only  once or twice a year- and those classes usually last only a few precious days.  The best way to really benefit from our intermittent classes is to do as much reading and preparation on Icons as possible.  With that in mind, I want to refer you to a series of four articles written by Father Silouan Justinian for the Orthodox Journal.  It is a series called: “Imagination, Expression, Icon, Encountering the Internal Prototype.”

 

As there are many nuances involved in writing Icons that cover both the spiritual life of an Iconographer and the artist’s creative skills, I encourage you to take a look at these.   Here are the links to each part of the series:

Part One 

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

My suggestion would be to bookmark or print out each article to read at a time where you have leisure to ponder and think about each one.  Eventually, I hope to compile a book of such essays and other instructional materials for the potential Iconography student.  As this field continues to grow in popularity, a high standard of training that incorporates the writings of leading contemporary authors along  with practical, good artistic training would be a beneficial addition to the field.

Fr. Paul Wattson
detail of Fr. Paul Wattson Icon at Graymoor Monastery

We all know that the lifestyle of an Iconographer is one of prayer and fasting.  Also, we know that being part of a Church, having good spiritual direction, receiving the Sacraments regularly are also important to writing Icons.  Within this context, good artistic training is also important.  What a task!  But as you all have experienced, it is an exciting and blessed task.  No one will be able to do everything perfectly, but willingness and diligence to seriously undertake the study will have very positive effects.

Saint Benedict Icon by CS Hales
St. Benedict Icon by Christine Simoneau Hales

In St. Benedict’s Prologue to “Saint Benedict’s Rule For Monks” he says:

“My son, listen carefully to your master’s teaching. Treasure it in your heart. Be open to receive and generous to respond to the counsel of a loving father.  You have strayed from God by the sloth of disobedience.  Return to him then, by the work of obedience.  Accordingly, I speak to you, whoever you may be, who giving up your own will and taking the strong and bright weapons of obedience, are prepared to fight for the true King, Christ”.

In taking up the task of Icon writing, we always need to remember that it is about much more than just our own will. Here is a quote from the above mentioned Part 4 of Father Silouan’s article:

“In other words, the icon painter should not repeat the resultof encounter, but rather his work should arise and re-present (ex-press) a true, fresh and living re-encounter with the subject depicted. But, this, of course, is not to promulgate the modernist cult of individualism or so called “artistic genius.” On the contrary, as just mentioned, life in the Body of Christ presupposes the flourishing of ourselves as unique and true persons[x] in loving communion with one another, in contradistinction to our ego-centric or individualistic identity in which we wither as isolated numerical “units.”[xi]Moreover, let us not forget that in this ecclesial life, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”[xii] That is, inner union in the Spirit does not mean uniformity at the expense of diversity. Each person as a member, in a unique manner, contributes towards the edification of the whole Body. Therefore, the traditional practice of “anonymity,” that is, of not signing the icon, should not be understood as an aspiration towards the complete obliteration of the iconographer’s gifts and creative temperament.[xiii] It is rather a reminder that only in humble cooperation with the Divine Craftsman, in becoming one with Him through the Holy Spirit, will his true self and art flourish to the fullness of their capacity. Obedience becomes liberation. Thereby he will be able to uncover nuances contained in the prototypes previously unnoticed and contribute unrepeatable expressionsof Tradition. In undermining this side of the icon, seeking to protect it from “artistic license” and foreign cultural influences, we may in fact blunt its power, making of it a purely mechanical act that contradicts basic principles of Orthodoxy.”

Understanding and correct application of the Traditions and Canons of Iconography can only come through time and experience.

One final quote from Part 4:

Mourning Christ by Christine Simoneau Hales
Mourning Christ by Christine Simoneau Hales

” The iconographer preaches the Gospel in colors and chants hymns of praise, trembling as he says, in the words of the Nativity sticheron, “How hard it is to compose hymns of love, framed in harmony.” With his art he paints the Word, plastically manifesting, indeed enfleshing the Logos. This is truly an “artistic license” of kerygmatic expression in free will. For as Christ Himself has ordained: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”[xxii]”

I look forward to seeing you all in Icon classes, or now on the Facebook Page you are welcome to post your work or any important links about Icons that you think will benefit the Community of Iconographers.

May God bless you and the work of your hands,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Shepherd icon
The Lord is My Shepherd Icon by Christine Simoneau Hales

Christine’s Icon website

 

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“Feed My Sheep”

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

This month some thoughts on a missional perspective about Icon writing:

Form Follows Function

Christ the Healer Icon
Christ the Healer Icon at Christ the King SLC

“Form follows function” is a concept attributed to the American Architect Louis Sullivan, famous for developing the shape of the steel skyscraper in late 19th century, at a time when economic and cultural forces made it necessary to drop the established styles of the past.

“Where function does not change, form does not change….It is the pervading law of all things organic or inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and super human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.” Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409.

 

This principle kept recurring in my thoughts as I considered the function and form of Iconography today. We live today in an age of post denominationalism, where some of the more important issues of the Christian faith are less about division and nuanced theology and more about evangelization and healing. Healing for our culture and world is a function of a healthy relationship to God.

Christ the Healer Icon
Christ the Healer Icon by Christine Hales

Creating Icons according  to the Canons and honoring the Orthodox Church as well as all the Christian denominations is part of the tradition of spreading the Gospel through pictures. Martin Luther during the Reformation was not against Icons, seeing them as having an important role in teaching the tenets of the Christian Faith

 

Saint Benedict Icon
Saint Benedict Icon by Christine Hales

 

How then can Icons and the practice of Icon writing address the needs of our time? Through prayer, teaching individuals the spiritual discipline of a prayerful art practice, and the placement of Icons in public and private spaces where those who don’t attend churches can see and experience God through the Icon.

Since Icons go straight our hearts and by pass the intellect, God’s love can sometimes be apprehended through an Icon more easily than a book, or sermon. Whether our culture realizes it or not, it is desperately in need of God’s love. When we are called to Icon writing, that can be an important way that we can share God’s love. In addition to the joy we have in writing the Icon, we can share it with many, many people as an act of service and giving of the fits we have been blessed with.

St. George Icon
St. George Icon

 

Students often ask me “What will I do with the Icons I write?” My answer is to offer them to people and places in your community. Give, lend, exhibit them in places where people who wouldn’t ordinarily encounter them can experience them. Provide the opportunity for God to encounter and affect those He is calling.  Another way to integrate Icons into our world is to bring them when we visit the sick, and when we have our prayer groups.  It is lovely to have them on our prayer shelves at home, and it is equally wonderful to share them!

 

When we are in love with God, we hear His voice. This encounter between Peter and Jesus has deep meaning to an Iconographer;

“He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him a third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, Lord, You know all things: You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep” John 21:17

Our answer to God’s call to write Icons will be blessed in many ways we don’t know our understand now. Our obedience and faithfulness to develop our skills and understanding, engaging in a rich prayer life, all these contribute to the possibility of living more and more in God’s grace.

May you be blessed with God’s love and Spirit as you write Icons!

Fr. Nigel Mumford
Fr. Nigel Mumford with Christ the Healer Icon

Christine Hales

USEFUL LINKS THIS MONTH:

Orthodox Arts Journal   

This is a link to an article written by Aidan Hart, Iconographer that explores the relationships and differences between sacred art and secular gallery art, from an Orthodox perspective.

Museum of Russian Icons

A museum dedicated to Russian Icons, located in Clinton, Massachusetts.  Here is a link to their current exhibition of Icons

A new Facebook Group I created to encourage community and share photos and links. You are welcome to join!

My Icon writing class schedule.

 

AMERICAN ICONOGRAPHY part Two

Dear Fellow Iconographers:FullSizeRender

With world catastrophes like the Hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and earthquakes in Mexico, we have so many urgent applications for our prayers during our icon writing practice. May God continue to send help in many forms to those people afflicted by violent storms. Provide homes, food and safety, O Lord, and bring forth your victory and hope  where there is despair and destruction, we humbly pray.

Recently, during the Healing Icon writing Retreat I gave at Holy Cross Monastery, we daily put our prayer requests in a basket on the Icon table and prayed over them during our prayer times together. The subject for the retreat was the Archangel Raphael, and we completed the icons in time to be blessed on the feast day of St. Michael and the Archangels!  Each day we spoke about different aspects of the story of Tobit, Tobias, and Archangel Raphael and contemplated the healing aspects of the story, from the fish trying to bite Tobias’ foot, to Archangel Raphael bringing transforming a dangerous woman into a suitable wife.  Our Icons are reminders for us of God’s intervention in our lives, and the role his heavenly angels play in bringing His divine will into the experiences of our lives.FullSizeRender

In working to understand and define what is meant by American Iconography, I think that religious freedom plays an important role.   This country was founded, in part, on the hopes and dreams that new settlers from many different European countries had for  freedom to worship in their individual ways.   They wanted to  express their ideas of how God manifests in their lives and form communities to worship and pray together.  There was a great diversity of expression in the Christian communities, and yet each was given the space to develop and grow, peacefully.IMG_5162

Ideally, America is still that country that respects and allows for individual religious freedom.  Just as Icons are meant to depict a transfigured reality, I think we iconographers are asked to call forth the best in our worlds, to stand for positive change, and to show others how we can pray and experience God even in a very troubled world.

In Icon writing, we look for examples from the early centuries in order to understand and be inspired by the universal spiritual truths they contain. The American philosopher, John Dewey says of a work of art, eg. the Parthenon,  that it ” is universal because it can continuously inspire new personal realizations in experience.”…”The works that fail to become new are not those that are universal but those that are “dated”. He goes on to say “The enduring art product may have been, and probably was, called forth by something occasional, something having its own date and place. But what was evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experiences of others and enable them to have more intense and more fully rounded out experiences of their own.” (Taken from “Art as Experience” by John Dewey)

All this to say that an Icon writer must not only use examples from the past, but must also be able to convey the action and presence of God and the saint depicted through his/her prayers and spiritual efforts of today in order to be an authentic Icon.IMG_5190

Early Celtic Prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Christ as a light illumine and guide me. Christ as a shield overshadow me.

Christ under me, Christ over me, Christ beside me on my left and my right.IMG_5182

This day be within me and without, lowly and meek yet all powerful.

Be in the heart of each to whom I speak, in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.

This day be within and without me, lowly and meek yet all powerful.

Christ as my light, Christ as my shield

Christ beside me on my left and my right. Amen.

May God bless you and keep you until next month,

Christine

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