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

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

Collecting Icons

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

Why Collect Icons?

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

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

 

Venerating Icons

molennaya

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

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

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

Collecting Icons from Antiquity

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

Russian_nativity_icon

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

A Living Traditon

Nativity_Icon_Melissotopos_Olishta_19_Century
Nativity Icon Melissotopos Olishta 19 Century

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

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

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

Icon Website     Icon Prints Website

 

 

 

Practice

Dear Fellow Iconographers:
Angel

Teaching Icon classes as I do in monasteries, churches and art centers, the question that always arises at the end of class:  How can I continue with Icon painting?  Practice is what I always say. For that reason, this month’s blog for the American Association of Iconographers is a collection of information and links to help with further studies.

Ideally, someone who is learning to write Icons will choose a style or a teacher which whom to study.  But even with that, one can only realistically take one or two workshops per year.  What to do in the meantime?  Here are my suggestions:

Practice

Using sketch paper and pencil, draw as much as possible.  Copy Icons from books, prints, or the internet.  Drawing is the number one art skill needed in Icon writing, as it is in all painting.  Learning to think on paper is a valuable skill.  A book that I recommend to beginners is: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  You can copy Icons in some of her exercises and you will be surprised at how quickly your drawing will improve.

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

 

 

Simplified Palette
Simplified Palette

Use watercolor paper and the four basic color of Icon writing: red ochre, black, white and yellow ochre.  Make color and tonal studies of Icons on water color paper.  Again, this simple practice will yield large results.

 

 

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

 

Icon Retreats and Workshops

For those who choose to study with me, here is a link to upcoming classes.  My teaching method is always evolving and inspired by my prayer life.  I particularly enjoy helping students who have had some experience writing Icons and now want to create their own Icon (still copied from before the Renaissance).  If you do sign up for one of my classes and wish to do this, please email me well before the class date so that we can prepare you for getting the most out of the retreat.

Resources for viewing Iconographic Imagery

Kolomenskaya Versta is a site selling Icon books and materials. It is based in Russia and they regularly post free images to copy as well as links to all kinds of Iconographic information.  Also known as Russian Modern Orthodox Icon, here is a link to their FB page.

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

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

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

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

Resources for Icon Materials

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

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

Pandora- Pigment sets, Painting Tools, Porcelain Palette

Gold Leaf and Gilding Supplies

Sepp Leaf    www.seppleaf.com

Golden Leaf Products  www.goldenleafproducts.com

Gold Leaf Wholesalers  LA Gold

Icon Boards

Pandora Icon Boards, New York

St. John’s Workshop   Icon boards

 

Icon Painting Videos from You Tube

Villanova University– full process of painting an Icon.

Julia Brigit Hayes teaches online classes for drawing and painting Icons

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

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

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

Christine Hales

Icon Website 

Print Website

Fine Art Website

 

 

Feast Day of the Archangels

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

Having just finished an Icon writing workshop  where we painted the Archangel Michael, and today is the day the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, this blog is full of information about the angels!

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

We celebrate the Feast Day of the Archangels each year at this time, but who are the Archangels and what do they mean to us?

The angels are known to us as ministering spirits, sent to announce or accomplish the will of God on earth.

We read in the Bible that the angelic hosts seek to defend creation against the spiritual powers which seek its ruin.  

Archangel Michael

Andrei Rublev Michael the Archangel
Andrei Rublev Michael the Archangel

In Revelation 12:7-9 we read of the Apocalypse and the celestial war in which Archangel Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his angels.  According to L. Ouspensky in his book “The Meaning of Icons” ,  this is….” a war that continues on earth in the spiritual combats in which men are assisted by angels.  Hence the warrior like character that angelic apparitions often take.”

Saint Michael Prayer

Angels in Battle
Angels in Battle

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

In Joshua 5:13-15 the Captain of the Host of the Lord appeared to Joshua with a sword in his hand.  Again, quoting from “The Meaning of Icons” by Ouspensky “

“The Archangel Michael “chief captain of  the host” presides over the struggle against the forces of demons: “there where thy grace appears, the power of the demons is pursued; for the fallen Lucifer cannot bear to see thy light.  We pray thee then to extinguish his burning features, directed against us…and to free us from his temptations.”

Archangel Gabriel  

The name Gabriel means God is my strength.  In the Gospel of Luke, Gabriel is the angel who announces to Mary that she will give birth to a son and name him Jesus.  He is known as the patron saint of communication, giving strength and helps children is many ways.

Announcing Angels
Announcing Angels

 

Archangel Raphael

We learn about the Archangel Raphael, the heavenly guide and companion from the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha.  He is known as the healing angel, also the patron saint of travelers.

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

The Prayer of St. Raphael

O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us;

Raphael, angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.

May all our movements be guided by your light and transfigured with your joy.

Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of him on whose unveiled face you are privileged to gaze. 

Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country.

Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.

May your prayers before the angels always be heard, and may you sleep with the angels!

 

Blessings,
Christine Hales

Icon Website

Icon Materials

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:

 

Deadline: Fourth of July!!

Dear Fellow Iconofiles and Students:

One of the tasks of the spiritual in art is to prove again and again that vision is possible; that the world, thick and convincing, is neither the only world nor the highest, and that our ordinary awareness is neither the only awareness nor the highest of which we are capable.  Traditionally, this task falls under a stringent rule; the vision cannot be random and entirely subjective, but must be capable of touching a common chord in many men and women.”  Roger Lipsey, “An Art Of Our Own, The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art”.

Transfiguration Icon by Christine Hales in Progress
Transfiguration Icon by Christine Hales in Progress

Three months ago I gave myself a challenge: to write down everything that I thought was important in art and in Iconography and then to create a book.  My Deadline was the Fourth of July and my target was 20,000 words.  Yesterday I made my goal, with time to spare!  Of course now the editing process begins, but I honestly know now that this path of spiritual discovery in art is as important as anything else I could imagine doing.  For it is a research into human inspiration, philosophy, dreams, religion, politics, and moral development through the ages as evidenced in art, specifically painting and Iconography.

Icons in the Twentieth Century5a6303a44b080af2951c29a0327f97dd

In 1904, a small portion of Andrey Rulev’s Holy Trinity Icon was cleaned of the dark soot that had been its covering for centuries.  This one act led eventually to a whole group of Icons in Russia being cleaned and “discovered”, and this, in turn, has largely contributed to the revival in Iconographic interest today. When the Trinity was cleaned and uncovered through restoration, crowds began making pilgrimages to see it.

In 1911, Henri Matisse visited Moscow and was incredulous at the power and beauty he experienced in seeing these Icons.  So much so, that his art was strongly influenced by them for the rest of his life. He declared that the Russian medieval masters had already found what he had been seeking painting!

Ezekiel Icon by Christine Hales in Icon Exhibition at Westminster Presbyterian Church 2017
Ezekiel Icon by Christine Hales in Icon Exhibition at Westminster Presbyterian Church 2017

My new book will be about Iconography and its effect on the development of the best in modern art.  Putting together the pieces of this puzzle has been illuminating.   Wassily Kandinsky, the foremost pioneer of modern art, was not only deeply affected by icons in their painterly language, but also in the clarity and truth of the spiritual reality they conveyed.

Researching writers like Pavel FLorensky, Leonid Ouspensky, Roger Lipsey, Irina Yazykova, as well as modern master artists, I found there is a central theme of authentic spiritual experience throughout. Creating a modern spiritual language requires not only experience as an artist, but a spiritual lifestyle and practice that involves personal growth in Christ.

Color Theory, Materials, and Manuals

Combining the Iconographic and spiritual research with the specifics of making great art was part of my goal for the book.  Icons combine two worlds- the spiritual and art.  Spiritual development is essential, but so is artistic development.  For this I will be including a Bibliography of artist resources and guides to egg tempera painting and old master methods and materials. Sharing all this exciting information that has taken me so long to find will, hopefully, make it easier for others who want to develop their craft and skill by classical painting information combined with the best in modern artists who pursued the spiritual path.

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

With God’s help, I expect the book to be ready to publish at the beginning of this fall, and will email the specifics.  My intention and hope is that this book will help many serious iconographers and artists who wish to push forward in this challenging task of creating spiritual art that draws people to God. It is the job of  making icons accessible to a world desperately in need of a change from materialism to God’s world of true spiritual life.  For this, we need to open our hearts and let God lead the art out of the churches and into places where the unchurched can experience it.  How? God only knows.  But the icons then will become seeds carrying the faith and hope of God to the poor, the marginalized, and also the wealthy and priveledged.  God will water the seeds and bring forth the harvest.

Sending prayers and blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icon Class Schedule for 2018          Icon Website             Fine Art Website        Ministry

 

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

 

 

 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave
“link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”RSS”
href=”americanassociationoficonographers.com”