Saint George

The Popularity of Saint George

What is it that makes one saint more popular that others? Why do so many of the icons we paint tend to be of the same saints? Certainly there are many answers to those questions, but also, there are some saints who exist powerfully in the imagination of many people and thus are frequently used to focus prayers and our understanding of God’s power . Saint George is one of those, and since we recently painted his icon in the recent color theory and icons class I taught on line, I share with you some of the important aspects of Saint George that we discovered.

Saint George was one of the saints most highly regarded in ancient Russia. He was venerated not only as a warrior but also as a protector of agriculture. His feast day is April 23, which coincides with the beginning of the agricultural season. The icon we painted is Saint George and the Dragon. This one shows Saint George with his spear ready to pierce the dragon, who symbolizes evil. The hand of God in the upper corner completes the meaning that man, with God’s help, conquers evil in the world.

Both Catholics and Protestants maintained fidelity to St. George through the Reformation and its aftermath.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England’s Catholics observed his feast each year as a holy day of obligation. 
In Henry V, Shakespeare has the title character invoke St. George at Harfleur before the battle of Agincourt:  “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” And of course, Saint George is the patron saint of England.

In French, the word “cheval” means horse, and so it happens, as Chesterton once observed, that in the concept of chivalry, the very name of the horse has been given to the highest mood and moment of man.  The combination of man and horse, he continues, evokes feelings of so high an order that earlier ages happily portrayed in their art Christian heroes on winged stallions.  The most famous of these images was that of St. George, the mounted knight, defender of the good, piercing with his lance the dragon, that representation of evil rampant in the world. Some of this material is excerpted from ( Fr. James’ Newsletter, April 21, 2021, St. Procopious Abbey).


George’s real importance in the lives of Slavic peasants was as the mythical hero “Yegoriy the Brave,” the militant protector of cattle from wolves and bears, associated not only with the well being of horses but also with the greening of the grass after winter and the pasturing of the cattle. St. George became a kind of nature god, like the Prophet Elijah, whose chariot rolling across the heavens made the thunder. George was, in Russian peasant lore, the one who brought the spring. (Icons and their Interpretation)

The Significance of Saint George Today

Yet another reason for Saint George’s popularity with people today is that he symbolizes a spiritual truth which places the power of God firmly on the throne. It is only with God’s help that victory is achieved. Just as David, in 2 Samuel 5:6-6:23, asked God before he went into battle if he should go forth or not, giving God’s will preference over his own, here Saint George’s message is similar. He doesn’t trust in his own strength, but in God’s Strength. And this message is in contradiction to the message of humanism that our culture has inherited from the cultural developments after the Renaissance. Before the 1300’s, the world was defined with a theistic world view. As part of that world view, every creature as well as heaven had a clearly defined place in the hierarchy established by the laws of God. The good of all required devotion, community and cooperation with one’s neighbor. Humanism cultivated the reliance of man upon his own strength and abilities for answers and salvation from life’s problems. So, Saint George is a visual reminder to us to always seek our help for above, from God himself, and then our victory is assured.

May God bless the work of your hands and protect you from all that is not of Him,

Christine Hales

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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 Books

The following article was submitted by educator and iconographer, Jeannie Furlong. Thank you Jeannie, I’m sure these book reviews will be very helpful, and help to spread the joy of icon writing around the world!

Crucifixion Icon.Christine Hales
Crucifixion Icon.Christine Hales

Icon Books, from Jeannie Furlong:

My interest in Icons seems to have been with me for as long as I can remember. It was their stillness and austere beauty that caught my eye, initially! My artist background couldn’t keep me from analyzing what I was seeing.  Each new Icon fed my embers of interest and before long a small fire had ignited. I needed to know more! 

 I purchased my first Icon reproduction, Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev. I then found two intriguing books, Icons andSpiritual Geometry, to read. I also purchased a set of egg tempera pigments to use in the future. Gradually, I realized I was being guided into a steady path centered on learning about and creating icons.  

Next, what I really needed was a teacher with the patience of Job.  Where? in the midst of a raging Covid pandemic would I find one?  Many, many prayers (plus Google) brought me the answer, when a ‘search’ popped up Christine Hales Iconographer! And, she was offering a Virtual Icon class.  My learning curve has been straight up; an amazing beginning, and I have learned an unbelievable amount about Icons under her instruction. Now, I am pleased to accept her invitation to share with you a few of the books I found useful on my journey, especially if you are a neophyte, like myself! 

            I’ve listed sources alphabetically by author. Each has unique information!  Enjoy!

Praying with Icons by Jim Forest. Orbis Books, 1997. (Available from Amazon.com on Kindle). The author begins with retelling a personal journey early on with Icons. The interesting aspect, surprisingly enough, is that he is NOT an Iconographer, but his story is very ‘hands-on’ sharing his experiences with Icons.  In addition to Icon information and interviews, the author delves into Learning to Pray.  He surprises the reader in his section on prayers, with his inclusion of two specific prayers for the Iconographer which are The Rules for the Icon Painter and An Iconographer’s Prayer.

Eyes of Fire How Icons Saved My Life by Christine Hales. Christine Hales 2018. (Available from Amazon.com) The author uses a conversational voice taking the reader on a journey beginning with life discoveries that ‘saved her life’ and continues to chat along the way discussing the values found in many periods of art. Throughout the pages are beautiful color illustrations that spur the reader on. Building this background of information she creates a deeper understanding of Icons that as an art form wields spirituality by virtue of  being an art form. Christine’s book is “about” writing Icons explaining foundational processes used for creating icons. It confirms that Icons are a window the artist speaks through, “With this method of art practice, the next step is to combine that with prayer, and in doing so, the Holy Spirit will lift up the space between hand, brush and board, and the reflection of Grace will manifest in your Icon, to be read by any receptive heart.” 

Drawing Closer to CHRIST A Self-Guided Icon Retreat by Joseph Malham. Ave Maria Press. 2017. (Available from Amazon.com). The author takes the reader on a very defined study of Icons that includes study and painting. A self-directed “guide into the act of iconography, which is an act of prayer. It has been divided into seven chapters, which not only measure the days it will take to create your icon but also an approximation of the days in which God created everything from nothing.” The study and painting focus on the Icon Pantocrator.  These seven chapters use a biblical passage to introduce the Day with the authors’ comments, proceeds to Theological Reflections and continues with Painting the Icon.  In the Guidelines, the author encourages the participant, “Remember this is a retreat and not a work project with a deadline. Your seven-day retreat will be a fluid motion of prayer centered on the rhythm you set.”

       Sacred Doorways A Beginner’s Guide To Icons by Linette Martin. Paraclete Press, 2002. (Available from Thriftbooks.com).  As mentioned in the Preface by Dr Nicholas Gendle, Editor, this book is practical and by no means technical but purposely authored to appeal to the beginner seeking information about Icons.  It is written in a very ‘conversational’ voice that carries the reader smoothly from chapter to chapter while delivering a great amount of information carefully crafted without overwhelming the reader.  This wealth of information does whet the readers’ appetite to want more information. It could certainly fit the bill as a resource for a study group seeking to know about Icons or an individual preparing to take an Icon class.  Chapter 8, God, Angels and Peopleextends a sense of familiarity about a few icons and terminology used in Christian settings sometimes ‘taken for granted’.  This chapter expands the meaning of familiar terminology and explains how it relates within the church.

Icon Painting Technique: A Meditative Guide to Egg Tempera Painting by Mary Jane Miller. Mary Jane Miller, 2013. (Available from Amazon.com-Kindle) The author prepares the reader in the Introduction: “The book is about the subtle relationship between the icon painting and how it reflects and enriches ones spiritual life”.

Silence, plays a major role in the process of creating an icon as an “extraordinary kind of prayer” from beginning to end. “Icons are not portraits; they are a windows on a world that call us to be still, to look and reflect, to be at peace with ourselves, and to rest in a place of thankfulness with God.” The author substitutes the terminology of ‘painting’ for ‘writing’ in her discussion and explains why in the History Chapter.  In the Chapter Technique & Materials, she author provides an extensive discussion about her special philosophy while painting with egg tempera. She also provides various ratios she uses in her painting. Painting the Icon is broken into 12 Steps. Each simplifies the painting of each icon to enhance listening to God. 

Techniques of Traditional Icon Painting by Giles Weissman, Search Press, 2012. (Available on Amazon.com). A very sturdy paperback that focuses in great detail on the “processes” of writing Icons. It also contains beautiful full color illustrations including a ‘bird’s eye glimpse’ of the detailing for a reference for painting. Chapter 5 – Byzantine Drawing points out “the elements of the composition are positioned for balanced and harmony”.  The author continues using detailed step by step information clarified by the narrative while beautiful pictures identify what your work will look like at each phase. Chapter 8 – Inscriptions explains the importance of an inscription, how to paint it, and includes many inscriptions with an interpretation and origin for them.

Article contributed by Jeannie Furlong:

Jeannie Furlong, Ed.D. Episcopalian, Wife, Mother, Grandmother of 11, Texan, Business Owner, Former Educator, Professor and future Iconographer! Conversation welcomed at jeanniejeanniejeannie@yahoo.com

Useful Links For Iconographers:

Greek Iconographer, Antonis with instruction on the Cretan style of iconography. It is a simple study which can help with dry brush technique: 

This is an article by Koo Schadler on the dry brush technique.

Online Icon Painting Classes with Christine Hales

That’s all for this month!

God Bless,

Christine Simoneau 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

Covid Thoughts

It has been almost a year now, that we, collectively, have been experiencing quarantine for protection from Covid-19. While this his undoubtedly changing and shaping not only the world we live in, but our approach to it as well.

Although it has been isolating, for iconographers the silver lining is that more and more online iconographical resources are available. And, of course, we have a lot more time to research, pray and paint icons! In this context, I thought I would share some thoughts on icons from one of my favorite writers in the hope of adding fresh inspiration and hope to our palettes and our spirits.

From Irina Yazykova in her brilliant book, ” Hidden and Triumphant”, published by Paraclete Press:

Andrei Rublev

“… the Russian monk, Andrei Rublev faces the world with hope and light, counting on God’s mercy while striving to reveal to others that beauty which will save the world…” “Andrei Rublev. (pg. 34)

“Saint Gregory of Palamas had taught that light is an uncreated divine energy. The Greeks felt that this energy was like a scorching fire entering into the soul of the person of faith and consuming sinfulness. In contrast, the Russian Hesychasts understood this light to be a form of grace- a quiet light from within the soul that imparts love for all living things. Saint Sergius of Radoneh …taught his disciples to love every living thing and to see in all the grace and glory of God.

Andrei Rublev, as a student of Saint Sergius, used his icons and his paints to embody this love for God and the world.” (pg. 35)

“For in Him we live and move and have our being…For we, too, are His offspring.” Acts 17:28

The Artist’s Role

“Throughout the ages it is art that has served as a mirror reflecting the spiritual condition of humankind and the world in which we live. The artist, perhaps without being aware of it, witnesses to the time in which he or she lives, adjusting like a fine instrument to the movements taking place in the deepest reaches of the human heart.”

Moving to the end of the book, in Appendix B, “Beauty Saving the World, The Icon Outside of Russia”, we will conclude this essay with two more quotes:

Postrevolution Russian Emigration

“In the 1920’s and 1930’s, centers of Orthodox culture appeared in the West- centers that helped preserve Russia’s literary, scientific, and philosophical heritage at the same time that they gave rise to a new school of Iconography- the Paris School. This contact of Russian culture with the west went way beyond mere esthetic delight in the exotic. The icon was becoming an authentic presence in Western culture, initially, to be sure, in the form of an Orthodox subculture, but later becoming apart of everyday European – and, after the war , American-life.”

4 T

“And after the war, the Orthodox Christian community became more cognizant of the need for unity in the search for foundations of the faith that could be held in common by all Christians. The search was joined by the World Council of Churches, theological commissions, and international conferences on interdenominational dialogue. Activities such as these helped stem;ate Western receptivity to the traditions and cultures of their Eastern brothers and sisters.”

Quoting this book as extensively as I have, these points bring us to an awareness of how important the Russian influence has been on contemporary principles and philosophy of iconography today. I hope many of you will be inspired and possibly contribute similar articles that illuminate the path of iconographers today.

In addition to the book mentioned above, another good source for understanding Russian Icons can be found in this link.

You can also visit one of my favorite museums- the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.

May you all be blessed with an ever increasing awareness of God’s mercy and grace,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Online Icon Painting Classes for 2021

The Renaissance and Icons

I recently gave a talk at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota Florida on the Renaissance and Icons for an Advent series on church art. The following are excerpts from that talk:

Trinity by Massaccio

The Reniassance was making its appearance in art as early as the 14th century in Italy with the art of Massaccio and Giotto.    The art of the fourteenth century was a balance of medieval art and the new developments in art that included three point perspective.  

The contemporary of Donatello, Masaccio, was the painterly descendant of Giotto and began the Early Renaissance in Italian painting in 1425, furthering the trend towards solidity of form and naturalism of face and gesture that Giotto had begun a century earlier.  From 1425–1428, Masaccio completed several panel paintings but is best known for the fresco cycle that he began in the Brancacci Chapel with the older artist Masolino and which had profound influence on later painters, including Michelangelo. 

The Shift from A Theistic Worldview to Humanism

Often the term Renaissance  is used to describe an attitude toward life which valued Earth more than heaven, the immortality of fame rather than the immortality of the soul, self cultivation more than self effacement, the delights of the flesh more than asceticism, the striving for success more than justice, individual and intellectual freedom rather than authority, and Classical humanism more than Christianity.

The Renaissance ushered in, along with more naturalistic art forms, a humanist view of the world.  It was a new dawning where man considered himself master of the world.  This is a secular worldview in which God is marginalized.

Until the Renaissance, beauty and holiness were inextricably connected in art for worship, evoking the presence of God.  After the rise of realism, artistic virtuosity and competitive patronage began to be the engine that drove the production of art. The previous theistic worldview of the medieval and dark ages was shattered by the desire for carnal gratification and political power especially in Rome.

Ghirlandaio, Adoration

Ghirlandaio was part of the so-called “third generation” of the Florentine Renaissance, along with Verrocchio, and Sandro Botticelli.

This new attitude of realism and illusionistic perspective is clearly reflected in the art of the period.  

But the Renaissance is a study in contrasts  because it is also true that the genius of that age has rarely been equaled and never surpassed.

Later, all of Europe, from Spain to Poland wanted to emulate the Italian example of Renaissance painting.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael

Leonardo DaVinci The Virgin, Christ Child and Saint Ann

Leonardo da Vinci  was a painter, mathematician,, engineer and inventor.  Michelangelo a sculptor, painter, architect and poet. Both were passionate about learning how to represent the natural world and this included dissecting cadavers in order to accurately depict human musculature.

Michelangelo- Sistine Chapel

Standing alongside Leonardo and Michelangelo as the third great painter of the High Renaissance was the younger Raphael, His death in 1520 at age 37 is considered by many art historians to be the end of the High Renaissance period, although some individual artists continued working in the High Renaissance style for many years thereafter.

Raphael’s Madonna and Child

The Eastern Branch of the Church inRussia

Madonna of the Passion Icon

Russian Piety differed from the west and even from other Orthodox churches.    In Russia, religion stressed piety and self sacrifice. Such meekness was characteristic of the Russian ideal which encouraged the surrender of self in favor of a larger good, the family or the nation.

Andrei Rublev’s Madonna and Child Icon

Salvation meant not only the attainment of individual perfection, but also the transformation of society and of all mankind into nobler and holier forms.  For it was believed that the entire nation was holy and that each facet of daily life could be sanctified.  Meek behavior and proper manners were a religious as well as a social \ obligation. For the Russians, Christianity reinforced and broadened the ancient Russian Traditions that had considered each individual to be profoundly responsible for the well being of his neighbors and of all humanity. The art form for churches in Russia during the Renaissance period was Icons. They avoided naturalistic and illusionistic rendering and space in their work in order to keep the focus on God’s world.

The early Church Fathers of the Ninth Century wisely decided that the iconic tradition as a visual witness to faith appeals more to the heart than the intellect.  It is said that a painting offers us a window onto the world.  An icon does the same, except that it offers us a window into the invisible world of God- they make manifest to us the Kingdom of heaven. They portray to us not what we encounter in everyday life, but instead they picture a transfigured world, a world that is seen by the soul and not the eyes.

Rublev’s Christ Icon

In the icon we witness a world that is whole, an image of eternity.  The icon has come to be regarded not only as a work of art, but also  as a witness to the Christian faith in the incarnation of God. And that is why, as Iconographers, we only use models for our Icons from before the Renaissance period, ignorer to avoid the shift from a theistic world view to a humanist one.

Crucifixion Icon, C. Hales

 Father God, we ask that every time humanity loses its way, you will lift us up and set us out again on the right path, your path.  Beauty will save the world!

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Blessings for a Safe and Healthy New Year!

Christine Simoneau Hales

Online Icon Classes

Origin of Icons

The early Christians wished to decorate their catacombs with paintings, and these became our earliest form of Christian Iconography.  They used symbolism, often taken from paganism, and Roman and Greek motifs- but the symbolism was given new meanings: Christian meanings.

Catacombs were underground passageways used for burial chambers during the Roman Empire.  All Roman catacombs were located outside city walls since it was illegal to bury a dead body within the city, providing “a place…where the tombs of the martyrs could be openly marked, ” and commemorative services and feasts held safely on sacred days.

Coptic Icon of Christ and Saint Means, Sixth Century
Coptic Icon of Christ and Saint Menas, Sixth Century

Memorial Portraits

Citizens of Roman Egypt memorialized their dead by  using wax and pigments to paint on wood panels portraits of their dead. These were placed  on mummies at the time of burial. The style of the painting was Greco-Roman but they reflected Egyptian religious beliefs. For the first six centuries, Icon painting followed that tradition.

Fayum Portrait, Egypt

The style of painting that they copied was similar to popular painting of the late Roman empire.  Often Christian artists of the time used animals such as the fish, the lamb, the drinking stag, the peacock and the dove to convey Christian meanings.

Old Testament and the Gospel as Inspiration for Icons

The Old Testament appeared infrequently in the catacombs, but gradually with the spread of Holy Texts and the understanding that the Old Testament stories prefigured the Gospel, those Biblical themes began to inspire icon painters.  Motifs  such as the salvation of the soul, or Divine Mercy were depicted in scenes like Daniel in the lion’s den, the life of Moses, Jonah and the Whale, the sacrifice of Isaac, Noah’s ark, among others.

Moses Being Found by the River, Fresco
Daniel in The Lion’s Den Icon C. Hales

By the second century, knowledge of the Gospels was becoming more widespread, so images from the life of Christ began to emerge.  Favorite images were the adoration of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, the Resurrection of Lazarus and the healing of the paralytic. The simple image of the Madonna and Child was seen as early as the 2nd Century.

6th Century Icon from Mt. Sinai, Egypt

Third century saw the Roman Empire under attack from the East, but it survived and moved its capital to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 330 AD.  One Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, and made it the official imperial religion, Icons and religious imagery proliferated.

Tapestry 6th Century

THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Its capital city was Constantinople. The Byzantine era flourished until it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

Although the Roman state continued and its traditions were maintained, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from  ancient Rome insofar as it was centered on Constantinople and open to Eastern influences. Byzantium was also oriented towards the Greek rather than Latin culture.

Saint Peter Encaustic Icon, 6th Century

It was during the Seventh Ecumenical Council, 787 AD, that the Church Fathers declared Icons to be called sacred objects and full of grace. According to St. John of Damascus, an icon is sanctified by the name of God, and by the name of the friends of God, that is, the saints, and that is why the icon receives the grace of the Divine Spirit.

This is an account of how Icons began in the early Centuries. The period following the sixth century saw turbulence and widespread destruction of Icons and that is why we have so few early Icons existing today.

I hope this article proves helpful and gives perspective that aids Iconographers today.

Until next month, be blessed , safe and healthy.

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icon Website Online Icon Classes

Icons With A Message

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

This month, artist and iconographer Mary Jane Miller has contributed an article about her work with contemporary icons and contemporary themes. Mary Jane lives and works in Mexico and does lovely Silver oklads for many of her icons as well. Her website is listed below.

From Artist/Iconographer Mary Jane Miller

The impact of humanity on creation has been all inclusive, both for our benefit and regretfully the suffering of the Earth entrusted to us. God’s intention was that we use all the abundance for our welfare. We have done so. However we have failed to nurture, preserve, and love her constant companionship .

On Holy Ground On Holy Ground is a collection of icons to honor the planet in a time of climate change. The collection opens with an image of Mary of Swords. The composition places the planet Earth beside Mary as she bows her head. The prophetic prayer of St. Symeon is echoed here,“ A sword will pierce your own soul too, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed . ” (Luke 2, 34-35) . She stands with her hands clasped in prayer for humanity and our hard headed attitude towards climate change all around the globe.

Mary of Sorrows    

Mary tilts her head lovingly towards our planet Earth while embracing seven swords that pierce her heart. Seven swords pierce her heart; indicating the fullness and boundless sorrow, pain and “sickness of heart” that would have been experienced by Mary, the Mother of Jesus at His crucifixion.The ancient church speaks of seven deadly sins and seven holy attributes, and seven sacraments. 

The number seven is associated with intuition, mysticism, inner wisdom, and a deep inward knowing. The Christian bible used the number 735 times. God created the Earth in seven days and there are seven wonders of the world. The book of Revelation mentions seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven stars. All music is created based on seven basic notes, and we have seven chakras in the body. The prism effect in a rainbow shows seven distinct colors of light. There are seven bones in our face, neck, ankle and there are seven holes in our head. There is a Divine message in the number Seven. To broaden the metaphor Muslim pilgrams circle the Kaaba in Mecca sevens times, and Egyptians had seven gods.

The significance of the swords and our behavior are clearly emphasized by seven attributes.

Pride is an excessive belief in one’s own abilities, a failure to see others before themselves.  Pride is the sword that comes from beneath, unseen yet at the center of her being. It has been called the sin from which all others arise.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than what one requires. The behavior manifests when we take more than your share, fail to recognize what is enough or when to stop.

Lust is an inordinate craving for bodily pleasures. The sex trade and our obsession with perverse bodily delight has become a hindrance to many otherwise healthy relationships and social structures. Lust becomes an obsession and taints the whole heart.


Anger is an uncontrolled response or rage towards government, religion,education, family or anyone acting contrary to our blinded desire. They spurn love and opt instead for fury. We cause massive destruction by undisciplined reactions and excessive outbursts of ego. We fail to listen, learn or negotiate.

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. Big industrial companies use greed to mine sand or gold. It drives the mind tol seduce others through undisciplined  cravings through lies. Greed that insists on becoming bigger and better year after year is an avarice.

Sloth is the avoidance of one’s individual physical or spiritual work. It arises from a lack of self, feeling there is no point or purpose in life. On the international landscape it can look like dictators who refuse to act benevolently. Sloth is isolation from the growth in community and a negligence to participate.

Envy is wishing for the other person to not have what they want to possess. We go to extreme measures to prevent others from having what rightfully belongs to them. Personal ambition sets one on a course to do anything necessary to consume more at the expense of others..

These seven behaviors harbor a divine message for where a sword might pierce your own soul. Our planet needs a new awareness for profoundly understanding of our place in the solar system. We can change our mindset to bring about a more balanced existence between humankind and the natural order.


Global Tenderness     

Earth’s climate is warming due to our negligence in having the light of compassion for the rock we live on. We did not create Earth, we do not sustain Earth but it is in our power to care and maintain the Earth. The seven swords piercing Mary’s chest represent the seven sinful human passions that cause spiritual torment for us all. Our human greed, lust, sloth, pride, envy, gluttony, and anger, are largely the components that have led to our planets ill health, imbalance and climate change.


Mary and Christ cling to one another in a loving embrace. Mary of Tenderness is a familiar and common image in classic iconography. Their loving embrace is superimposed on a map of green continents delineated by longitudinal lines. Theirs could be a final embrace or one that reminds us of how fragile our Ecosystem is. Humanity continues to abuse the natural order and balance put in place through the Creator and subsequent evolution over millenniums. Our species cannot continually take what has been freely given and disregard mother earth’s generous capacity to empty herself for our benefit. Like a mother’s love for her child, she surrenders until death without resistance.


Blood Lines


Christ is the principal figure as the Pantocrator, “Ruler of All”. His image is superimposed on a map of the world of white colorless land masses. I wanted the transparent continents to be ghost like or a faded memory from another time. The blood lines extend out in the two principle directions from the continent of North America. These deep red lines are the air traffic routes, and shipping lanes over used for our human indulgences. Our human waste and consumption, from every imaginable kind of electronic apparatus to the innocent sand from the seafloor are in peril. The cost to our planet is enormous as we deplete its resources and damage its waterways with transport and shipping.


Mary Jane Miller 
delights in Large collections, The life of Christ 2005, the Mary Collection 2008, The Dialogue Art for Peace Project 2010 in response to war and violence; the US invasion of Iraq. Now she is dedicating her next collection to climate change and prayer for our future. Climate change is a real issue in many of our hearts and minds. She urges everyone to yield, step back from our past behaviors, reflect and move towards a new, more conscious and responsible lifestyle while together on this planet Earth. https://sanmiguelicons.com/
Miller’s Contemporary Icons 
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On another note, iconographer Betsy Porter is hosting virtual discussions on icons broadcast from St. Gregory’s Church, San Fransisco, CA. on Sunday afternoons. Here is her contact information- ask to be put on her mailing list for the Zoom link: betsyhartporter@yahoo.com

Christ Centric Art Biennale : I received this link from Philip Davydov, an iconographer based in St. Petersburg, Russia about participating in this exhibition. and thought some of you may be interested. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10219140641209343&set=pcb.10219140629849059

Also, my online icon painting classes continue. It takes weeks to prepare each class, but each one includes step by step video demonstrations as well as introducing a new technique with each class. It’s truly a joy to be able to share the gift of icon writing even during this pandemic. All are welcome, each class is taught using egg tempera and gold leaf gilding. Online Zoom Icon Classes

May God continue to bless your icon writing, stay well and safe,

Christine Simoneau Hales

newchristianicons.com

Contemplation and Icons

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

This month the topic of our newsletter is contemplation and Icons.  As I continue teaching Icon writing (painting), now online due to the pandemic, it seems important to post about the importance of linking prayer to the process of painting Icons.  In order for the Icon to reflect God’s Presence, it’s very important for the iconographer to be in a state of grace and prayer while working.

Icon Class at Holy Cross
Icon Class at Holy Cross

Reflection on the saints being being painted and continuous prayer help to insure that the icon is an authentic expression of who the saint is when transfigured by God’s grace.  This is the true likeness of the saint- his transfigured person through the light of God’s action upon him/her in their lives.

In The Eastern theological tradition, man is seen to be on a mystical journey that leads to “Theosis” or deification. Icons represent this union between God and man. The Icon is a manifestation of the presence of God. It draws and brings us into this Presence so that we can experience God in our soul. In this way we become a living icon of God.

Contemplation and Icons

Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales
Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales

In Byzantine religious culture,  the purpose of meditation, prayer and contemplation  was always to lead to enlightenment, that is, prayerful immersion in the rays of Divine energy as evidenced in the icon of the Transfiguration.

In Vita Consecrata we read this from Pope John Paul II,  :
We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored : in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (Ex 34.33); in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. All, believers and non-believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words”

St Benedict Icon by Christine Hales
St Benedict Icon by Christine Hales

Whereas St. Benedict, who has set the tone for the spirituality of the West, calls us, first of all, to listen, the Byzantine Fathers focus on gazing. This is especially evident in the liturgical life of the Eastern Church as the 2nd Ecumenical council in 787 makes clear, when it says :
“What is communicated through the Word is revealed silently through the Image.” In Byzantine Liturgy therefore, Word and Icon complement each other.

Each of us is an Icon of God, and through prayer and contemplation, we are able to see our brothers and sisters as God sees them, and then bring this deep sense of God’s view to the process of painting Icons.

Hesychasm is a mystical form of prayer practiced by Byzantine Monks and iconographers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Jesus‘s teaching in the Gospel of Matthew tells us that “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”. Hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward  in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God. The Jesus prayer, prayer of the breath, was commonly the prayer used when painting icons in this tradition.

Transfiguration Icon
Transfiguration Icon

The Jesus prayer is this, or a variation of it: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

And to finish, here is a quote from “The Message”, a treatise from fifteenth century St. Joseph of Volokolamsk:

“Wherever you may be, O Beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting, or lying down- ceaselessly pray with a clear conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” and God will hear you.”

Equipped with prayer and contemplation, the iconographer is able to paint with God’s direction and all will be well!

Saint Marina Icon
Paleologic Icon of Saint Marina

Contact Us:

Each month, we choose a topic relevant to the education of contemporary iconographers, and I invite you to make suggestions, submit possible topics, or write a guest post. Contact me!

ONLINE ICON PAINTING ClASSES

I have two on line Icon painting classes coming up in September and November, you are welcome to join us!

Blessings and prayers until next month,

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Canons of Iconography?

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

Canons of Iconography?

Reflecting on the current interest in icon painting we are experiencing in this last thirty years, it is interesting to note the many and varied styles of icon writing that are emerging.  How are we able to discern what is a true Icon?  By what standards do we judge the authenticity of our own work?  In my early days of Icon study I often heard the words “The Canons of Iconography” referred to as our standard of comparison.  However, upon closer investigation, it became clear that these Canons were more mythical than reality.  There is no Bible of Icon writing. 

Traditions of the Past

So, how can we carry on the valuable traditions of icon writing from the past? In the same way that artists have always learned their craft- we need to copy from the masters.  In an articulate and well- researched article on just this subject, Romanian Iconographer Todor Mitrovic has written two articles for the Orthodox Arts Journal this month.

In the first article, published online, June 23, 2020, Todor Mitrovic writes about the high achievement of  Byzantine art as a very high expression of European culture for its time.  He speaks of the canons, or canonicity, of iconography as not sufficiently representing what great church art was in the middle ages or being able to serve the needs of iconographers today.  Understandably, the need to distinguish between what is Christian and what is not was a legitimate need in the early centuries of Christianity.

“Very early, disputes arose as to what was genuinely Christian.  Hence, the Church was constantly forced to set up norms, e.g., for doctrine, for life, for accepting books as Scripture, for worship. It thus felt the need for a word that would unmistakably denote what is valid and binding in the Church…”  T. Mitrovic

However, slavish adherence to an imaginary canon can only limit the authentic expression of God’s Holy Spirit in Icons today.

“…the image of the list of icon-painting rules, however imaginary it might have been, hangs over the heads of contemporary iconographers, and radically defines the entire artistic production of the Orthodox Church.” T. Mitrovic

Are There Rules and Where to Find Them?    Part II

In the second installment of Mr. Mitrovic’s article in the Orthodox Arts Journal, he speaks of how the canons of the seventh ecumenical council only proclaim the need for icons to be painted, but they do not attempt to  interfere with their artistic execution.

That seems that the Byzantine Church never attempted a legal codification of its artistic production, so why do we attempt to do so now?

Instructions for medieval icon painting were general canons which apply to  diverse forms of artistic creation.  “…in the most famous manual, compiled by Dionysius of Fourna, for example, where there is a recipe for mixing the colors for painting the face, and norms for the proportions of the human figure, the author subverts any concept of a rule, since he states that this is only one among many possibilities …we cannot find there any set of direct prescriptions on producing an icon that would be “canonical” in the narrow sense. Moreover, some clumsy attempts to codify any such prescriptions, especially with ever-advancing reproductive technology, has led to cold and sterile results in church art, which could hardly be compared with the genuine achievements of Byzantine art.”   Todor Mitrovic

Language vs Canon

Could  the traditional aspect of church art be designated not by the term canon, but by the term language? Mr. Mitrovic asks the question:what would happen if the normative aspect of church art were treated in a linguistic manner?”

Linguistic structures are extremely conservative and slow to change, not because of some ideology, but because their primary purpose is to communicate and understand.  Surely, good icon painting is about communicating and bringing the viewer into God’s presence through the visual image.  And there are many aspects of  creating icons that help to make this possible.  It’s just that there are different ways to use these creative elements- the application of paint for example, or line quality, or color density, and still be within the validity of icon painting language and form.

I suggest you read these articles in order to understand the nuances and implications for your own icon writing.  Mr. Mitrovic closes with;

“Although the terms canon and language have some semantic affinity, their use as paradigms, in the end, might have quite a different impact on the development of church art.”

In my lifetime, there has never been more need than that of the present for Christian artists to support one another in this quest for an authentic visual language that represents a theology that can heal and speak to our times.

Until next month,

Prayerfully,

Christine Hales

Icon website         ONLINE Icon Painting Class