In the creation of Icons today, I find it particularly helpful to keep looking to the past in order to understand the nuances and dynamics of Icon making through the centuries. Medieval Russian Icons and their development is particularly applicable to this task. The following is excerpted from the book, A History of Icon Painting, and this chapter was written by Angelina Smirnova; Moscow, 2005.
Early Russian Christianity
Since the adoption by Russia of Christianity in 988, Christian art was able to develop and flourish. Particularly in the metropolitan areas like Moscow and Kiev, the foundation was laid for Christianity and its art to spread through Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine. While in these early centuries Icons were favored by Monks and used as devotional images in chapels, churches and monasteries. They were very important inRussian Orthodoxy.
The first Russian icons were heavily influenced by Byzantine culture which formed the basis of knowledge concerning the canons and painting traditions of icons.
Wealthy princes and czars commissioned spacious churches that required large painted images, resulting in clearer silhouettes and pronounced rhythm and contours that could give a compositional unity.
The themes of overcoming suffering and the hope of salvation dominated the subject matter of these icons which laid the foundation for Andrei Rublev’s painting in the fifteenth century.
“The saints on Russian icons are often endowed with a particularly forceful expressiveness in which Christian spirituality clearly demonstrates the power of saints over the cosmic forces of nature. The images on Russian icons are more open and direct compared with the refined intellectualism of Byzantine art, which drew more strongly on the Hellenistic tradition and was more remote from the sphere of everyday emotions.”
The second half of the eleventh century Russian princes built churches to establish their governments and required monumental icons to adorn them. Most of the themes repeated Byzantine icons but there were some original ones depicting the Russian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb.
The Comnenian style, characterized by more muted expressions, light transparent colors, and the addition of a blue/azure color, developed in twelfth century Russia. By the thirteenth century, after the devastating effects of the Tartar-Mongol hordes, icons began to show expressions of strength, resolve, spiritual integrity and power.
A Russian style of icon painting was becoming clearly evident by the thirteenth century. In comparison with Byzantine art there was now a flatter picture plane and composition, rich color, and a more open yet inward expression on the figures. There were local exceptions, such as Novgorod, which retained a simplicity combined with vibrant colors.
As Moscow became the political and cultural center of Russia in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, a clearly defined style emerged. Fifteenth century Russian icons represent the ideal heavenly world and God’s grace, in contrast to the fourteenth century icons which showed believers the steps to overcoming obstacles to spiritual development. Now, ideal harmony was the theme of icons and that is perfectly expressed in Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon. Rublev’s icons exemplify Byzantine classicism and seem to combine aspects of earlier styles of Russian icon painting in a mystical and beautiful way. Later, Dionysius would elongate figures and open out towards the viewer, compositional elements and figures. (For more on Dionysius see earlier post on this blog site.)
The Paleologue period of Byzantine iconography, 1261-1453 continued to influence Russian Icons of the sixteenth century, but there was also more of a theological-didactic narrative to these icons. A western influence began to be seen in the modeling of the faces and forms and a more naturalistic rendering of space.
I hope this brief history encapsulation is helpful to
iconographers of the twenty-first century who seek to maintain the canons of Iconography and also create religious art that relates to and inspires Christians today.
A good source of images can be found in some of the digital libraries that are now being made public:
This month, I wanted to share some reflections taken from reading the book, “The Avant-Garde Icon, Russian Avant-Garde Art & The Icon Painting Tradition, written by Andrew Spira.
Exploring the potential of icons in the context of the modern world, Andrew Spira speaks to the integration of the ancient spiritual truths found in Icons into modern culture.
We are looking today at just the first chapter entitled “Icons: An Introduction”, particularly focusing on the development of the Russian iconographic tradition from the seventh to the sixteenth century.
Spira gives a brief history and explanation of the iconoclast controversy that I particularly appreciate due to the information about the widely spreading religion of Islam that was iconoclastic and therefore provided some of the impetus for the negation and destruction of icons in the seventh century.
During the iconoclastic controversy, an official theology of icons was developed maintaining that, by incarnating in matter as Christ, God established a principle that it was lawful and appropriateto represent the Divine in material form.Like the Eucharist, icons were regarded as extensions of the body of Christ.It was their sacramentality that mattered, more than the artistic quality or their symbolic meaning. Therefore, The definitive characteristic of Icons lies within their mystical identity.
The effort to create a form of art that could communicate the mystery of the incarnate God took place within the Eastern church before the 10th century.
In 1453 the capital of Russia moved to Moscow from Constantinople after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.Then, from a spiritual point of view, the monastic discipline of Hesychasm, an ancient practice of unceasing prayer, led to a period of religious fervor that resulted in an increase in the development and proliferation of Icons throughout the church.Russian icon painting silently reveals God to the inner eye, or heart, of the believer.
The contrast between a rational, western, didactic approach and the more mystical, contemplative and sacramental approach to Icon writing is something that icon painters today have to come to terms with in order to develop an art that has its own artistic integrity and sacramental presence.This contrastcan be seen not necessarily astwo polarities, right and wrong, but as both and, permitting a creative synthesis of the two approaches.
Modern Icon Painting
Although the influence of the western Renaissance in 16th century Russia was largely not experienced, there was still a disintegration of the medieval interrelationship between spiritual life and popular culture.This was evident in modern Russian and Eastern Icons from the sixteenth century onwards.
In an attempt to change the course of Russian modern icon painting in the seventeenth century from secularization back to spiritual traditions,attempts were made to formalize the pure tradition of icon painting. But theseundermined the principles of insight and experience that also formed the basis of the tradition.This resulted in a westernized icon, realistic, narrative, and in a lack of feeling and spiritual depth in the icons of modern periods.
Many post sixteenth century Icons reflect the lack of depth of feeling that is characteristic of the earlier icons due to rigid adherence to copying icons and focusing on technical skills as opposed to contemplation on theology and prayer.
It is the contemplative tradition that supports the practice and principles of Icon writing from within. This is the spirit of the tradition of icon painting as a sacramental medium for the transmission of the incarnate God to the world.
The contemplative awareness that is seen in the expressions of the saints in medieval icons calls for a corresponding orientation on the part of the viewer.
I hope this article has been informative and helpful.It is my intention to present views that further the development of contemporary Icon writing and provide a sense of community by sharing my research, prayers, and work.
May you all be blessed and prosper in the art and spiritual discipline of Icon writing.
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:
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.
Sketch of Icon
Tonal sketch of Icon
Icon to be copied
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.
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.
This month I am recommending two articles that have been published in an on-line journal- The Orthodox Arts Journal– as elements contributing to good training for Iconographers. As I go around the country teaching an “Introduction to Icon Writing Class”, I am aware of how little knowledge people in general have about Icon painting. It is impossible to gain enough knowledge of this art from a few classes to be able to make truly authentic Icons. I recommend two things: look at as much art and as many Icons as you possibly can. Books, online resources, museums, all of these will help your painting to become mature as you practice what you see. The second thing I recommend is to read as much as you can about the history as well as the technique of Icon writing. Both of these activities go hand in hand with taking workshops and practicing at home.
Two Articles for Iconographers in Training.
The first article is written by English Iconographer Aidan Hart and it is entitled, ” The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,: A Chinese Painting Manual Offers Inspiration to Iconographers.” This article contains quotes from the Chinese manual as well as comments by Aidan Hart as to their usefulness for Iconographers. It is quite a beautiful and clear article that speaks to some of the nuances of Icon painting. Here is a quote from that article. The italics are quotes from the manual, and the regular text is Aidan Hart’s commentary:
“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. (17)
When we learn a second language, we consciously study its rules of grammar and learn its norms. But as we gain knowledge and confidence, we find our own voice. Iconography should be the same.
I have heard it said by some Orthodox thinkers that iconography is not art. I disagree. The icon is indeed more than art because it is part of the liturgy and exists for more than aesthetic delectation. But it is at least art. Although the icon’s sacred purpose means that its aesthetic categories are more extensive than those of secular art, it should nonetheless include them. The same universal colour theories and composition principles apply.”
One more quote:
“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.(19)
Hard work is the only path to the authentic abstraction. In the years that I have taught iconography I have found that drapery is the most common stumbling block for learners. Prolonged and analytical study is required to understand the drapery that the icon tradition abstracts. Drapery’s complexity needs to be mastered in order to make sense of its simplification, otherwise it becomes irrational, not supra-rational. Lines need to be understood as horizons of forms and not strings hanging in space.
The Second article is written by Anton Daineko “The Living Icon”, also published in the Orthodox Arts Journal. In this article, Anton grapples with the issue of what is the criterion used to make authentic Icons? This is not a simple or easy question to answer. He cites examples of Iconographers from the past such as Andrei Rublev, Hilandar and Panselinos in order to visually show the necessary qualities of good Icons.
In this article, he also speaks about the importance of the Iconographer’s direct experience, through prayer, with God.
Commenting on copying in iconography, Father Igor, a priest from Minsk and himself an icon painter, noted that “There are no icon copies; each icon is a REVELATION”. Naturally, this raises questions: is it even possible to define such a delicate matter as REVELATION, and what aspects should be included under the resultant definition?
It cannot be answered in a few simple words. With some icons, everything is easy: one look at the Redeemer from the Zvenigorod deesis tier, and you feel that it really is a REVELATION. But with most icons, the matter is far more complicated.
“It would be appropriate here to recall the words in the epigraph to this article, the Apostle Peter’s reply to Our Lord’s question “Who do you say that I Am?” – “YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD“.
Perhaps this line holds the key to understanding much about the Church, including the canonical texts: in those texts, the early Christians saw an image of the LIVING GOD, crucified and raised from the dead. And that is what is most precious in the Church. It is precisely the PRESENCE of the Living God that sets the Christian Church apart from other religions and other communities. And it is precisely this PRESENCE that we can observe in scripture as well as virtually everything else in church life. The icon is no exception in this regard.
The iconic image consists of many simple elements: strokes, stripes, and smudges, while the different colors are obtained by various combinations of minerals and egg yolk. Taken separately, none of these elements carry any artistic – let alone spiritual – meaning in and of themselves. But when these elements come together in a particular combination, a miracle occurs: the strokes, the stripes, and the smudges cease to exist, and we see the Face of the Living God looking directly at us. It is as much of a miracle as the image of the Living God emanating from the simple words of the Gospels’ narrative.”
I suggest again, reading the entire article in order to fully understand the nuances and also to see more examples of the Icons mentioned in the article. We are so blessed today to have great contemporary Iconographer who are sharing their wisdom and experience to those who are eager to learn.
Enjoy, as we come to the official close of summer, and may God bless all of your Icon writing with His Presence.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals His thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth– the LORD God Almighty is His name.” –Amos 4:13
Saint Patrick of Ireland
As a young boy, Patrick was kidnapped by brutal pirates and carried away to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. For the next six years he was a shepherd in Northern Ireland. This is where he learned to pray. “In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly fewer.”The Confession of St. Patrick.
“I arise today
in a mighty strength
calling upon the Trinity,
believing in the Three Persons
saying they are One
thanking my creator.”
In the experience of slavery and exile, the young boy discovered God . In the midst of this terrible alienation brought on by his exile from family and country, Patrick experienced a deep abiding connection that enabled him to feel strengthened by God.
He is a legend in Irish history and spirituality. Patrick’s story of being kidnapped by Irish pirates eventually gave rise to a remarkable inner transformation that led him eventually to return to Ireland, serving the Irish people by bringing God’s love to them.
Like St. Francis, Patrick chose a lifestyle of poverty, preferring to single-mindedly focus on the Divine connection within. “For I know full well that poverty and adversity suit me better than riches and delights.”
One often sees Icons of St. Patrick holding a shamrock, an illustration of how he used the humble clover leaf to illustrate the Trinity- three in one- to the largely pagan population Ireland. Pre-Christian Ireland was where God sent Patrick. His spiritual story is told in “The Confession of St. Patrick”, along with many Scriptural references that relate to his experiences.
Patrick was born in Britain about 385, and began his mission in Ireland during the early 400’s.He became fluent in the Irish dialect during his period of slavery, and despite much hostility and danger, he was very effective in bringing the Gospel to Ireland.
Saint Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland.
Holy Bishop Patrick,
Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,
You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:
The mighty strength of the Trinity!
Now that you stand before the Savior,
Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!
Icon notes for March:
The American Association of Iconographers now has a Facebook Page which you are welcome to join. The rules of the page are that postings may be submitted by any member and the content needs to be of interest and benefit to Iconographers.
Video of Iconographer George Kordis beginning a Christ Pantocrator dome:
What is a worldview? We all have one. Our culture has a pervading worldview that changes with the times. Having recently emerged from a postmodernist cultural viewpoint, we now experience the effects of pluralism, relativism, and syncretism in the world around us.
Our world view is a concept which we hold, both consciously and unconsciously that determines our ethics, behavior, and makes up the nature of our ultimate reality.
As a Christian, our worldview is identified with the truths of the Bible, Christ, the Trinity, and the Gospel- essentially, Christian theism. The reason we choose Icons created before the seventeenth century as our models to create new Icons is because Christian theism was the pervading worldview in the Western world until the advent of the Renaissance when Humanism began to emerge. The worldview of the early Icons was one of a personal, triune God of the Bible, the universe was God’s creation and human beings were God’s special creation, created in His Image.
“During the period from the early Middle Ages to the end of the seventeenth century, very few challenged the existence of God…….Christianity had so penetrated the Western world that whether or not people believed in Christ or acted as Christians should, they all lived in a context of ideas influenced and informed by the Christian faith.” The Universe Next Door, James Sire
As Iconographers, we want to first understand the world and people around us, and then genuinely communicate God’s reality, His Truth, to our world through the practice of Icon writing. We use the examples of the early Icons as our models to help us portray a worldview that we ourselves are not able to experience in our contemporary culture.
A worldview is a commitment , a fundamental orientation of the heart, that predisposes us to a particular reality. And that worldview provides the very foundation on which we live, work, play, and love others.
If it’s true that all of one’s thoughts and actions originate in the heart, our relationship to God becomes central to us as artists and Iconographers. More important even, than whether one uses acrylic paint, egg tempera, or use a particular style of painting Icons.
The Christian worldview is the central defining perspective and it encompasses notions of wisdom, spirituality, emotion, desire, and will. So when we say that prayer is the first and most important part of Icon painting, it is also important to keep clear about this Christian worldview, and that it is different from the worldview of the culture around us.
Ideally, our Icons become a bridge that unites the Christian worldview with whatever worldview popular culture is experiencing. It is only through our compassionate understanding with those people and institutions around us that our Icons can go out into the world and be the blessings they are meant to be.
“Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that “the money in your pocket is not yours, it belongs to God.” The same is true of all the gifts you have received. They have been given to you by the Holy Spirit to bring the world back to God. ” Deacon Lawrence
May God inspire each of you, may you hear His voice, and may your Icons truly be a blessing to the world you inhabit.
Christine Simoneau Hales
“If we want clarity about our own worldview, we must reflect and profoundly consider how we actually behave.” “The Universe Next Door” by James Sires
I know that many of you lead busy lives and are able to take Icon classes only once or twice a year- and those classes usually last only a few precious days. The best way to really benefit from our intermittent classes is to do as much reading and preparation on Icons as possible. With that in mind, I want to refer you to a series of four articles written by Father Silouan Justinian for the Orthodox Journal. It is a series called: “Imagination, Expression, Icon, Encountering the Internal Prototype.”
As there are many nuances involved in writing Icons that cover both the spiritual life of an Iconographer and the artist’s creative skills, I encourage you to take a look at these. Here are the links to each part of the series:
My suggestion would be to bookmark or print out each article to read at a time where you have leisure to ponder and think about each one. Eventually, I hope to compile a book of such essays and other instructional materials for the potential Iconography student. As this field continues to grow in popularity, a high standard of training that incorporates the writings of leading contemporary authors along with practical, good artistic training would be a beneficial addition to the field.
We all know that the lifestyle of an Iconographer is one of prayer and fasting. Also, we know that being part of a Church, having good spiritual direction, receiving the Sacraments regularly are also important to writing Icons. Within this context, good artistic training is also important. What a task! But as you all have experienced, it is an exciting and blessed task. No one will be able to do everything perfectly, but willingness and diligence to seriously undertake the study will have very positive effects.
In St. Benedict’s Prologue to “Saint Benedict’s Rule For Monks” he says:
“My son, listen carefully to your master’s teaching. Treasure it in your heart. Be open to receive and generous to respond to the counsel of a loving father. You have strayed from God by the sloth of disobedience. Return to him then, by the work of obedience. Accordingly, I speak to you, whoever you may be, who giving up your own will and taking the strong and bright weapons of obedience, are prepared to fight for the true King, Christ”.
In taking up the task of Icon writing, we always need to remember that it is about much more than just our own will. Here is a quote from the above mentioned Part 4 of Father Silouan’s article:
“In other words, the icon painter should not repeat the resultof encounter, but rather his work should arise and re-present (ex-press) a true, fresh and living re-encounter with the subject depicted. But, this, of course, is not to promulgate the modernist cult of individualism or so called “artistic genius.” On the contrary, as just mentioned, life in the Body of Christ presupposes the flourishing of ourselves as unique and truepersons[x]in loving communion with one another, in contradistinction to our ego-centric or individualistic identity in which we wither as isolated numerical “units.”[xi]Moreover, let us not forget that in this ecclesial life, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”[xii] That is, inner union in the Spirit does not mean uniformity at the expense of diversity. Each person as a member, in a unique manner, contributes towards the edification of the whole Body. Therefore, the traditional practice of “anonymity,” that is, of not signing the icon, should not be understood as an aspiration towards the complete obliteration of the iconographer’s gifts and creative temperament.[xiii] It is rather a reminder that only in humble cooperation with the Divine Craftsman, in becoming one with Him through the Holy Spirit, will his true self and art flourish to the fullness of their capacity. Obedience becomes liberation. Thereby he will be able to uncover nuances contained in the prototypes previously unnoticed and contribute unrepeatable expressionsof Tradition. In undermining this side of the icon, seeking to protect it from “artistic license” and foreign cultural influences, we may in fact blunt its power, making of it a purely mechanical act that contradicts basic principles of Orthodoxy.”
Understanding and correct application of the Traditions and Canons of Iconography can only come through time and experience.
One final quote from Part 4:
” The iconographer preaches the Gospel in colors and chants hymns of praise, trembling as he says, in the words of the Nativity sticheron, “How hard it is to compose hymns of love, framed in harmony.” With his art he paints the Word, plastically manifesting, indeed enfleshing the Logos. This is truly an “artistic license” of kerygmatic expression in free will. For as Christ Himself has ordained: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”[xxii]”
I look forward to seeing you all in Icon classes, or now on the Facebook Page you are welcome to post your work or any important links about Icons that you think will benefit the Community of Iconographers.
This spring has been rainy and cold here in upstate New York. Normal for Spring, but what seems to be in short supply are warm sunny days in-between! Good weather to begin some new Icons, that’s what I say!
My newest Icons were all shipped off to their new homes: Two to Seattle, The one with the Four Anglo/Catholic Saints, Father James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, Fr. Richard Meux Benson, SSJE, Mother Harriet Monsell, CSJB, and Priscilla Lydia Sellon. Also to Seattle went the Icon of Allan Rohan Crite, known as the Dean of Liturgical painting in Boston. Each of these people were inspiring in the way God moved through them in the worlds they lived in, to affect and change the status quo around them. Showing them to my five year old granddaughter prompted her to ask “Can I be a Saint?”. What a good question! So sweet!
The other new one is my recent St. Michael Fighting the Dragon which is now in Miami.
I particularly like the way the Scripture quotation in this one calls us to remember who won/wins the heavenly battle!
The Canons in Creating Icons
One of the things I deal with often with students and clients is the question “what is it that makes an Icon a good contemporary Icon?” While it’s impossible to come up with a concise definition, there are some guidelines that apply. In this month’s blog, I want to speak a little about the Canons of Iconography.
Icons are sacred, or holy pictures in that they represent either a Gospel story or a Saint and are intended to draw us into the world of heaven as we look at them. They are created by an Iconographer who lives a prayerful, fasting lifestyle and who prays while they paint the Icon. It therefore is the bearer of prayers and beauty to the viewer.
On Canonicity in Icons, the following is an excerpt from a “Road to Emmaus” interview with well-known French Iconographer, Emilie Van Taack. She was a faithful student of Leonid Ouspensky
“…There is only one rule, Rule 82, decreed by the Council in Trulo, part of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This is the iconographic canon, in which it is stated that icon painter must follow older painter, that they must be in this stream of tradition, but exactly how they are to do this is not described. What is stated is that an icon must show both the humility of the Man Jesus and His glory as God; that is, it must manifest the Incarnation. In an icon of the Lord, you must be able to see that this man who is preseneted is not only man, but also God. You must see the Person of Christ. The Council made this rule because at this period there were still some symbolic representations, like in the early Church, representing Christ by a fish, or as a sheperd, or as a lamb – not the hypostatic representation of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Council said that all of these symbolic representations are like the shadows of the Old Testament. Since we have been illumined by the truth of the New Testament, we no longer use these old and outdated symbols, but we must present Christ Himself. Who incarnated into a human body and can be represented in the body. This is the only canon, the only rule of the Church.
In defining what is “canonical” in icon painting, we have, of course, many beautiful old canonical icons to refer to. But canonicity is difficult to define. I cannot tell you what is canonical, because icons themselves define the canons. It is a circle, and we must accept it like this. By looking at these beautiful icons, studying them, copying them, little by little they help you to see yourself this image of Christ, and then you will be able to paint it without looking to the old, because you will have it in your own heart. This is a saving situation, because in this way we cannot possess the canon: it is a free gift that God gives or takes back as He wills.”
Also, please note that there is now on this site an Icon Resources page . Please email me with suggestions about links to add there in the future.
I’d like to close here with a quote from Father Andrew Tregubov taken from the book, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, “Light of Christ” Father Tregubov compiled on the works of contemporary Iconographer Gregory Kroug:
“One of the wonders of our Creator is that everything in His creation is unique. The ” Great Artificer” touches the tiniest creature with a very special personal touch, expressing His love for it. He never comes to us in an impersonal way, but instead reveals Himself in the context of a real personal relationship . The Icons , in the same way, are never made for the Church in general but for individual persons who pray before them and venerate them. God, in His boundless love, already knows all people, even those in the future; and He inspires the Iconographer in such a way that the Icon will truly be His personal revelation for those who will see it.”
Have you ever wondered about the stories associated with Saints and Icons- how they have been carried down through the ages? Joseph Campbell spoke in “The Power of the Myth” about how human beings have a thirst and hunger for stories that can help them understand and give significance and meaning to their experiences in present time.
Stories about Mary, her graceful obedience to God’s plan for her life and the many blessings that followed, and Kateri Tekakwitha’s life of prayer and faith inspire us to stand for God’s plans for our lives. In Icon class we read recently about “obedience” and how that played out in the lives of some of the prophets.
These Icons, saints and stories add richness to the fabric of our lives. They lend strength and hope to our everyday lives. If you know of any good books or reading materials that focus on miracles and stories of saints, please share those in the comments section of this blog. Winter is coming and a good reading list will be a help to us all!