Dear Fellow Iconographers:
This month I want to focus on one of the important (to me) principles of Iconography: Sacred Geometry. I think that as Iconography evolves into a twenty-first century authentic expression of spirituality for our time, one of the principles and traditions that is important to bring forward is that of incorporating principles of sacred geometry in our composition and colors.
What is Sacred Geometry?
It has its roots in the study of the mathematical principles in nature, i.e. the hexagonal cells created by honeybees, the chambered nautilus, are just a few examples. This reflects the belief that God created the universe according to a geometric plan. Geometric rations are often used in architecture as can be evidenced in the works of Leonardo DaVinci, and Michelangelo. It’s interesting that back in 500BC, Pythagoras discovered that an oscillating string stopped halfway along its length produces an octave relative to the string’s length, while a ratio of 2:3 produces a perfect fifth and 3:4 produces a perfect fourth. The belief was that using these harmonic rations gave music and art powers of healing that could harmonize the person experiencing them.
How does this manifest in Icon writing?
Composition, figure placement, relative scape and body proportions all benefit by having the principles of sacred geometry as the underlying structure. In a simple portrait Icon, the triangle is the basic geometric compositional structure. It produces a feeling of centeredness, grounding and balance. In order to avoid a static appearance, the face is usually a 3/4 view, or slightly turned.
George Kordis, in his book “Icon As Communion “ addresses the issue of stations and gives excellent examples of how to additional incorporate directional flow outwards toward the viewer. George Kordis also speaks of how a composition is purified and refined when the compositional elements are arranged symmetrically around the vertical axis, and this can produce dynamic balance. There is a sense of unity and energy that radiates out towards the viewer when these compositional elements are observed.
I think one of the very best sources for clarification of sacred geometry in the Icon is Egon Sendler’s “The Icon, Images the Invisible”. He provides an analysis of many classic Icons as examples of geometric structures for composition and explains how to use right angles to obtain the four points of a square as well as explaining the cross, grid and circle compositions of festal Icons.
The two images above: Christ in Glory and Baptism of Jesus were both written in egg tempera by myself and are based on sacred geometry principles handed down through the centuries. You can see clearly the vertical axis in the Baptism Icon as well as the slightly turned faces. The symbol center top is that of God the Father, the radiating gold rays symbolize the Holy Spirit, so that, symbolically, the vertical axis is the Unity of the Trinity.
I hope this provides material for thought and helps to create understanding as a community of Iconographers, of what principles are and are not important to retain in our work. To each his own, and I look forward to hearing your comments.
Blessings and prayers,
Hello Fellow Iconographers and Friends:
Last Sunday, in Pentecost, the beautiful eight Icon panels for St. Vincent’s Church in Albany, NY, were unveiled and dedicated. It was a glorious celebration as they were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed into St. Vincent’s Church! Father Richard Vosco reminded us that as we are looking at the Icons, they are looking back at us! This invitation to draw near to God is a striking quality of Icons.
“Gradually the Icon will re-educate us, correcting any inclination we may have to think of God as harsh or distant (Psalm 103:8). It will call to mind his loving kindness and infinite humility. We should ask, like the monks and mystics of the East, that a ray of uncreated light-God’s transfiguring grace-may shine in the darkness of our hearts. Then a spring of compassion will rise up in us to flow out to all who are in need.” The Glenstall Book of Icons, Gregory Collins, OSB
Certainly the Saints depicted in the Icons speak to a life of compassion for the poor and downtrodden: Saint Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Dorothy Day, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Kateri Tekakwitha, Pope John XXIII, Saint Francis, and Rose of Lima. It was an honor and a privilege to work on the Icons for a church like Saint Vincent’s who’s motto is “radical hospitality” and unity. The scale of the 48 x 36″ Icons fit perfectly in the arched alcove and worked with the placement of the altar in the center of the worship space to convey the feeling that we were worshipping with “the communion of saints”. Betsy Rowe-Manning, church administrator, created a beautiful sheer gold veil that was pulled down during the worship, allowing for a clear view of all the Icons for the first time. Breathtaking moment! I was blessed to have my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in attendance, along with Iconographer friends from the St. Luke’s Guild present. Special thanks to Thomas Nelson for his expert installation of the Icons!
This coming week – June1-5, I will be taking a course with Russian Iconographers from St. Petersburg, Philip and Olga Davydov, held at the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC. They have a unique style and vision which is well informed since Philip learned Iconography from his father, a Russian Orthodox priest.
Here are s ome quotes from their website that give me the impression that theirs is an evolving genuine sacred art, working to create a contemporary visual language for today’s Iconography: Sacred Murals.com
“One can say that Philip and Olga typify a new generation in icon-painting in the sense that they relate to a new stage of its development.”
” they have developed their original style, while upholding strict canon rules and deep tradition. In the modern Orthodox art these qualities often do not blend. ”
“Meanwhile, modern copies attain neither the depth of spirituality, nor the artistic quality of the ancient monuments. The period of replicas has been exhausted; nevertheless some iconographers persist in cloning old masterpieces.”
The “New generation icon painters proved to be more creative and free. Even though young artists were mastering traditional icon-painting technology, following the canons, and referring to the ancient samples, they nevertheless have quickly realized that copying, once useful at the time of studies, prevented them from creating a genuine sacred image. Based on a centuries-old tradition, it must express today’s faith and acquire a language of its own. ”
Don’t Forget the upcoming Introduction to Icon Writing Retreat on June 12-14 in Hillsdale, NY. The total cost, including lunch,, snacks, and materials is $215.00. Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon schedule. We have a limited amount of lodging available from the Christian Community church so reserve now. Email:Christine@newchristianicons.com
This month’s featured Iconographer is Veronica Royal, a fellow Iconographer I met in Washington DC. She works primarily in acrylics and travels widely with her writer husband, Robert Royal while at the same time maintaining a popular weekly Icon writing workshop on Saturday mornings.
Veronica is sponsoring Romanian Iconographer Daniel Necula, June 22-27. His Iconographic style incorporates both the Greek and the Russian styles. She agrees that teaching Iconography is a big responsibility and can only be done through prayer and incorporating all the Canons so that people can read the Icons correctly. That is especially important when creating prototypes for new Icons. Studying with Iconographers from Russia, Greece and Europe, is one way of maintaining an Iconographic practice that allows for creativity and honoring the traditions. Her website is: Royal Icon Studio in Annandale, VA. Veronica is part of the worldwide Iconographic renaissance, maintaining a studio in the Washington DC area.
Bless you all, please keep my work in prayer, as I do yours! One of Dorothy Day’s mottos was “Work and Pray”! I second that!
Hello Fellow Art Lovers and Iconographers:
This month we’ve not seen an end to snow storms but have Lent with Easter to look forward to. Saint Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock, New York started Lent off with a beautiful icon exhibition curated by Hattie Ilse. It will be on view in the church until after Easter, with an April 6 special program after the service (12:30). I’ll be giving a talk on Icons and the other Iconographers will meet and greet all those who come and stay for refreshments.
I wanted to share this link to “Coffee with Sister Vanessa” – a fun yet informative video series. This one is for Lent and talks about iconoclasm.
Also a link here to The Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton Massachusetts. They have ongoing classes and workshops.
I’m curating an exhibition inHudson,New York that opens March 27 with an Artists’s Reception on April 12 from 5-8PM. It’s a beautiful show with “Faces” in widely different styles by four women artists. I will have my two newest favorite icons in it! Secret- you have to come see it to see what they are!
Also wanted to share an amazing talk given by the former Archbishop of Canterbury – given the day after his resignation. This talk goes into the theology behind icons in a way that is as thoughtful and insightful as you would expect. “Idols, Images, and Icons” by Dr. Rowan Williams.
Want to mention a couple of open calls for artists local to the Hudson Valley area: Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, Catskill NY, from my friend Madeline Behrman: First Annual Thomas Cole Weekend, May 10 & 11- Application Deadline April 21. Spencertown Academy Open Call for artwork Deadline July 15, Exhibition to be in the fall. Any questions feel free to ask me.
I have a new icon writing class starting in Troy at the Arts Center of the Capital Region on March 20, Thursdays 1-4PM. Still a couple of spaces available!
Until next time,be well and send in your links, or comments that you’d like to share.