Dear Fellow Iconographers:
January 6, 2019 is the day most of us will celebrate Epiphany this year. The twelfth day of Christmas, Epiphany commemorates the Star of Bethlehem leading the wise meant to the baby Jesus, as well as the Baptism of Jesus. The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, (Matthew 2: 1-2).
The word Epiphany today has entered our contemporary secular world with the meaning of “awakening, a moment of sudden revelation or insight”.
This concept of an abrupt change of thought, perception or awareness is what I would call a paradigm shift. A clear change from one perception of reality to another, more enlightened one. And this idea is one that can be said to characterize the difference between a secular view of reality and a Christian one. And to take this thought one step further, it can help to make clear the difference between an Icon and a religious painting.
Religious Painting vs Icon Writing
A religious painting is usually an attempt to depict reality as it exists here on earth, in nature, as perceived by our earthly and secular eyes. It does convey a spiritual theme, and quite beautifully sometimes, as in the case of many painters and sculptors, notably Michelangelo, and Raphael. While these works of art serve a purpose to bring the Gospel, or a sense of Christian spirituality to our eyes, they often don’t create that paradigm shift of moving distinctly from one reality to another.
Icons do this in a variety of ways, often using inverse perspective, composition and color to bring the viewer into the same time and space as the person or scene depicted. Icons have a discernible lineage and a historical set of precedents that ensure a continuity and language that transcends our modern sense of time. There is a sense of reverence, holiness and sacredness that Icons impart because they are conceived and executed with one purpose in mind- to make visible God ‘s world here on earth.
Self Expression vs Iconographic Tradition
The difference between self expression – in religious paintings- and adherence to Iconographic traditions that span centuries is a distinction every Iconographer must learn to make for themselves. By following the models of early Icons from before the Renaissance period, we can learn to paint and raw with understanding of the principles we are trying to integrate. In this way, we begin to read the theology of the Icon we are depicting. Through our further research on the topic, we make every effort to understand a deep level who this saint was, or how this Biblical scene can be understood on more than just a surface level. Through prayer, research, and meditation we are then able to approach the creation of an Icon. At this point the Iconographer becomes thoroughly engaged with the creation of an Icon and this prayerful action of painting is what helps the Icon be the bearer of that shift of perception for the viewer. The goal is to have an Icon that reaches out to the viewer and brings them in to a deeper communion with God. This is a different goal than a religious painting. Both are valuable, they are just not the same thing and do not serve the same purpose.
So this year, as we approach Epiphany, I pray God’s blessing of a major, life changing, holy revelation that brings joy and peace to your life forever.
Blessings and Happy New Year,
Christine Simoneau Hales
Contribute Articles to the American Association of Iconographers Blog
For 2019 I am accepting articles by Iconographers, and writers who have material or thoughts that will advance the training of future Iconographers. It could be insights about a particular theme, or materials, or experience in the field that will be helpful for others. Please email me with your articles for this blog, a word document is fine, and include some images that support the article.