Icons- A Symbolic Language

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

American Association of Iconographers, God the Divine Geometer
God the Divine Geometer, circa 1220 AD

Icons as Symbolic Language

Have you ever wondered about the symbolic nature of Icons?  It is the very source of their power as Holy images that convey the many faceted religion of Christianity.  One dictionary definition of “symbolic language” reads: ” a specialized language dependent on the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude…”

Symbols allow us to bring our spiritual awareness out of the church and into our secular world.  Communion with God through the Icon is achieved through a symbolic language where gestures, clothing, and style of drawing are precise and fixed.  There are only a few gestures that Christ’s right hand will take, and the drawing of the faces and human form fall within a canon of proportion and scale that relates to the theme and subject matter.

American association of Iconographers, Romanesque Style
Romanesque Style, circa 1145AD

C.S. Lewis, when asked to write another book for his adult audience replied that he now preferred to write in symbols and metaphors for a younger audience (The Chronicles of Narnia), in order to intrigue readers with Christianity unawares.  Similarly, Icons can bring the presence of God to people’s hearts whether or not they are Christians at all.

Icons are based on a Greek notion of proportion and symmetry applied to facial features and bodies.  Even color has great significance for understanding the mysteries of our faith. The light emanating from an Icon must be indicative of the uncreated light of God’s Presence and the divine light of grace. Through contemplation on these symbolic images, Icons, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Christ in our everyday lives.

American Association of Iconographers, St. Theodosia
St. Theodosia, 1225 AD

The very nature of Icon writing is that, following the principles of ancient art, we seek to make a sign which will convey religious meaning specific to the subject matter of that particular Icon.

Ancient Egyptian design is at the heart of the Icon.  You can see this in the Fayum portraits, and also in the flat linear depictions of people and religious symbols found in the pyramids. These influences combined with early Greek flexibility of line and brushstroke  form the basis of all early Iconographic composition.

Today, as we Iconographers research, ready, and study to be able to encompass the path to writing authentic Icons that speak to God’s people today, we must still look to the ancients in order to fully grasp the complexity of those seemingly simple designs and processes.

American Association of Iconographers, Duccio Icon
Duccio Icon

Below are some links to resources to inspire and resource your Icon writing in the new decade!  Wishing you all a blessed and joyous New Year!

Christine Hales

Icon Classes                       Icon Prints

Modern Russian Icon Website:  Book of Icon drawings for tracing.  This book also shows where the highlights will go.  Excellent for beginners.

Temple Gallery:  Several Beautiful Books with old Russian Icons – good source for creating Icons

Natural Pigments.com: A very good source for pigments and lots of other Iconographers supplies and materials.

Collecting Icons

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

Why Collect Icons?

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

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

 

Venerating Icons

molennaya

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

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

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

Collecting Icons from Antiquity

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

Russian_nativity_icon

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

A Living Traditon

Nativity_Icon_Melissotopos_Olishta_19_Century
Nativity Icon Melissotopos Olishta 19 Century

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

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

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

Icon Website     Icon Prints Website

 

 

 

Deadline: Fourth of July!!

Dear Fellow Iconofiles and Students:

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

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

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

Icons in the Twentieth Century5a6303a44b080af2951c29a0327f97dd

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

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

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

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

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

Color Theory, Materials, and Manuals

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

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

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

Sending prayers and blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icon Class Schedule for 2018          Icon Website             Fine Art Website        Ministry

 

Saint Patrick

St Patrick, kidnapped
St Patrick kidnapped into slavery

“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

Saint Patrick Icon

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.

St. Patrick baptizing the Irish
St. Patrick baptizing the Irish drawing by Christine Hales

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.”

Saint Patrick Icon

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.

Saint Patrick Icon
Saint Patrick Icon

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:

Blessings and Prayers,

Christine Hales

New Christian Icons

Icon Painting Classes Schedule for 2018

 


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