Message to an Iconographer

Greetings:

Dionysus Fresco
Dionysus Fresco

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.

Dionysus Fresco, Mary
Dionysus Fresco, Mary

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.”

Christ Fresco, Dionysus
Christ Fresco, Dionysus

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.”

Dionysus Icon
Dionysus Icon

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.

Christine  Simoneau Hales

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Hesychasm and Russian Icons

 

Andrei Rublev, Archangel Michael Icon
Andrei Rublev, Archangel Michael Icon

Hesychasm and Russian Icons

This article is extrapolated from the chapter, Hesychasm, the Flowering of Russian Art in Leonid Ouspensky’s Theology of the Icon, Volume II.  I’ve chosen to share this particular material because of the understanding common to most Iconographers that Andrei Rublev is one of the greatest Iconographers and his work is fruit of the Hesychast period in Russia.   Since this article points to some of the conditions present that contributed to Rublev’s ability to create Icons that spoke to his time we can discern important truths to apply to modern Icon writing.  Hesychasm and Russian Icons are a unique combination that had a powerful effect on the art of its day.

Message To An Iconographer

Next month, part two of this article will give a synopsis of the “Message to an Iconographer”. This was  a document widely circulated for and amongst Iconographers of that day. It attempts to set standards of Iconographic practice and is worth reading and understanding forts bearing on creating Icons today.

Andrei Rublev, Christ Savior Icon
Andrei Rublev, Christ Savior Icon

Thirteenth. Fourteenth and Fifteenth  Century Russia

During the thirteenth century, an original artistic language specific to Russia began to appear.  It reflected the spiritual life of the people, their holiness and their way of assimilating Christianity.  Russian sacred arts from this time are inspired by a direct, living knowledge and experience of Revelation.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the spiritual leader, Sergius of Radonezh, consecrated his church to the Holy Trinity, “so that contemplation of the Holy Trinity might conquer the fear of this world’s detestable discord”.  It was a time of feudal wars, Mongol raids, and general unrest, but Radonezh was confident of the power of the sacred image to influence his world.

Revival in Russia

Russia, through its own suffering of the Tartar invasion, experienced the Gospel intensely.  There was widespread understanding that the power of Christ was participating actively in the lives of the Russian people, helping them in time of need.  From this intensity of faith, Russia’s pictorial art reached its highest expression. Today we appreciate these examples of Iconography for their intense and joyful colors, expressive form and their freedom and spontaneity.

During this period, hesychasm and Orthodox Christianity were closely linked. St Sergius’ monastery became the spiritual center of Russia and the hesychast influence. The theology of hesychasm is reflected in the spiritual content and character of the Icons of that period.  Zealous in the life of prayer and fasting, the famous iconographers, Daniel and Andrei Rublev were able to receive divine grace and perceive the divine, immaterial light that we see in the colors of their Icons.

Virgin of Vladimir, Andrei Rublev Icon
Virgin of Vladimir, Andrei Rublev Icon

Dionysius

Master Iconographer Dionysius was also guided by hesychasm and the teaching of inner prayer. These great Iconographers were not concerned with earthly things but always prayed to raise their spirits and thoughts toward the divine, immaterial light.

As Iconographers today, may we always seek to keep prayer as the central focus of our praxis, and learn from those who went before us.

Links to Books on Russian Icons

Here are a few links to websites that have books on Russian Icons:

Kolomenskaya Versta

Natural Pigments  

Amazon

Icon Writing Classes in 2019 

Icon Retreats

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