December 2, we enter into that period of Advent that is so full of excitement and anticipation. How appropriate that it comes for us in the Americas at a time of profound seasonal change- the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Advent marks the end of all that we know belonging to the old Testament and the beginning of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies with the birth of Christ, our Redeemer.
Advent is a journey into the heart of promise and fulfillment with the Birth of Christ.
We share the hope of the Archangel Gabriel and Mary and witness the incredible faith journey that began the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Mary models for us the essence of spiritual preparedness, the willingness of a faith filled acceptance of God’s will manifesting in her life. Her surety and preparedness for this miracle is again a model for us to develop such a surety and willingness for all that God has for us.
Byzantine Iconography and Advent
And there is a similarity between Byzantine Iconography and Advent. Canon Edward West, in his article on Byzantine Religious Art said that an Icon is “notably the reflection of something which exists, but in its own way, it conveys something which actually exists and conveys it really….Byzantine religious art is concerned with conveying truth, witnessing to the truth, and indeed, making it possible for the sensitive and aware Christian to have some part in that truth…”. The birth of Christ 2000 years ago allows us to be in the present tense with God today, to experience His love, protection and guidance. One could also say that Icons share in that ability to bring us into God’s presence, as symbols of the incarnation.
Canon West, who was a noted Iconographer in addition to serving at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City for over forty years, goes on to say that what makes an Icon important is, “that it is a meeting point of this continuum from the past with the vertical thrust of the Spirit of God at the right moment- in terms which the individual Christian can understand. It is essential that we remember this attitude about Tradition. The Byzantines were concerned in Witnessing to the Truth.”
Icons in 2019
May we all be blessed with Mary’s patience, devotion, and willingness to carry out God’s plan in the coming year. May our Icons be bearers of God’s Grace and Presence as we move towards a world where Holy Scripture is made visual through the sacred imagery of Icons and made available to all those who seek Him.
When we open our eyes to see the sacred geometry inherent not only in nature, but also in Iconographic composition we enter into the world of sacred symbolic language. The Byzantine culture understood that it is essential to understand and use abstract symbolic representation. The primary reason is that we are depicting God’s universe, that heavenly realm that operates differently from our humanistic, materialistic world. We want to convey this God centered point of view in Icons and the best way to do that is to understand and implement sacred geometry within our compositions.
Shapes and Patterns
Identifying shapes and patterns helps us understand principles of symmetry, balance, and motion within the Icon. When we cooperate with and work in agreement with universal principles handed down through the centuries, we can participate in creating a universal visual language that can speak the truth of God, the Bible, and the Gospels, bringing our everyday lives into this sense of harmony and cooperation.
Simple Geometric Constructs
A simple geometric composition for single figure Icons is the triangle which is set upon a plinth. By measuring the height and width of the Icon composition, finding the vertical and horizontal axis, and drawing the diagonals from each corner of the base to the central axis point at the top of the composition, one can create an Icon using sacred geometry.
One of the most famous Icons using sacred geometry is the Rublev Holy Trinity Icon. With this drawing, you can see the figures are arranged in relationship to the circle and contained within the square. The circle is the symbol of unity, and God, in that it has no beginning and no end, but is energy in eternal motion. Rublev had been asked by Saint Sergius of Radoneh to create an Icon of unity and harmony which the community could pray with. This now famous Icon was lost to the world until the early 1900’s when a resurgence of interest in Russian Icons caused an art restorer to clean the centuries of black soot and dirt from the icon, revealing a true masterpiece.
May 9-12, 2019 Sacred Geometry retreat
Sacred Geometry is a foundational concept for Iconographers who wish to paint in the Byzantine Tradition. The next Sacred Geometry Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, will be May 9-12, 2019.
New Icon Book
“Eyes of Fire, How Icons Saved my Life as an Artist” by Christine Simoneau Hales is an in-depth study on the evolution of religious arts and iconography, this book is about spiritual strength, timeless artistry , and groundbreaking personal transformation achieved through experiencing Icons. The power of religious images is well documented in this book, as well as their influence on contemporary art. There is an appendix containing valuable information to creating sacred art for the twenty-first century.
This book will be available on Amazon and a Kindle version will be available for a short period of time at no cost during the book launch in early October . Email to receive a link for the free Kindle book (available during the book launch in early October only).
This month I am bringing the first of a two part lecture by Sister Petra Clare, an experienced Iconographer, retreat leader, and Orthodox nun currently living in a monastery in Greece. Sr. Petra has a teaching website where she offers on line classes and tutoring for Iconographers. There is much background and practical information on her site, which requires a fee to access.
When thinking about Icons, there are so many levels of appreciation and engagement to consider. We’ve talked about several of these in past blogs- Icons as Lectio Divina, Icons for contemplation, prayer, etc., and now we delve deeper into what theory brings to full development in the Icon. The following paragraphs are taken directly from Sr. Petra’s EastXWest online Icon Course website, with her permission:
Monastic and patristic tradition, both east and west, call the process of understanding Scripture theoria. The Greek word theoria (*&(“+,) means ‘intelligent contemplation, paying close attention, looking at.’ It could mean looking interiorly, with ‘the eyes of the heart’ or looking exteriorly, with the physical eye. The term is always used by the ancient Greeks to refer to the act of experiencing or observing and then comprehending through interior consciousness. Our word ‘theory’ is derived from it,but has degraded over time, now meaning little more than a hypothesis used to justify a set of actions.
Cultivating theoria is central to the role of the iconographer. The divine vision is the spark which makes them iconographers. It is the foundation of their vocation. It enables them to shape content and artistic form, generating the visual prototypes which are the counterpart of the scriptural and liturgical canons. Without theoria, the icon would be a purely human product, a ‘painting by numbers.’
First Principles: Theoria – Inspired Vision.
In the Biblical sense, theoria is itself part of holy tradition, for both Jews and Christians. In the Bible we meet patriarchs, apostles and prophets who receive insight into divine truth.
Breck reminds us that the ‘inspired vision of divine truth, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, enabled the early Church Fathers to perceive a depth of meaning in the Biblical writings which is of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.”
The link between theoria and the arts is made in Exodus:
‘Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern you were shown on the mountain; said the Lord to Moses (Exodus 25:40). Shortly afterwards God designates a craftsman ‘I have called by name Bezalel (B’tzal’el)’ and fills him with the Holy Spirit to design the artwork (Exodus 31: 1-11). God tells Moses that the design and craft skills are a direct gift from him. The craftsmen are singled out as those whom God has filled with ‘wisdom of heart’ or ‘instructed them with
wisdom’ (Exodus 35:35). He has given them a combination of combination of skill and intelligence (Exodus 36:1) and ‘stirred their hearts’ i.e. called them, to design and make craftwork (Exodus 36:2). He also calls Besalel and Ooliab to pass on their skills – and their spirit – by teaching (Exodus 35:34). Teaching is a gift of the Spirit, as it is later in 1 Corinthians 12:28. the gifts God gives to Moses’ craftsmen clearly depend on theoria to function.
Each time you work on an icon – daily if you are a full time iconographer – pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. You need this charism to develop your witness through icons.
We will confine our study of the relationship between Scripture and icon, to this context, ratherthan getting bogged down with modern textual criticism, which deals with other issues, outside the range of this course. We take as our starting point the text ‘all Scripture is inspired by
God.’ (Timothy II: 3:26). Breck describes this as synergy – a co-operative effort between the Holy Spirit and the human instrument ‘who receives divine revelation and translates it into gospel proclamation.’ This is the mindset the iconographer needs.
Take a moment to meditate how you, as an iconographer, ‘receive divine revelation and translate it into gospel proclamation?’ How long do you put aside to meditate on Scripture or the life of a Saint, before beginning to paint? Do you frequently renew your spiritual contact with the mystery while you are painting – stopping for a little meditation? What supportive routines have you developed to retain an inner contact with the person or mystery you are painting during the hours at the easel?Having a good book about a saint or doctrine at hand during teabreak, watching a film about their life or surfing the net about their period of history in free time can all help. These nurture the process and make the icon ‘come alive’ in our hands. In short, do we ‘proclaim,’ out of our inner contact with the mystery, or merely copy?
All of the information above comes from the EastXWest online course: b1a Old Testament Principles. (Editor’s note: “Breck” refers to Scripture in Tradition, John Breck, SVS Press 2001 ISBN 1-800-204-2665.)
Thank you for reading, and becoming part of the American Association of Iconographers.
This month, teaching the “Color and Light in Icons” class at the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY was truly a Holy experience. With such a beautiful monastery, warm and gracious hospitality of Abbot Bernard and all the Brothers, and wonderful people enrolled in the class, how could it not be amazing?
We painted the icon of the Good Shepherd and read aloud Psalm 23 and meditated on it day and night, while writing the icon.
Sine icons are theology in picture form, there is a deep relationship between Holy Scripture and the icon. The icon is the symbolic picture that the words of scripture describe, enhanced by the prayers and love of God the iconographer brings to the process.
Through the act of creation we enter into a relationship with God the creator that is enhanced with the addition of His word in Holy Scripture. The resulting icon from this co- creative process becomes a vessel containing God’s presence through His imagery and the iconographer’s prayers.
Meditating on Scripture, and/or on the life of the saint being depicted in the icon is of primary importance in icon writing. It’s important to make oneself ready to receive divine revelation and then translate that into the painting process with the icon.
In teaching icon writing/painting classes, I like to emphasize our shared Christian faith that is being made visible in the revelation and shared spiritual knowledge that is being made available through the process of icon writing. Each student has their own unique conversation with God during the icon writing process, and sharing that communion with others in the class increases the level of revelation available to the group as a whole. We have a strong belief in the intrinsic value of the icons being created and understand that they affect both the maker and the viewer. Icon writing is a powerful ministry!
Membership in the American Association of Iconographers
Membership in the American Association of Iconographers is now open to all iconographers who have a sincere desire to “spread the joy icons throughout the world”.
Email Christine with your name, website and any additional information. Volunteers to help by being on the steering committee are appreciated.
“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”.
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 Century
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!
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.
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.
In his blog, “Way of Beauty”, David Clayton, Pontifex University, posted recently an article on “Artist as Priest”. He makes the connection that both the priest, in ministering the sacraments, and the artist, in creating beauty, make visible the invisible Kingdom of God.
“The role of the artist is to present new revelations of the divine, to show the beauty of the world, lit by the grace of God to a people who have become blind to it. The artist presents transcendent truths in a form that can be seen and comprehended by all. He also shows us the spiritual world in such a way that we can grasp its meaning and impact on our lives, if not its actual appearance.”
Deacon Lawrence, a deacon in Sacramento, CA, in a related blog post, Artist as Teacher, says that the artist teaches through his art. “The work of the artist reflects the splendor of God, brings hope and joy to His people, and lifts hearts and minds to His Divine.”
In both of these blog posts, the writer is speaking about artists, and that would include Iconographers, but would also include artists who create religious art.
On the topic of correct behavior and training specifically for Iconographers there are two other posts to consider.
Aidan Hart and Irina Gannota
British Iconographer Aidan Hart has written an article for Orthodoxy in Dialogue, “Icons and Culture: Transformation or Appropriation ?”. In his article, Aidan states that healthy Iconography is Pentecostal because it declares eternal truths in the language of its viewers. He reminds us that Iconographers today have a difficult task that requires both discernment and creativity.
Aidan goes on to say that, “our postmodern society puts iconography in an even more challenging situation than the early Church, for we are exposed to a plethora of images on a scale like no other culture before us.”
This article is informative and very useful to those who are beginners or continuing to learn Icon writing. It covers the important aspects of authenticity and sacredness and shows historical documentation that allows the reader to see and understand the nuanced world of Icon writing today.
The second article, Iconography as Byzantine Portraiture, was written by Irina Gannota in response to Aidan Hart’s article and also published on the Orthodoxy in Dialogue website. Irina states that Iconography could be thought of as a style of medieval painting and should be taught as such at Iconography schools.
Both of these articles help to flesh out some of the disturbing elements that can infiltrate Icon writing, and they help to bring into our awareness the need to carefully consider our methods and motives in Icon writing.
We know that in the Old Testament, God assigns specific jobs and roles to people who are artists and artisans. In Exodus 36, God calls His artists and craftsmen to design and make craft work, and to pass on their skill and spirit by teaching, Exodus 36:1-2. Teaching is a gift of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:28.
The Greek word, “theoria”, means intelligent contemplation and encompasses the process of understanding Scripture. It is a gift of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. The early Church fathers perceived a depth of meaning when reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures that we can only approximate today. But it is this very depth that is indicative of the Iconographic vision and perspective.
One can deduce then, the importance of Biblical study and interpretation in the light of Icon writing and training. In this way, Icon writing becomes a form of lectio divina, sometimes referred to as “visio divina”.
The Lifestyle of an Iconographer
Symbolical realism in the Icon that is based on spiritual experience and vision needs its link to Tradition and meaning in order to flourish. It is not an easy thing to manifest this perspective. It takes discipline, being rooted in a life giving Church that nurtures an ongoing relationship with God, good spiritual directors, good art/Icon writing training, and quality fellowship with other believers.
‘Icons for Unity’ Thursday 15th to Saturday 17th of November 2018 at
St Savior’s Church, St.George’s Square, Pimlico London, SW1V 3QW
“”There will be a fee of £5 for each icon entered and it will be possible for you to arrange the sale of your own icons with no sale commission due to the BAI.
After 1st May further details and registration forms (Intention to Exhibit form) for the event will be emailed by Rhian to those who have paid for hanging space. Please note all submissions must be made by 31stAugust 2018 to enable their inclusion in the catalogue
It is an exhibition for everyone and whilst the talent and expertise of the professional iconographers will always be discernible, the work of artists old and new to iconography will also be welcome. Please distribute the flyers included with this Review to publicise the event.
“We need members to help by preparing for the exhibition and as curators during the event. So please volunteer and make the event a great success………”
We offer the BAI as a means of maintaining contact between members and of providing them with support in their work and their devotions. We hope that it might be of benefit both to people who are interested in the use of icons in their spiritual life and to those whose interest is in icons as a sacred art form. The aims of the Association are to establish contact with iconographers, learners, beginners and those with a greater proficiency, to deepen our knowledge and understanding of icons and the spirituality associated with them (including Orthodoxy); to offer a forum for the interchange of ideas and techniques; to offer information about forthcoming exhibitions, courses or other events of interest and to be a means of sharing ideas and experiences. We produce a Review four times a year together with a meditation on the icon of a particular saint or festival. This includes the historical background and hymnody associated with the subject. We would also value any comments and ideas that you might have, in particular, any material that you think would be of interest to other members which we could include in the Review. If you would like to join, please write to the Membership Secretary (see Page 38)
We feel there is a risk that people practising this art form might feel isolated; if so do join BAI.
If you would like to become a member of BAI, it is fairly simple: visit their website www.bai.org.uk and go to the contact page. There are a few membership options to choose from and payment can be made through PayPal.
“I think it is promising that today we are witnessing a rebirth of Christian art,, reconnecting with the art the Icon, of a Christian art that endures in the great norms of the iconological art of theist but that also extends to today’s experiences and vision.” Benedict XVI
Basic concepts of Icon writing, history and methods of painting will be demonstrated. We will also have meditation and prayers on Mary as this is Mother’s Day Weekend and we will do a Mary Icon together. Icons have played an important role in healing and bringing forth peace to nations, and there are many examples of Icons in Belarus, and Eastern Europe that are attributed to healing miracles, often these are Mary Icons. $580 includes Icon Materials, meals and overnight accommodations at the Monastery $120 deposit
This is a special class. Beginners are welcome, and it is also for advanced Iconographers who want to learn more about color in Icons. We will cover color symbolism, color theory, the Iconographer’s palette, and more fun and in depth topics on color. We will write the Icon of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. If you have a different Icon you’d like to paint, email firstname.lastname@example.org Christine with the image and you can work together before the class to make that possible. $580 Fee includes Icon Materials, meals and overnight accommodations.
This is the class when we discuss in depth the sacred geometry that is the foundation of Icon compositions. Sacred geometry is a method of understanding the pictorial space and relationships of images and colors within the Icon and It is an essential part of an Iconographer’s training. There will be a slide talk one evening as well as hands-on exercises to demonstrate the concepts. We will endeavor to complete an Icon by the end of this workshop using sacred geometry. $580 includes materials, overnight accommodation at the monastery and meals.
Lori Callaway, Guest House Manager
Phone: 845-384-6660, ext. 1
Tuesday – Friday
9:00 AM until Noon
1:30 PM until 4:30 PM
First, a thank you to all of you who have been subscribers to this blog over the last couple of years. Particularly, thank you for being patient with all the changes in format and stylistic content as I try to understand the needs and purpose of this community of Iconographers.
I have changed format again, this time getting closer to my original purpose of having a substantial list of Iconographic resources and links to help Iconographers in creating and learning about Icons. If you look at the left sidebar you will see a page of “resources” on which I have started to add links, and will continue with this throughout the year so that it becomes a valuable resource.
As it is New year’s Eve and we are on the verge of the Feast of Epiphany , here are some images of the Epiphany in different Iconographic styles, taken from a more nuanced article by Hokku about the wise men on the blog ” Icons and Their Interpretation”.
Icons for the Epiphany range in subject matter from stories of the wise men finding Jesus in a manger, to the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.
Epiphany is described as the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi- who were not Jews but were from the East; it is also the church feast day commemorating the Epiphany on January 6; and a manifestation of a divine, supernatural being. Webster’s dictionary describes Epiphany as “ a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.”
The birth of Jesus, the Son of the most high God in a manger certainly fulfills that definition. Epiphany represents the discovery that Jesus was born for not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles- for the whole world.
In the Baptism of Jesus Icon, we see in the central axis of the Icon, the God the Father, represented by the half circle at the center; The Holy Spirit, represented by the rays of gold coming from the half circle,and Jesus, the Son of God. In the Gospel, God’s audible voice announces “This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
It is a revelation similar to the one of the magi- a sudden perception that transforms mundane, earthly existence into one of light, meaning, and grace.
Icons bring to our remembrance important Gospel and Old Testament stories that brighten our everyday existence. As we move into this coming week towards the celebration of Epiphany and then the Baptism of Jesus, let us pray together to receive an Epiphany of God’s grace in each of our lives today, and as Baptism makes permanent and concrete the role of God’s grace in us, may that sudden awareness be awakened and kindled as an important part of our lives in 2018.
This month has been busy with writing Icons and teaching classes. The Holy Cross Monastery Icon Retreat was wonderful, each participant wrote their own St. George Icon, and we had them blessed by Brother Roy on Sunday before Diurnum. It is a wonderful place to study Icon writing since we are able to be part of each day’s morning prayer and Eucharist and share meals with the Brothers and other guests in the octagonal dining room over looking the Hudson River. Truly a joy to teach there!
The prayer of St. George: “Obtain for us the Grace of heroic Christian courage that should mark soldiers of Christ” Amen.
As many of you know, the Icon is a kind of synthesis of the spiritual truths and values of the Church. It is much more than just a religious painting. It is a meeting point between the Divine and the human heart. It is a visible, created beauty, a place where prayer joins us to the image of God. It truly is an honor and privilege to be called to this beautiful practice of writing Icons.
Here are two new ones I am working on – one of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the other a Transfiguration Icon. Here are some work in progress photos:
The following is an important on line Iconographic Resource for those of us interested in the early Icons:
“In 1956, Professor George Forsyth, of the University of Michigan, invited Kurt Weitzmann, of Princeton University, to join him on an exploratory trip to Sinai. From 1958 to 1965, the University of Michigan, Princeton University, and the University of Alexandria carried out four research expeditions to the remote Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai—the oldest continuously inhabited Orthodox Christian monastery in the world, with a history that can be traced back over seventeen centuries. The documentation collected by the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Mountain Sinai, under the direction of Professor George Forsyth (below, right) and Professor Kurt Weitzmann (pictured below left), is a profoundly important resource for Byzantine studies.” (Quote from the website link below.)
This website displays all the color transparencies and color slides in the possesion of the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton. The online images are limited to a size of 1024 pixels. These images are available to download and use for teaching and scholarly purposes.
St. Luke’s Guild of Iconographers- a group of Iconographers who pray and write Icons- many of whom have studied with me. Their primary focus is community through prayer and writing Icons. Here’s a link to their Facebook Page
Praying a blessing over your Icon writing, until we meet again!
This month, I have two articles that have, at heart, a re-examination of two central issues to Icon making:
First, the Getty Museum has just announced a new digital art history protest of Medieval art and it’s relationship to Christianity and culture – all issues that are part of the invisible foundations of Icon writing.
Second, Mary Jane Miller, an Iconographer in Mexico, wrote and asked if she could guest blog on a topic pertinent to Icon writing- Women in Icons- cultural biases and concerns. It’s a good topic with many more points that could made in the future. Hope you enjoy them both! As always, we look forward to your comments and thoughts as long as they are given a constructive and kind spirited manner!
A new digital art history project seeks to correct biases in how databases represent meaning in medieval Christian imagery
The French Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) is launching an ambitious project for scholars and the broader public that proposes an innovative way of accessing medieval Christian images. By building complex and nuanced vocabularies of keywords and terms, the “Ontology of Medieval Christianity in Images” (OMCI) will allow databases to better represent how such images depict philosophical and spiritual themes that have been diminished or even ignored in current approaches.
Traditionally, Western art history has favored examining narrative aspects of medieval Christian images over conceptual ones. As art historians have adopted digital media in their work, this preference has been reflected in the structure of databases, which have tended to organize information about medieval Christian artworks around themes related to biblical and Christian places, events, characters, and objects.
However, medieval Christian artworks depict much more than narratives. In the Christian tradition, the material and spiritual worlds, and the course of history itself, are expressions of God’s law for the universe. The very structure of medieval Christian images—as expressed in their content and composition—often mirrors that overarching cosmological order.
In other words, the relationship between pictorial content and religious ideology in medieval Christian images is much more nuanced, and more expressive, than simple storytelling. The OMCI is concerned with this ontological level of analysis: the OMCI team of art historians, graduate students, and technology experts intends to build a web resource that will identify keywords and iconographical themes linked to medieval Christian knowledge and belief systems. These will be augmented by examples from the art of that period—such as the images featured above—that reflect both cultural values and Christian ideals.”
“I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and half of that time dedicated to the practice of painting (writing) icons. Biblical text, liturgy, and prayer are my source of strength and comfort, just like millions of people around the world. I would like to share some of the observations I have made while painting icons and at times disturbing reflections on some familiar Bible verses. Adam and Eve: the biblical story interpreted often defines Eve as being created second to Adam and responsible for original sin, which of course became all women’s greatest sin, the temptation of sexual sin. 1 Corinthians 14:34 : “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak…”, the new testament continues with verses that ultimately prohibiting them from serving in positions of authority, the like of which has effected every women’s place in society. In actuality, beginning as early as the fourth century the dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to thwart the ascendant positions for women within the religious hierarchy and in christian societies in general.
The underlying teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, – all call for the proper and equitable treatment of God’s children. I have always known in my heart and soul, women are not inferior to men; without a doubt, God loves humanity equally. Tragically, as an iconographer of 25 years, self taught and inspired, I have not had to look far to see that in this great tradition that I so love, the place of women in the iconographers community or in the images depicted thy have been noticeably absent until recently.
Now ironically, women may be holding the means to this great sacred art forms survival. Those who are graced with the desire to paint sacred text, have an obligation as prayer practitioners to re-examine how or why Women are not mentioned in the great feast days like Pentecost, at the last supper, or the baptism of Christ, etc. It is not God’s commandment that they are not heard of in text or seen in sacred image. When the feminine voice and new icon images are ushered into today’s church community, the addition will benefit us all. When you stand before an icon for any amount of time you cannot help but see first the beauty they have as a work of art. A well done icon is a powerful tool and often provokes insights and visions. This interior conflict for women because of our absence within the fullness of societies and the church is a worthy discussion we all need to engage in. We live in an age of great bigotry, self righteousness and personalized isolation. Including more women in Icons stimulates new perspectives on a theological issue which is still in it’s infancy.
Some might ask, why would I care about such details. If you are an iconographer you are supposed to transcribe the Bible word for word and uphold the theological doctrines which the church maintains. The problem for me is my thinking mind. Mary being portrayed as the perfected quiet servant and silent mother I feel has been a hindrance to the development of women and their voice in the Christian church institutions.
I am asking for a simple review to rectify what we all are beginning to see as misguided behavior of the past. That must change if we are to going to have a thriving church in the future. When the feminine voice and new icon images are ushered into today’s church community, the addition will benefit us all.
Inquisitive women like myself have always been around Christ listening to His message, they were there cooking and cleaning at the Last Supper, at the wedding at Canon and when He fed the five thousand. When Christ invited the children, you can be sure the mothers were there, too. These women were imbued with unrecognized human qualities: those who speak and those who contemplate, those who teach and those who administer and, finally, those who are mystics with their wisdom, living and walking among us. If we believe that God’s boundless presence is reflected through sacred text and in iconographic image, then the New Eve can and should live in communion with the New Adam to offset the gender imbalance in science, art, government, religion and all other facets of life.
World leaders have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.” It is time for the church “fathers” to draft a similar statement.
While I am painting new images of women in iconography, I am also challenging all denominations within the Christian church to re-frame parts of Holy Scriptures which have justified the superiority of men over women. We are told we are One body in God, called to be One mind in Christ. Let us live into that reality where Christian women will served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, mystics, healers, teachers and prophets, etc. through image and word. ” By Mary Jane Miller San Miguel Icons
Thank you Mary Jane for your thoughts and observations. If you have a topic or article to submit for review, just send an email. Creating Sacred Images that build our relationship to God in a strong and powerful way is most important in the times we live in. May we all keep this in prayer, for God to guide His Iconographers, women and men, to create the Holy images we need for our time and culture today.
May God bless you and keep you, and may His wisdom fill all that you say and do.