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,