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.
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 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.
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
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!
This month of May, we celebrate Mary, Mother of God, with our prayers and special Icons. This month, Mary Jane Miller, a member of the American Association of Iconographers, has written an article expressing her views of Mary and how perceptions of Mary have changed through the centuries. Here at AAI we are open to informative articles about Iconography from our members, and will publish them from time to time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information if you are interested in writing or publishing an article about Icons that would benefit the Icon writing community.
Mary Icons: a New Contemporary Trinity by Mary Jane Miller
There are three classic prototypes of Mary Icons. Their collective messages point towards a new contemporary trinity of interconnections. As our society has changed, the concept of Mary and her message brings to light provocative and meaningful perspectives on loving. It has been through contemplating her image, and painting icons of her that I have come to realize a deeper mystical message. Her popular iconography may have the keys to how we are to care for creation and one another in the world.
Mary looks directly at the viewer, beckoning us towards poised stillness and constant prayer with palms extended outward in total surrender to what she receives. She contains the Creator of the Universe in her womb.
Mary Icons of the Theotokos
Mary is portrayed as the feminine energy which tenderly nurtures Jesus to become a teacher, rabbi, master and lord. She is the icon which reminds us to love one another, to love life, and to love creation.
Mary Icons of the Hodegitria
Mary becomes a mystical location, she is the challis that holds the “Way” in her lap. She offers us an example of one who can show us what is necessary to give ourselves to God and one another. We like Mary are called to release to the world what we most love and cherish.
The image of Mary has mutated many times throughout centuries of iconography. From the mother of creation Diva, to a Mother of God gazing into the unknown, to a weeping, anguished mother of Jesus she has changed as our society changes. The Renaissance painters in the 16th century changed her image into a more human mother, one of pain or of joy. Mary’s identity has given rise to many doctrinal wars, decrees and debates but her image is more than cult, idol, mystery or divine. She is a fountain of motherhood image, triggering great reflection and contemplation, and she has triggered a wonderful epiphany in me.
Mary Icons Defined Through History
Theologians of the Middle Ages deliberated in detail the Forever Virgin condition of Mary. They had to answer how it could be that Christ was born to someone as common as one of us? Since ‘ Christ is All man and All God ‘ , His mother would have to be, in some way, all divine. The Roman Catholic Church fashioned the idea of the Immaculate Conception. The concept of Mary being miraculously conceived was declared doctrine in 1854. It was a theological creation which became dogma at considerable expense to women. It made her more perfect and exhausted than any women’s capacity to achieve. Ironically, Mary was lifted to the highest place among men, yet somehow, though she was seemingly divine, she had no voice and no ability to act in any other way but constant surrender.
Nearly 100 years later another detail of her divinity needed clarification. Since Mary was immaculately conceived then where would her divine body go at her death? The Orthodox Church specifically teaches that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon her death, and that her body was resurrected. On the third day after her ‘ repose ‘ her body was taken up into heaven. It was decided Mary did not die but rather “slept”. This statement became an Article of Faith in 1950. The Roman Catholic institution needed an example of undefiled sexuality, perfected womanhood with divine meekness and they found it in the Virgin Mary, from beginning to end.
We are now living in 2019. Where is Mary’s message and identity now? Has it changed or will the theologians of this age allow a change?
I have painted many images of Mary and I believe she continues to send messages to us today. The wisdom that women have learned through years of service and observation have undoubtedly helped shape society. I believe one critical message we have yet to understand is that humanity does not own anything, we have been lousy stewards of creation. In actuality we share our common energy and common space on the planet. Mary is the queen of teaching us to love. Over time, I have become increasingly aware of all that we have been given. How have we nurtured it? Will we one day be able to Give It Back to the world? Mary gave away the very thing she loved the most. It takes enormous selfless love to do such a thing.
I find it ironic that Christian mystics, mostly men, have spoken and expanded the spiritual understanding of God for nearly two thousand years. In doing so, they have controlled and shaped our society. Mary has not spoken, making our understanding of her elusive. Mary is a woman who, by her human act, gave birth to the most transcendent truth which is love, a love completed in offering. This is by far the very thing the world needs for its healing.
The next three icons illustrate a new teaching and trinity: to receive, nurture and release. The interconnection between these three states of being are precisely the clue we have to discover a new future. It is found in the value of being loved and loving another with no ownership. The idea is not only Christian, it teaches a new attitude towards creation. It is obvious to everyone how much humans are creating. It is obvious how much we love what we create. Will we come to a time when we have the wisdom to give away to the world what we have created? Nothing is truly ours, it never has been. It is all the potential of Love that has been given by God that makes any of this make sense.
Mary Jane Miller
Author Bio. Mary Jane Miller is a self-taught Byzantine style iconographer with over 28 years of experience. For the first 15 years she produced unique and unorthodox collections of sacred art and continues to have them exhibited in Museums and churches in both the United States and Mexico. Miller writes luxuriously, blending historical content, and personal insights to arrive at contemporary conclusions about faith. The author of 4 self-published books include Icon Painting Revealed, The Mary Collection, In light of Women and The Stations. Miller has been published online and in publications such as Divine Temple Russian Orthodox Journal, Faith and Forum Magazine, Liturgy Today and Profiles of Catholicism. She teaches 4 courses annually, 5 day immersion workshops throughout the US and Mexico. website: www.sanmiguelicons.com and http://sacrediconretreat.com/
Thank you so much, Mary Jane, for your thoughts and images of Mary. Next month, the blog will be on the topic of Light and Color in the Icon.
Good question. When we speak of Greek Iconographers, or Romanian, or Russian, or English we immediately have a picture in our minds of what those “styles” look like. Even the contemporary European and Eastern Iconographers, while experimenting with new ideas, are still working from the old style. That old style consists of illustrative images, cartoonish almost, with a kind of light and form that differs from “natural” light and form, but it is varied in interpretations.
America as a country is home to people of many different national origins, so our nationality is defined more by citizenship and allegiance than by ethnicity. After many years as a “melting pot” of different cultural ideas, America has come to have its own identity, even amongst diversity.
So what does an American style of Iconography look like? Many American Iconographers I know have styles that are derived from the teachers they studied under. So much so, that one can see their Icons and immediately know whom they studied with. In part this is due to the notion that copying is the approved way of making an Icon.
In my training, I was taught that we always use models for our Icons created before the Renaissance and this is because after the Renaissance, the age of humanism dawned and people created art not to glorify God, but to glorify man’s achievements. I was and am so grateful for this awareness, for it helped to break me free from the traditional art college training I had had and allowed me to see a more ancient, God centric approach to making art.
That being said, I do however, owe a lot to some of the really good art teachers available in the art world.One of those, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) said “Good drawing results from trained judgement, not from the making of facsimiles or maps. Train the judgment and ability to draw grows naturally.” So this more experience based approach to drawing is what I use in creating my Icons. I research, find models from before the Renaissance (or just at the turning point- a time when many painters were trained first as Iconographers), then spend time praying, reading relevant Holy Scripture, the saints’ biography, listening to sacred music, and enter into a prayerful creative experience with the Creator. This last, being in a prayerful state is of the highest importance in the “writing” of an Icon.
That is the gift of the practice, it lifts us up out of our intellect into our creative selves, that discipline of getting past the chatter of the mind is facilitated by the practice of prayer and painting. (paraphrased from Tim Hawkesworth).
This being said, one would not wish to ignore the importance of Tradition in Icon writing. “Since in its essence the Icon, like the word, is a liturgic art, it never served religion, but, like the word, has always been and is an integral part of religion, one of the instruments for the knowledge of God, one of the means of communion with Him.” Leonid Ouspensky, The Meaning of Icons. It is not a question of either or, but both and.
I know that many of my students’ Icons are reflective of a deep relationship and personal experience with God. An example of one student’s faith and desire to bring others into relationship with God, is Dahlia Herring’s Icon of Jesus pulling Peter from the water. Another student, W. Michael Shirk, an Independent Catholic Priest, writes his Icons while praying constantly, and this is often reflected in attention to detail.
When I wrote my Icon of the “Entry Into Jerusalem”, I was identifying with Jesus and thinking about the human aspect of what it’s like when one goes forward to one’s destiny. His looking back seems so human, and his movement forward, Divine. As an artist I gain strength and guidance from this moment, and I keep this Icon to remind me to pray for God’s will, not mine.
This country is so vast geographically, and there are many Iconographers in each of the 50 states. I hope someday to have a list of all the American Iconographers and their contact details on this site, in order for people to contact them for commissions and classes. I do get asked if I can recommend an Iconographer in different cities and hope to be able to serve as that kind of an association for Iconographers in the future.
Please contact me if you are an Iconographer, if you’d like to be listed on this site with a link to your website.