Icons as Service

St. John The Evangelist

Although our inspiration for painting icons comes from early Christian icons, many iconographers today realize that in order for our icons to have a connection to our modern world, we need to understand that icon painting is still a living and developing art form.

If we widen our perspective to look at Christian art as well as icons, questions develop as to what the differences are between the two. While the subject matter might be the same, the function and purpose, as well as the form of an icon, is distinctly different from those of religious art.

The needs of our contemporary churches and worshippers need to be paramount in our thoughts as we contemplate subject matter and formalistic approaches to writing icons today. Whom is this icon for, whom will it serve?

“Contemplating a piece of work, we do better to think Whom is this work for? Whom will it serve? rather than How will it serve me? Once we find a path for our work to be of service . . . then our work goes smoothly forward. It is not about “us” anymore…Whenever we take art back to the realm of the sacred, whenever we make it an act of service in any form . . . we again experience the ease of creative flow and the lessening of our creative doubts. When we ask to “listen,” we create works worthy of being heard and we ourselves hear the heartbeat of our common humanity, which is grounded in divinity.” Quote from a Richard Rohr blog post where he quotes author Julia Cameron.

As we struggle to understand and make use of the vast canons and traditions of the church as well as those of iconography we can hope to transform our understanding and hope to transform the traditions through the filter of our contemporary church. From my studies over twenty years, I have developed an deep appreciation for Byzantine art and icons. In his book, Byzantine Sacred Art, Constantine Cavarnos states:

“Byzantine art has a religious function. It seeks to express spiritual things in order thereby to help man penetrate the mysteries of the Christian religion; it seeks to help man rise to a higher level of being, to lift his soul to the blessedness of God.”

Last Judgement Icon

Another quote from the same book describes the thoughts of Photius Kontoglou, an influential Greek iconographer of the twentieth century:

“Secular art is concerned with external beauty, whereas spiritual art is concerned with inner beauty. Kontoglou emphatically places inner, spiritual beauty above external beauty, and spiritual art above secular art. External, physical beauty, he remarks, is shallow and perishable, while spiritual beauty is deep and imperishable. Physical beauty arouses the outer senses; spiritual beauty the inner senses- it makes us feel reverence,, humility, contrition, the “gladdening sorrow” of which John Climacos speaks.”

There are so many facets of Byzantine spirituality that are evidenced in the iconography and traditions that are incredibly important and valuable to bring forward into our contemporary icons. This would be a service to our culture in many ways. This would make an appropriate topic for many future blog posts and I welcome articles that contribute to this work of discovery and reverence for the iconographic traditions.

It is part of the creative process to be able to remain creative as an iconographer while still upholding the canons and traditions. Evelyn Underhill, in her book “The Spiritual Life” describes another condition of creativity;

“Creativity is the activity of an artist possessed by the vision of perfection; who by means of the raw material with which he works, tries to give more and more perfect expression to his idea, his inspiration or his love.”

In referring to the modern iconographers’ training that impresses the importance of copying from the established Orthodox icons of the past Irinia Yazykova states:

“Many iconographers working today allow themselves to be imprisoned by tradition. Instead of approaching tradition creatively so as to develop it, they too often more or less blindly copy tradition instead. And yet, an image that is not a product of the artist’s own inward spiritual experience cannot be received as a revelation by the viewer.” Irinia Yazykova, Hidden and Triumphant.

As such, it is a balancing act between giving form to the aesthetic tradition as well as the theological meaning of the icon. The service an authentic icon can render to one’s church and community is to express meaningful content in a form that conveys both beauty and prayer.

Today the majority of iconographers are women who have achieved professional success and have moved beyond copying of prototypes into development of new icons of their own.

If this subject is of interest to you, Iconographer Betsy Porter will be hosting an informal online discussion with other interested iconographers on the subject of “Icons and Religious Art- What’s the Difference?” Participants will share images and thoughts on Sunday, September 19, 2021, 5PM EST through Zoom. This is a group that she has been hosting through St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Fransisco for over a year. Here is a link for that meeting.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on “How to Gesso Icon Boards”– it is a description and also contains a link to an excellent video by Paul Stetsenko that demonstrates the whole process.

Also, here are links to the online icon writing classes I am teaching: Pre-recorded classes: online.iconwritingclasses.com , and Live on Zoom : October 19-23, 2021

Until next month, may God bless the inspiration of your hearts and the work of your hands,

Christine

My Website

Gilding

Greetings:

This month we have an article contributed By Olga Iaroslavtseva on a form of gilding that she recommends. There are many ways to gild our icons and it’s helpful to be aware of each one until an iconographer finds the way that works best for them. Thank you so much for contributing your time and experience, Olga!

Gilding Method with Water-based Glue

Gilding Is Important In Iconography

Gold in the icon is a symbol of Divine Light, Truth and Glory. Since ancient times, Byzantine iconographers have used gilding. With its help, they were able to simultaneously convey both eternity – the absence of time and space, and the holiness of the depicted. Such depth can only be conveyed with gold, colors are powerless in this. The gold background looks like the icon has no bottom. Gilding in icons is found already in the IX-XI centuries. This technique came to Rus in the 13th century. Iconographers often gave icons to professional gilders for gilding. Presently, many people can master this skill by themselves.

In my practice, I use only real gold leaf. I don’t use imitation in principle. Holiness, greatness, heavenly world – this is what the gold on the icons symbolizes. All this is absolute truth. Therefore, we should use genuine gold. This is my creed.

Various gilding techniques are known, both simple and more complex. Here, I share the simple technique, suitable for beginning iconographers as practitioners. This is gilding on water-based glue.

Preparation, Shellac and polishing

After the drawing is made on the gesso, the areas for gilding should be covered with shellac. Use a wide, flat synthetic brush for that. Apply several coats of shellac with an interval of 15-20 minutes between them. Each coat should dry before applying the next one. I make shellac myself. For this, I dissolve 5 ounces of shellac flakes in 500ml ethanol – 95%. If you use shellac from a store, I think you may need more layers. Usually, it is a less concentrated shellac than self-made. After all layers have been applied, dry the surface thoroughly. This usually takes one to three days, depending on climate. Dried shellac hardens and is easy to polish.

For polishing shellac, use sandpaper with a grain size of 800 to 2000. When polishing, please be careful not to expose the gesso. Otherwise, the applied glue will absorb during gilding and the gold will not adhere. Also, you can use wet sandpaper. Just drip some water when polishing. This will speed up the process. Eventually, the polished surface should be smooth – without scratches, because  all of that will be visible after gilding. Perfectly prepared surface – perfect result of gilding. After polishing, the icon must be completely cleaned of dust. Also, clean the room from dust before gilding.

Gilding

Now come for the gilding icon. For this I use a cotton pad. I usually mix 1:3 glue with water. I take 1 portion of water to 3 portions of glue. The middle icon consumes a teaspoon of the glue mix. Then I fold the cotton pad in half, dip it in the glue mix and wring it out. With quick, neat, even movements I wipe the areas for gilding. Be careful, please do not leave dry areas. I wouldn’t recommend wiping the same place several times. After the first coat, wait 20 minutes to dry out, then apply a second coat. Wait 20 minutes again and start gluing the gold leaves. You can take your time, the surface remains sticky for a long time.

For gilding, I prefer to use loose gold leaf books, but transfer leaf books can also be used. I cut the gold with a Snap-Off Blade of a common knife. To avoid damaging the gold leaf, I put it between two sheets of paper like a sandwich. Usually, I use one sheet of paper from a leaf book. I cut it to size, then gently slide one piece of paper to the right to reveal the edge of the gold leaf on the left. I apply the open edge of the leaf to the sticky area of the icon, loosen my hand and slowly continue to move my hand with the pieces of paper from left to right. Since the edge of the leaf has already caught on to the glue, the gold leaf neatly lays down in the right place. Paper helps keep the gold leaf from crumpling. Finally, I lightly clap the leaf with a squirrel brush imperfectly, because the final pressing will be after gilding of all areas.

After finishing the gilding, you should carefully examine the surface. If there are holes or cracks, you need to patch them up with small pieces of gold leafs. They usually stick well in these areas. Next, take a new cotton pad and smooth the gilded surface with high quality. Do this with gentle pressure to smooth out wrinkles. Again carefully examine the surface. If the holes remain and they no longer stick, take a toothpick and wrap some cotton wool around the tip. The tip should be like the tip of a pencil. Dip it in the glue mix and squeeze it a little on clean paper so that there is not too much glue. Apply glue with the tip of a toothpick to the holes like a restorer. Try not to go out to the gilding area.  Glue pieces of gold to these places and wait 10 minutes. After, smooth these places with a new cotton pad. This is very delicate work.

Remove excess glue and gold residues from areas under painted. For that, use an ear stick and white spirits. Be careful not to damage the gilded area.

Next day, apply shellac in one or two layers with a soft synthetic brush to protect the gilding.

The advantages of this technique of gilding are

– simple application of glue;

– the ability to glue gold leaf after 20 minutes after application;

– easy to patch holes.

The disadvantage of this technique is streaks remain when applied with a cotton pad. They are visible after gilding, though this may not be noticeable to the non-expert. Looked closely, you will notice the vibration of gloss and dullness.

In summary, the gluing technique with water-based glue is fast, simple and gives a good quality gilding. I use Italian water-based glue Ferrario La Doratura Missione ad Acqua.

Olga Iarolslavtseva and a finished icon

About me

Iconography has been my professional occupation for 18 years. During this time, I have painted hundreds of icons in different styles and techniques. In 2017-2019, I lived in the United States with my husband, a priest in the Orthodox Christian mission. In 2019, there was an exhibition of my paintings and icons in St. Louis, Missouri. Presently, I live in Lipetsk, Russia. I am happy to share my method of gilding with the American Association of Iconographers. Hope, this will help the development of the iconographic arts in North America.

For more information about my experience in iconography, please visit my social media: @facebook.com/OlYAgallery; @instagram.com/olya_gallery. There I share my art, exhibitions and progress.

Blessing and help from God to the American Association of Iconographers and all iconographers.

Artist-iconographer

Olga Iaroslavtseva

May you all be blessed and safe until out next newsletter at the end of August!

Love and prayers,

Christine Simoneau Hales

American Association of Iconographers New Christian Icons Icon Classes

If you have an article you would like to submit that would help other iconographers, please contact me below. Also, if you have any thoughts or comments for Olga, please contact me and I will pass them on to her!

Icons as Memorial Portraits

Greetings:

The very first Christian Icons were memorial portraits from the Catacombs immediately following the Resurrection and continuing for three hundred years.  They were created to keep alive the memory of the early Christian martyrs.  Until Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, Christians had to hide their faith or risk death or persecution.  Memorial portraits Saints

For the early Christians, it was the memorial image that made the unseen world of their faith live in reality.  The martyrs became  invisible, but constant companions through portraiture and symbolism in the early icons.

Fayum portrait
Fayum portrait

Fayum Portraits

The Byzantine system of sacred portraiture and narrative derives, in part, from the stylistic influences of the Egyptian Fayum period.   A certain standardization of facial features in sixth century icons of Byzantine Saints developed that bears a striking resemblance to the Fayum portraits of the first and second centuries.

Some of the earliest surviving icons of Mary and the saints are from wall paintings and mosaics after the sixth century. The most common subjects of  early memorial portraits were Christ, Mary, saints and angels.

Fayum Portrait

After the period of  iconoclasm, Byzantine portraits of saints began to place more emphasis on the functions and status of the saints depicted in addition to attempting a physical likeness. First, these distinctions were made, for the lesser saints, with words and inscriptions.  Later, visual images symbolically represented status and function, but naming of the icon was still an important element visually.   It allowed the viewer to “read” the icon and know exactly who the icon was honoring.

Saint Peter
Saint Peter

Christian Legend

Early Christian legend has Saint Luke as the first Icon painter, as he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Mary and the Christ Child.  This Icon of the Mother of God is called the Hodegetria.

Hodegetria

A fourth century legend speaks of King Agbar who, in need of healing, had sent his messenger to Christ asking for an audience.  When Jesus was unable to go, He put His face to the cloth and Christ’s image was miraculously transferred to the cloth. The messenger brought this image to the King who was instantly healed.  This legend is attributed to the Mandylion Icon.

Holy Face of Christ Icon written by Christine Hales
Holy Face of Christ Icon written by Christine Hales

Acheiropoieta refers to the holy image that appeared miraculously, as in the case of the Mandylion and also to the Icon of  Veronica’s veil.  This type of icon is thought of as a true image, not made by human hands.

From the sixth century onwards, Icons began to be venerated in the church and  some were  believed to be miracle working images, validating and inspiring the faith of the early Christians.

Comnenian Period

During the Comnenian period, 1081-1185, icons proliferated as murals and mosaics as well as panel paintings for the Iconostasis. Similarly, the Paleologan period, c.1261 saw the flowering of many iconographic mosaics and murals commemorating the saints and the Gospel narrative.

Russian Byzantine Icons

Christ by Andrei Rublev
Christ by Andrei Rublev

Typically painted on wood, Russian Byzantine Icon portraits tend to emphasize the mystical connection between the saint and God. This is achieved through a softer, more diffused portrait with less sharp or hard edges than other styles. Two of Russia’s most famous iconographers, Andrei Rublev and Dionysius, not only continued the previous Byzantine Iconographic tradition, but they also were able to creatively add subtleties and nuances to it that appealed greatly to the people of their time.

Memorial Portraits

In the words of Egon Sendler, ” Icons are images of the Invisible”.  They are memorial portraits that capture visually for us the memories of  the saints who went before us.  They hint at their accomplishments, the intensity of the saints’ connection to God and His Gospel through symbols, words and pictures.

Our Lady of Czestochowska
Our Lady of Czestochowska

Making the invisible world of our faith visible has never been more important.  Our world and culture are crying out for vision, a perspective, that will help to make sense of the chaos.  May God inspire each of us, in the individual way He has for each of us, to reach out and make His world visible and accessible to our loved ones, our neighbors and our world.

During this Covid isolation period, I am offering my icon painting classes online.  Click here if you’d like to see a schedule.

May God continue to bless you and keep you, and bless the work of your hands.

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Please contact me if you’d like to write an article for the American Association of Iconographers.  We would like to hear about your Icon painting practice and the effect icons have on your community.

 

 

 

Contemplation and Icons

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

This month the topic of our newsletter is contemplation and Icons.  As I continue teaching Icon writing (painting), now online due to the pandemic, it seems important to post about the importance of linking prayer to the process of painting Icons.  In order for the Icon to reflect God’s Presence, it’s very important for the iconographer to be in a state of grace and prayer while working.

Icon Class at Holy Cross
Icon Class at Holy Cross

Reflection on the saints being being painted and continuous prayer help to insure that the icon is an authentic expression of who the saint is when transfigured by God’s grace.  This is the true likeness of the saint- his transfigured person through the light of God’s action upon him/her in their lives.

In The Eastern theological tradition, man is seen to be on a mystical journey that leads to “Theosis” or deification. Icons represent this union between God and man. The Icon is a manifestation of the presence of God. It draws and brings us into this Presence so that we can experience God in our soul. In this way we become a living icon of God.

Contemplation and Icons

Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales
Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales

In Byzantine religious culture,  the purpose of meditation, prayer and contemplation  was always to lead to enlightenment, that is, prayerful immersion in the rays of Divine energy as evidenced in the icon of the Transfiguration.

In Vita Consecrata we read this from Pope John Paul II,  :
We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored : in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (Ex 34.33); in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. All, believers and non-believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words”

St Benedict Icon by Christine Hales
St Benedict Icon by Christine Hales

Whereas St. Benedict, who has set the tone for the spirituality of the West, calls us, first of all, to listen, the Byzantine Fathers focus on gazing. This is especially evident in the liturgical life of the Eastern Church as the 2nd Ecumenical council in 787 makes clear, when it says :
“What is communicated through the Word is revealed silently through the Image.” In Byzantine Liturgy therefore, Word and Icon complement each other.

Each of us is an Icon of God, and through prayer and contemplation, we are able to see our brothers and sisters as God sees them, and then bring this deep sense of God’s view to the process of painting Icons.

Hesychasm is a mystical form of prayer practiced by Byzantine Monks and iconographers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Jesus‘s teaching in the Gospel of Matthew tells us that “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”. Hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward  in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God. The Jesus prayer, prayer of the breath, was commonly the prayer used when painting icons in this tradition.

Transfiguration Icon
Transfiguration Icon

The Jesus prayer is this, or a variation of it: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

And to finish, here is a quote from “The Message”, a treatise from fifteenth century St. Joseph of Volokolamsk:

“Wherever you may be, O Beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting, or lying down- ceaselessly pray with a clear conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” and God will hear you.”

Equipped with prayer and contemplation, the iconographer is able to paint with God’s direction and all will be well!

Saint Marina Icon
Paleologic Icon of Saint Marina

Contact Us:

Each month, we choose a topic relevant to the education of contemporary iconographers, and I invite you to make suggestions, submit possible topics, or write a guest post. Contact me!

ONLINE ICON PAINTING ClASSES

I have two on line Icon painting classes coming up in September and November, you are welcome to join us!

Blessings and prayers until next month,

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Saint Raphael

Dear Iconographers:

Raphael
Raphael

During this time of pandemic it’s good to think about Icons of healing and restoration.  There are many that come to mind, but Saint Raphael seems particularly appropriate as he is the patron saint not only of travelers, but also of physicians, nurses, and medical workers.  For this reason, I am offering an online icon painting class in September where we will write an Icon of Archangel Raphael.  His feast day is September 29, and is celebrated along with Saints Michael and Archangel Gabriel.

The story of Archangel Raphael is beautifully told in the book of Tobit in the Apocrypha.  Raphael means God heals.  In the book of Enoch he is believed to have healed the earth when it was defiled by the sins of fallen angels.   In John 5: 1-4, the Gospel speaks of the pool at Bethesda where many sick people gathered, awaiting the movement of the waters.  “An angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond and the water was moved.  And he that went down first into the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he was under.” Because of the healing powers associated with Raphael, he is considered to be the angel in that Scriptural story.

Archangel Raphael
Archangel Raphael

In the book of Tobit, Raphael appears in the form of a man who will accompany Tobias on a journey.  To the recently blinded Tobit (Tobias’ father) Raphael says, “Take courage, the time is near for God to heal you.  Take Courage” Tobit 5:10.

The Archangel Raphael
The Archangel Raphael

During the journey, Raphael heals Sarah of the demons that plagued her so that she could safely marry Tobias.  Tobit is also healed of his blindness by Raphael.  When Raphael finally reveals his identity as an angel of God the two men were afraid and fell down, but Raphael said to them ” Do not be afraid, peace be with you. Bless God forevermore…I was not acting by my own will but by the will of God.  Bless Him each and every day and sing His praises….. They kept blessing God and singing His praises and they acknowledged God for these marvelous deeds of His, when an angel of the Lord had appeared to them.” Tobit 12:16

In this story and also in the meaning  of the name Raphael, credit is given to God who heals, and it is to God that the angels and the saints point and direct our worship and attention.

Raphael is thought to guard travelers on their journeys and is sometimes depicted with a staff and also holding  fish which relates to the healing of Tobit’s blindness with fish gall as directed by Raphael. In Europe Raphael is known as the protector of sailors and is shown in a relief on the Doge’s palace in Venice with a scroll saying “Keep the Gulf quiet.”

Rembrandt
Rembrandt

Raphael is sometimes thought of being one of the three angels who visited Sarah and Abraham. He, along with Archangels Michael and Gabriel were sent to fulfill  God’s will concerning Sodom, Sarah and Abraham.

 

Trinity
Trinity

Flannery O’Connor is believed to have said the Saint Raphael prayer at the beginning of each day:

“O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us; Raphael, Angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.  May all our movements be guided by Your light and transfigured with your joy.” Amen

During these difficult times of pandemic, let us pray often for those afflicted and for all those doctors, nurses and medical workers who are at the front lines of this battle.  And we pray also for the speedy discovery of a vaccine cure, in Jesus name, Amen.

Christine Hales

Christine’s Icon Website

Christine’s Icon Classes

 

 

 

Medieval Russian Icons

Archangel Michael, 1300
Archangel Michael, 1300

MEDIEVAL RUSSIAN ICONS  11-17TH CENTURIES

In the creation of Icons today, I find it particularly helpful to keep looking to the past in order to understand the nuances and dynamics of Icon making through the centuries.  Medieval Russian Icons and their development  is particularly applicable to this task.  The following is excerpted from the book, A History of Icon Painting,  and this chapter was  written by Angelina Smirnova; Moscow, 2005.

St. Nicholas, late 12th Century, Moscow
St. Nicholas, late 12th Century, Moscow

Early Russian Christianity

Since the adoption by Russia of Christianity  in 988, Christian art was able to develop and flourish.  Particularly in the metropolitan areas like Moscow and Kiev, the foundation was laid for Christianity and its art to spread through Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine. While in these early centuries Icons were favored by Monks and used as devotional images in chapels, churches and monasteries.  They were very important inRussian Orthodoxy.
The first Russian icons were heavily influenced by Byzantine culture which formed the basis of knowledge concerning the canons and painting traditions of icons.

Our Lady Enthroned with Archangel Gabriel and St. Sergius of Radoneh, 15th Century
Our Lady Enthroned with Archangel Gabriel and St. Sergius of Radoneh, 15th Century

Wealthy princes and czars commissioned spacious churches that required large painted images, resulting in clearer silhouettes and pronounced rhythm and contours that could give a compositional unity.
The themes of overcoming suffering and the hope of salvation dominated the subject matter of these icons which laid the foundation for Andrei Rublev’s painting in the fifteenth century.
“The saints on Russian icons are often endowed with a particularly forceful expressiveness in which Christian spirituality clearly demonstrates the power of saints over the cosmic forces of nature.  The images on Russian icons are more open and direct compared with the refined intellectualism of Byzantine art, which drew more strongly on the Hellenistic tradition and was more remote from the sphere of everyday emotions.”

Prophet Elijah and scenes from His Life, 13th Century
Prophet Elijah and scenes from His Life, 13th Century

Comnenian Icons

The second half of the eleventh century Russian princes  built churches to establish their governments and required monumental icons to adorn them. Most of the themes repeated Byzantine icons but there were some original ones depicting the Russian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb.

Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod
Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod

The Comnenian style, characterized by more muted expressions, light transparent colors, and the addition of a blue/azure color, developed in twelfth century Russia. By the thirteenth century, after the devastating effects of the Tartar-Mongol hordes, icons began to show expressions of strength, resolve, spiritual integrity and power.
A Russian style of icon painting  was becoming clearly evident by the thirteenth century.  In comparison with Byzantine art there was now a flatter picture plane and composition, rich color, and a more open yet inward  expression on the figures.  There were local exceptions, such as Novgorod, which retained a simplicity combined with vibrant colors.

Virgin Orans, Great Panagia, 1224, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Virgin Orans, Great Panagia, 1224, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Moscow Icons

As Moscow became the political and cultural center of Russia in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, a clearly defined style emerged.  Fifteenth century Russian icons represent the ideal heavenly world and God’s grace, in contrast to the fourteenth century icons which showed believers the steps to overcoming obstacles to spiritual development.  Now, ideal harmony was the theme of icons and that is perfectly expressed in Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon.  Rublev’s icons exemplify Byzantine classicism and seem to combine aspects of earlier styles of Russian icon painting in a mystical and beautiful way.  Later, Dionysius would elongate figures and open out towards the viewer, compositional elements and figures. (For more on Dionysius see earlier post on this blog site.)

Dormition, Dionysius, late 15th Century
Dormition, Dionysius, late 15th Century

The Paleologue period of Byzantine iconography, 1261-1453 continued to influence Russian Icons of the sixteenth century, but there was also  more of a theological-didactic narrative to these icons. A western influence began to be seen in the modeling of the faces and forms and a more naturalistic rendering of space.
I hope this brief history encapsulation is helpful to
iconographers of the twenty-first century who seek to maintain the canons of Iconography and also create religious art that relates to and inspires Christians today. 
A good source of images can be found in some of the digital libraries that are now being made public:
May God bless you with a sense of community as Iconographers, and bless you with health and grace.
Christine Hales, Iconographer/artist

Some Useful Iconography Links

Icon Books and more:  Kolomenskya Russian Icons

Icons and Their Interpretation– A blog which features articles about Icons

Christians In The Visual Arts: An international group of Christian artists

Face Book Group: American Association of Iconographers

The Transcendental Nature of Icons

The Transcendental Nature of Icons

This month, I wanted to share some reflections taken from reading the book, “The Avant-Garde Icon, Russian Avant-Garde Art & The Icon Painting Tradition, written by Andrew Spira.

ELijah and the Chariot of Fire Icon 14th Cent.
ELijah and the Chariot of Fire Icon 14th Cent.

Exploring the potential of icons in the context of the modern world, Andrew Spira speaks to the integration of the ancient spiritual truths found in Icons into modern culture. 

We are looking today at just the first chapter entitled “Icons: An Introduction”, particularly focusing on the development of the Russian iconographic tradition from the seventh to the sixteenth century.

Spira gives a brief history and explanation of the iconoclast controversy that I particularly appreciate due to the information about the widely spreading religion of Islam that was iconoclastic and therefore provided some of the impetus for the negation and destruction of icons in the seventh century.

Archangel Gabriel Icon, School of Dionysus, 1502
Archangel Gabriel Icon, School of Dionysus, 1502

During the iconoclastic controversy, an official theology of icons was developed maintaining that, by incarnating in matter as Christ, God established a principle that it was lawful and appropriate  to represent the Divine in material form.  Like the Eucharist, icons were regarded as extensions of the body of Christ.  It was their sacramentality that mattered, more than the artistic quality or their symbolic meaning. Therefore, The definitive characteristic of Icons lies within their mystical identity.

The effort to create a form of art that could communicate the mystery of the incarnate God took place within the Eastern church before the 10th century.

In 1453 the capital of Russia moved to Moscow from Constantinople after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.  Then, from a spiritual point of view, the monastic discipline of Hesychasm, an ancient practice of unceasing prayer, led to a period of religious fervor that resulted in an increase in the development and proliferation of Icons throughout the church.  Russian icon painting silently reveals God to the inner eye, or heart, of the believer.

St. Boris & St. Gleb with scenes from their life, late 14th century
St. Boris & St. Gleb with scenes from their life, late 14th century

The contrast between a rational, western, didactic approach and the more mystical, contemplative and sacramental approach to Icon writing is something that icon painters today have to come to terms with in order to develop an art that has its own artistic integrity and sacramental presence.  This contrast  can be seen not necessarily as  two polarities, right and wrong, but as both and, permitting a creative synthesis of the two approaches.

Modern Icon Painting

Although the influence of the western Renaissance in 16th century Russia was largely not experienced, there was still a disintegration of the medieval interrelationship between spiritual life and popular culture.  This was evident in modern Russian and Eastern Icons from the sixteenth century onwards.

Russian Icon circa 14th Century
Russian Icon circa 14th Century

In an attempt to change the course of Russian modern icon painting in the seventeenth century from secularization back to spiritual traditions,  attempts were made to formalize the pure tradition of icon painting. But these  undermined the principles of insight and experience that also formed the basis of the tradition.  This resulted in a westernized icon, realistic, narrative, and  in a lack of feeling and spiritual depth in the icons of modern periods.

Many post sixteenth century Icons reflect the lack of depth of feeling that is characteristic of the earlier icons due to rigid adherence to copying icons and focusing on technical skills as opposed to contemplation on theology and prayer.

It is the contemplative tradition that supports the practice and principles of Icon writing from within. This is the spirit of the tradition of icon painting as a sacramental medium for the transmission of the incarnate God to the world.

Angel Icon, Dionysus, 16th Century
Angel Icon, Dionysus, 16th Century

The contemplative awareness that is seen in the expressions of the saints in medieval icons calls for a corresponding orientation on the part of the viewer.

I hope this article has been informative and helpful.  It is my intention to present views that further the development of contemporary Icon writing and provide a sense of community by sharing my research, prayers, and work.

May you all be blessed and prosper in the art and spiritual discipline of Icon writing.

Christine Simoneau Hales

USEFUL ICON LINKS

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Icon Classes 2020

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

 

 

 

Theophanis the Cretan

The Month of February Calendar Saints from the book: “Masterpieces of Early Christian Art”, Richard Temple Gallery, London, UK

February Saints Icon from "Masterpieces of Early Christian Art", Richard Temple Gallery, photo credit: Davi Hare
February Saints Icon from “Masterpieces of Early Christian Art”, Richard Temple Gallery, photo credit: David Hare

Writing Icons is a challenging task in many different ways.  Learning from the past, incorporating the Traditions of the Church, and still being attentive to the spiritual ethos of our time in order to make Icons that are relevant to people today is a tall order.   Icons are more than a spiritual painting

“The Icon is a kind of synthesis of the Spiritual truths and values of Eastern Christianity. It is much more than a religious painting, or a didactic aid. It is a sacramental medium, a meeting point between the Divine uncreated light and the human heart. Its visible, created beauty is aluminous epiphany, a ‘place’ of manifestation, where prayer gains access to the uncreated beauty of God’s grace and truth.” The Glenstal Book of Icons, Praying with the Glenstal Icons, Gregory Collins, OSB, the Liturgical Press

Theophanis the Cretan

As part of an ongoing series of looking at ancient Iconographers, this month the focus is on the Iconographer Theophanis , who painted many of the frescoes and Icons of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita, Mt. Athos, Greece in the sixteenth Century.

Jesse Fresco; photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis
Jesse Fresco; photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis

A major source for this article is the book “The Cretan Painter Theophanis, the Wall Paintings of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita” by Manolis Chatzidakis, Published by the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita, Mount Athos, 1986.

Theophanis was an Icon painter, trained in the Cretan tradition of wall and Icon painting. This style of Icon painting is considered to be a continuation of Palaeologan painting. However, the mature work of Theophanis encompassed both the Byzantine tradition and certain motifs from Venetian painting of the period. This contact with foreign Italian models of the 15th Century served to freshen the traditional compositions and add an emotional element without detracting from the essential dogma of the content.

“Theophanis lives within the eternal, changeless mystery of the liturgical life and experience of the Church and at the same time is a sensitive man of his own times. It is clear that he continues the Iconographic tradition that has passed through the splendor of the Palaeologan revival.” Archimandrite Vasileios, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita.

Saint Christopher, photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis
Saint Christopher, photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis

At times, the frescoes are painterly in execution, with less bold lines and rendered by brush strokes. In these works, the transitions of light are more gradual and subtle

In the handling of drapery, the accurate rendering of volume and movement through the interplay of light and dark tones. This creates a sense of rhythm that prevents the drawing from appearing mechanical.

In the Nativity of the Mother of God Theophanis renews the Iconographic type and style in his preference for Palaeologic models.

Nativity of the Mother of God, Photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis
Nativity of the Mother of God, Photo credit: Kostas Paschalidis

 

Icons help us remember the presence of the Trinity is always available to us. They serve as visual reminders that God’s light is perpetually shining on us.

 

Each Iconographer responds to the needs and dictates of his time, while simultaneously brining forward the Traditions of the Early Church. Theophanis is a wonderful example of an Iconographer who created a particular style of Iconography, authentic to his place and time.

May your Icons be blessed, there will be more articles next month.

Christine Simoneau Hales

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