Gold Leaf Gilding

Icon in progress with Kolner Method

Greetings Friends and Fellow Iconographers:

I’ve been studying and painting Icons for almost thirty years! Since I first began, the field of iconography has changed so much! There are so many more books on the subject, both “how to”, books about the history of icons, and how to pray with them. This is great news for all of us, I’m sure.

New Gilding Materials

At the same time, many, many, new products used for icon writing have come on the market. I invite any of my readers who has experience with these new products to please write about it so it can be shared and published here. Only in this way of sharing our experience can we hope to add the best quality to our icons and I know that we all want to bless the Lord with our most excellent work.

With this in mind, I’m currently preparing to teach an online icon writing class that, in addition to teaching how to paint an icon using egg tempera, will focus on how to gild using the Kolner Instacoll Gilding System. Many iconographers love this method because of its relative ease in application but particularly for its very shiny surface when it’s finished. I have experimented extensively with it and am happy to share some of the technical information I have observed.

Different Methods of Application

Shellac

First, applying one or two coats of shellac to the area to be gilded is most beneficial. The natural gesso is a porous surface, and even for other gilding methods, it is suggested to coat the surface with shellac thinned with denatured alcohol. I used a mixture that is 1 part blonde shellac flakes to 4 parts denatured alcohol. (This mixture can be stored in a cool dry place for several weeks only, so only mix the amount you think you will need.) You will find technical articles about this on the web- here is one.

Kölner Instacoll System

Next, I applied the Kolner Instacoll System BASE in two thinned layers. I thinned it a little with a drop or two of distilled water. This needs to dry completely- 1-3 hours between coats. It’s really important to avoid making brushstrokes if you want a very smooth gold surface. (You can clean your brushes with soap and water). The first coat must be completely dry before applying the second coat.

Next, I applied the Kolner Instacoll System ACTIVATOR. You can use a brush or a soft cloth to apply this to the base when it’s dry. You want a thin, even film over the base and it needs to dry before applying the gold leaf.

You can use either patent gold or loose gold with this system. I used patent gold leaf and a cotton ball to firmly push the gold leaf onto the surface. This takes some practice. Overlapping the gold leaf when applying it helps to give a smooth seamless look to the finished gold. After the whole surface to be gilded is covered, press down firmly again all the gold, using cotton balls- never touching the surface with your fingers.

Icon in Progress with Burnished Kolner Gold Application

Now for some gratification! When it’s all applied and pushed firmly into the surface, take a cotton ball or soft cloth and burnish gently to remove all the loose gold bits. As you do so, the most beautiful gold leaf shine appears !

As a note, I also experimented with the Kolner KGGG System FOND and Colnasize, but I prefer the above method as it is slightly easier and doesn’t require sanding.

Of course there are many other methods of gilding for icons- the oil method with different application and drying times, the water gilding method and The Dux water based size method. With experience, each of us arrives at our preferred method of gold leaf application. I hope this article has been helpful. Feel free to register for my online class in October to see this demonstrated!

INTERESTING LINKS:

This is a very good and short (7 1/2 minutes) talk on “Why Icons Look The Way They Do” by Archimandrite Maximos Constas, interviewed by Fr. Josiah Trenham.

THAT’S ALL FOR THIS MONTH. Be blessed and bless others,

Christine

ChristineHales.com Christine’s Icon Prints New Christian Icons

Christian History

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

Have you ever thought about what Christian History looks like in the visual image? I know that I tend to keep to a narrow view of the history of the development of icons and see the history of the Christian church in that perspective.  So, it was with great interest that I read this month’s Christian History Magazine which focuses on portraying Christian History in Images.

This month’s Christian History Magazine- fold out

While the magazine does include icons, it also includes sculptures, paintings, and photographs of manuscripts.  The issue will also use, for example, a twentieth century artwork to illustrate a saint or holy event that took place in the fourth century.  This I found confusing, at first.  On second consideration, however, I could understand that this viewpoint helped me to question and think about icons and their relationship to the development of Christian Art through the centuries.

Again, most of the images are not icons, but they do provide interesting examples of Christian history that could be translated into icons, thus providing a fresh source for possible new icons for iconographers today.  And illustrating the history of Christianity in icons is even more important today than it was centuries ago.  

10th century Ivory relief

Bill and Michelle Curtis reflect on the writings of the founder of the magazine, A. Kenneth Curtis by sharing that, “church history teaches us to expect God to work over centuries, rather than to think that we see God’s whole plan in an individual lifetime. He noted how church history confirms what Scripture makes clear: the last shall be first; God works through our weakness; and in the people and eras that seem vulnerable, humble, or weak, God is often at work in ways we don’t expect.”

Apostle Peter Investing Bishop Petros with Episcopal Authority, mid 11th century.

“An awareness of Christian history is one of the most neglected but necessary ingredients in the spiritual diet of Christians today…The Scriptures continually call us to remember God’s work in ages past and this must now include also include the working of our Lord through the centuries since the Scriptures were completed.” Ken Curtis

Beyond the portrayal of a holy individual, isn’t this the idea we seek to convey in iconography?  The working of God in the affairs of humankind?  Some of the older Russian icons do depict battle scenes with warriors carrying high an icon into battle, confident that God will bring the victory.   

St. Athanasius 16th century icon

This issue of Christian History is a visual tour through two millennia of church history.  Starting with the early church, the chapters include the early Middle Ages, the high and late Middle Ages, and the Reformation up until the present time.  There is also a beautiful color fold out of the Christian story through the ages.  

One final quote from Ken Curtis:  “ I believed then, and believe now, that it is difficult to get where Jesus wants us to go without knowing where he has already led us.” To purchase this magazine click here.

And modern icons can be an important source of reflection and understanding for all Christians in the centuries to come when we take the time to study the principles of iconography and apply them to appropriate subject matter for today’s Christians.

Christine Simoneau Hales, editor, founder, American Association of Iconographers

USEFUL LINKS FOR ICONOGRAPHERS:

EARTH PIGMENTS  has a series of articles about egg tempera, mica powders, and more. Their pigments tend to be very affordable.

NATURAL PIGMENTS also has an extensive online library of articles on how to use materials and products related to egg tempera and more.  They tend to have everything iconographers need.  

ICON BOARDS BLATURI is an excellent source for gessoed icon boards- do leave plenty of time for delivery. They are reachable on Facebook.

That’s all for this month, enjoy the last of the summer, and may God bless the inspiration of your minds and the work of your hands,

Amen.

Newchristianicons.com     My next online Icon class is October 25-28, 2022- open to all.

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icons by Father Sophrony

Recently I have been reading a book by Sister Gabriela about Father Sophrony that includes many of his drawings and icons. I’m inspired by his approach and work and want to share that with you here.

While attending art school in Russia in the 1920’s, one of his teachers was Vassily Kandinsky. Soon after, Sophrony moved to Paris where he exhibited his paintings and was not interested in pursuing a Christian life. This changed drastically and in 1926 he entered the Monastery of Panteleimon on Mt Athos where he remained until finally settling in Essex, UK at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist.

Father Sophrony Drawing

To learn more about Father Sophrony, please read Sister Gabriela’s excellent books: “Being, The Art and Life of Father Sophrony”, or “Seeking Perfection in the World of Art”, or “Painting As Prayer: The Art of A. Sophrony Sakharov.”

I include here several quotes from the “Painting as Prayer” book that I know will be inspiring to all of you as well:

“An artist is a person who believes with deep conviction in the rightness of what he creates; who devotes his entire life to art for mankind. Only in such people does the Divine spark burn, brightly an unquenchably. And this is what’s most important in art.”

Drawing by Father Sophrony

Kandinsky

This is a quote in the book attributed to Kandinsky: ” the artist must not consider himself master of the situation, but the servant of nobler aims- a servant whose obligations are majestic, distinctive, and sacred. He must nurture himself and plumb the depths of his inner life, he must conserve his inner life and develop it lest his outer talent becomes empty, like a lost glove, the empty and vain likeness of a hand.”

Painting as Prayer, Book by Sister Gabriela

“The Icon is an art which expresses the spiritual world in form and color. It is made with a stylistic language of its own which introduces the person looking at it into another sphere of being, another world of perception. Intentionally it follows a different logic of perspective and reality, placing emphasis on the inner life because its main purpose is either to depict the face of God or convey the soul of the saint or the essence of the scene being depicted. Deliberately this makes it somewhat abstract. The artist seeks divine inspiration for their work and in order to receive this, rather than some other influence, he needs a humble and prayerful attitude, recognizing that he is not master of the situation.

Inspiration from on high depends to a considerable extent on us- whether we open our heart so that the Lord- The Holy Spirit Who ‘stands at the door and knocks’ does not have to enter forcibly.

The iconographer will try to free himself from all that hinders or is contrary to the action of Divine Inspiration. This requires both humility and asceticism, but as ascetic feats may lead to pride, and thus deter grace, it is humility that is the essential part. This keeps him both open to others and their suggestions and open to grace. It preserves a rigorous questioning and checking in prayer with his conscience and with the ideal which is the humble example of Christ.”

Orthodox Journal Article

I first learned about Father Sophrony’s work from an excellent article on the Orthodox Journal. Here is the link .

“For me, the most fascinating part of the study was the subject of Father Sophrony as an iconographer.  His approach to iconographic practice is described and this section is rich in quotations and comments of great interest.  Sister Gabriela writes that by having “absorbed the iconographic tradition through observation and living with it, while leading a strict ascetical life…one’s understanding goes deeper, beyond the external aesthetic aspect.”  “…he understood iconography in its essential form, as an inspiration for prayer, and a “springboard”, as he called it himself, to eternity.  In this sense he was free from any attachment to any specific school or iconographic movement.  His sole interest was to render the icon as authentically as possible.”  As a result of this it is apparent that “One cannot classify his icons into any particular style or school.  He took what he found best from each.  His only concern was the icon itself, how best to express the given situation.”

 In summation Sister Gabriela writes of Father Sophrony’s life that “This is the search for Christ, the yearning for close contact with Him and, within this, striving to portray His face in a correct and worthy manner, both in the inner life and in iconographic panting.”

Additional Link to Icon Gallery in Slovakia

I have recently seen a lovely online exhibition of Eastern European Icons at The Gallery of Icons. Here is the link.

That’s all for this month. Please email me with suggestions for future articles on understanding and appreciating icons.

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

newchristianicons.com

onlineiconwritingclasses.com

Novgorod Icons

Novgorod Icons

What is so special about Novgorod Icons?  In addition to being known for their beautiful colors and lively compositions, Novgorod Icons offer a rich history and background to the study of icon writing.

Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia, dating from about  859 AD.  The period from the 12th to the 17th centuries was especially bountiful in producing many beautiful icons. This period of time is sometimes referred to as “the Proto- Renaissance” because it still embraced the union of religious and aesthetic ideas.

Saints John Climacus, George, and Blaise, 13th Century

The Effects of the Western Renaissance on Icon Writing

The Proto- Renaissance that was operational in Russia was able to encompass all the cultural phenomena of its time within the context of religion and produce icons of spiritual depth without being overly influenced by Humanism.

In the West from the 14th to 16th centuries, the Renaissance moved art, even religious art, more toward man’s interests and became more human, less religious.  Even Christianity in the West at this time became more rational and scholastic and emphasized the emotional experiences of the subject.

In the practice of writing icons, we tend to strongly favor copying icons from before the Renaissance for this very reason.   Iconographers agree that imagery from before the Renaissance is preferred because we want our icons to reflect a culture that placed God as the center of the universe, not human reason.

Nativity of the Virgin, 14th Century

Fourteenth Century Russian Culture

Russian culture of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries developed strong ties with Byzantium, particularly in Novgorod and Pskov.  The great iconographer, Andrei Rublev was part of this cultural and spiritual movement. The famous Byzantine master Theophanes the Greek worked in Novgorod in 1378.  His magnificent frescoes in the Church of Our Savior in Ilyina Street formed a bridge between the art of Novgorod and Byzantium.

The Transfiguration by Theophanes

The Artistic Language of the Novgorodian icon is simple, laconic and precise; the composition is based on large contrasting shapes.  The rhythm and coloring are tense and mobile, the drawing energetic.  Colors are especially important and tend to be simple and bright.  Faces, while classical. Tend to have large, expressive eyes.  They are painted in a gentle manner with subtle gradations of value.  The linear design of the hair, lips, nose and eyes is in contrast to the subtle tonal gradations.  In the earlier icons, the minimal color scheme of olive and yellow prevails. 

Saint Nicholas Icon

In the thirteenth century icon of Saint Nicholas from the Novgorodian monastery of the Holy Spirit, we see clearly the simplicity of composition, the harsh linear forms, and sparse contrasting colors that complement the restraint of the image. This icon, as well as the  is very characteristic of Novgorodian twelfth and thirteenth century painting.

Saint Nicholas

Presentation of the Virgin Icon and Boris and Gleb Icon

In these icons of the late thirteenth, early fourteenth centuries we see the qualities of simplicity of composition combined with monumental, flat graphic qualities balanced by relative depth of form.  The colors show an abundance of cinnabar, white, ochre, brown and green.

Presentation of the Virgin

At this time, Novgorodian painting came closer to Byzantine icons of the Palaeologus period.   Icons became monumental and soon were given to freer and more complex compositions.  Here we find images with inner tension, power and a classical simplicity.  We also see the beginnings of interest in man and his feelings and this affects both color and composition.

Boris and Gleb Icon

I need to end this here, but will pick it up again in a subsequent blog in order to continue the historical development of icons in this most important period of icon history.  For further reading I suggest the book:  Novgorod Icons, 12-17th Century by Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad.

Some of the best characteristics of Novgorodian icons are their rational yet popular imagery, economy of means, and a brilliant use of color.  Definitely a period of icon writing worth exploring for every aspiring iconographer!

To see more of my icons visit: New Christian Icons

To see my available online icon writing classes visit: online.iconwritingclasses.com

May God bless you and your icon writing, until next month,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Mary Magdalene

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

Mary Magdalene Icon in Progress

The next icon class that I teach online we are painting an Icon of Mary Magdalene.  In order to make an accurate copy of the prototype, I am researching the relatively scant information available about her and want to share some of that with you here.

Mary Magdalene

The questions to ask are: “Who was this woman, what does she represent to us today?” I rely heavily on Wikipedia for this article, and I include the following:

“Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. In 2016 Pope Francis raised the level of liturgical memory on July 22 from memorial to feast, and for her to be referred as the “Apostle of the apostles”. Other Protestant churches honor her as a heroine of the faith. The Eastern Orthodox churches also commemorate her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, the Orthodox equivalent of one of the Western Three Marys traditions.” Wikipedia

Early Materials: Who Was Mary Magdalene

“The earliest materials that refer to Mary Magdalene appear from two very different sources: the canonical Gospels of the New Testament, and a group of fringe materials  that have come to be known as the Gnostic Gospels, which were rejected by the Catholic Church.” The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, by Jean-Yves Leloup.

I share Leloup’s thoughts that the path of Mary Magdalene emphasizes inner preparation, introspection, and inner transformation.  “As one who has been cleansed from sin, who remains with Christ throughout his death on the cross; and who first witnesses, understands, and believes in Christ’s resurrection, she represents a human being who is open and available to true “inner knowing” and can see in deeper, clearer ways through a unique spiritual connection to both earthly death and the Divine.”

Lamentation painted by Christine Hales
Lamentation painted by Christine Hales

Canonical Gospels

“Mary Magdalene, sometimes called Mary of Magdala, or simply the Magdalene or the Madeleine, was a woman who, according to the four canonical gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion and resurrection. She is mentioned by name twelve times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles and more than any other woman in the gospels, other than Jesus’s family. Mary’s epithet Magdalene may mean that she came from the town of Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Roman Judea.” Wikipedia

“Mary Magdalene’s epithet Magdalene (ἡ Μαγδαληνή; literally “the Magdalene”) most likely means that she came from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee that was primarily known in antiquity as a fishing town. Mary was, by far, the most common Jewish given name for females during the first century, so it was necessary for the authors of the gospels to call her Magdalene in order to distinguish her from the other women named Mary who followed Jesus. Although the Gospel of Mark, reputed by scholars to be the earliest surviving gospel, does not mention Mary Magdalene until Jesus’s crucifixion,]the Gospel of Luke 8:2–3 provides a brief summary of her role during his ministry: “Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” Wikipedia

There Is No Direct  Evidence to Support The Notion of  Her As a Prostitute.

“The portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute began in 591 when Pope Gregory I conflated Mary Magdalene, who was introduced in Luke 8:2, with Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:39) and the unnamed “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:36–50. Pope Gregory’s Easter sermon resulted in a widespread belief that Mary Magdalene was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman.[5][1] Then elaborate medieval legends from western Europe emerged which told exaggerated tales of Mary Magdalene’s wealth and beauty, as well as of her alleged journey to southern Gaul (modern-day France.) The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed “sinful woman” was still a major controversy in the years leading up to the Reformation, and some Protestant leaders rejected it. During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church emphasized Mary Magdalene as a symbol of penance. In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the “sinful woman” from the General Roman Calendar, but the view of her as a former prostitute has persisted in popular culture. …

Mary Magdalene, detail, written by Mary Jane Miller

Mary Magdalene Was Probably From a Wealthy Family

The Gospel of Luke 8:2–3 lists Mary Magdalene as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry “out of their resources”, indicating that she was probably wealthy. The same passage also states that seven demons had been driven out of her, a statement which is repeated in Mark 16. In all the four canonical gospels, Mary Magdalene was a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus and, in the Synoptic Gospels, she was also present at his burial. All the four gospels identified her, either alone or as a member of a larger group of women which includes Jesus’s mother, as the first to witness the empty tomb, and, either alone or as a member of a group, as the first to witness Jesus’s resurrectionBecause Mary is listed as one of the women who were supporting Jesus’s ministry financially, she must have been relatively wealthy. The places where she and the other women are mentioned throughout the gospels strongly indicate that they were vital to Jesus’s ministry and the fact that Mary Magdalene always appears first, whenever she is listed in the Synoptic Gospels as a member of a group of women, indicates that she was seen as the most important out of all of them. Carla Ricci notes that, in lists of the disciples, Mary Magdalene occupies a similar position among Jesus’s female followers as Simon Peter does among the male apostles.”Wikipedia

Mary Magdalene is the only woman besides Mother Mary who is mentioned by name in all four texts., and her name is always listed first when the presence of women is noted.

Crucifixion Icon written by Christine Hales
Crucifixion Icon written by Christine Hales

Healed By Jesus of Seven Demons

Jesus heals Mary by freeing her from seven demons. Mark 16:9   and Luke 8:2. She is mentioned also as one of the three, along with Mother Mary and John the apostle who wait at the foot of Christ’s cross at the Crucifixion.  John 19:25

And importantly we know that she is the first to see Jesus resurrected from the tomb: John 20:11-18, Mark 16:9, Matthew  28:9-10.  It is because of this that she is considered to be the apostle of the apostles.

Because Mary was the first to witness the Resurrection, she was considered by the Apostle John as the founder of Christianity.  This was long before Saint Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus.

Women at the Tomb Icon

Women at the Tomb

According to Matthew 28:1–10, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb. An earthquake occurred and an angel dressed in white descended from Heaven and rolled aside the stone as the women were watching. The angel told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Then the risen Jesus himself appeared to the women as they were leaving the tomb and told them to tell the other disciples that he would meet them in Galilee. According to Luke 24:1–12, a group of unnamed women went to the tomb and found the stone already rolled away, as in Mark. They went inside and saw two young men dressed in white who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Then they went and told the eleven remaining apostles, who dismissed their story as nonsense. In Luke’s account, Jesus never appears to the women, but instead makes his first appearance to Cleopas and an unnamed “disciple” on the road to Emmaus. Luke’s narrative also removes the injunction for the women to tell the disciples to return to Galilee and instead has Jesus tell the disciples not to return to Galilee, but rather to stay in the precincts of Jerusalem.

Another Account of Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection

Mary Magdalene Painting

Mary Magdalene’s role in the resurrection narrative is greatly increased in the account from the Gospel of John. According to John 20:1–10, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone when it was still dark and saw that the stone had already been rolled away. She did not see anyone, but immediately ran to tell Peter and the “beloved disciple”, who came with her to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty, but returned home without seeing the risen Jesus. According to John 20:11–18, Mary, now alone in the garden outside the tomb, saw two angels sitting where Jesus’s body had been. Then the risen Jesus approached her. She at first mistook him for the gardener, but, after she heard him say her name, she recognized him and cried out “Rabbouni!” of the grammar (negated present imperative: stop doing something already in progress) as well as Jesus’ challenge to Thomas a week later (see John 20:24–29). Jesus then sent her to tell the other apostles the good news of his resurrection. The Gospel of John therefore portrays Mary  Magdalene as the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles.

The relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene shows us that Jesus did not reject women, but loved and welcomed women, sinners, and the weak.

The Relevance of Mary Magdalene for Christianity Today.

Another interesting book on the subject is Cynthia Bourgeault “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, Discovering the Woman at the heart of Christianity”.  In this book, Bourgeault re -examines both the Traditional and liturgical meanings of Mary’s role in the Gospels in the light of today’s hunger for personal spiritual understanding and meaning.

“ In the liturgy for the  great vigil of Easter, one of the readings comes from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel:’I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ Ezekiel 36:26  It seems to me that this  promise captures the essence of Mary’s Magdalen’s healing vocation to contemporary Christianity…”

Mary Magdalene Icon

Legends and Creative Imaginings

There remain many stories, legends and creative imaginings surrounding the person of Mary of Magdala.  I close this article with a lovely quote from the Leloup book:

“Each morning, according to another legend, a group of angels lifted Mary Magdalene above the summit of the cliffs where she could listed to the entire choir of angelic hosts, the divine sounds of original and continuing creation.”

Until next month, be blessed and do your best to help and be kind to others. 🙏❤️

Christine Simoneau Hales

Newchristianicons.com Mary Magdalene On Line Icon Class, May 24-27, 2022

Preparing For Easter

Pascha!!

“Come then, let us run with him as he presses on to his passion. Let us imitate those who have gone out to meet him, not scattering olive branches or palms in his path, but spreading ourselves before him as best we can, with humility of soul and upright purpose. So may we welcome the Word as he comes, so may God who cannot be contained within any bounds, be contained within us...

Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. “ Saint Andrew of Crete

This month, as we all observe Lent in our prayer lives and churches, I have gathered a collection of Icons related to this season that encompasses the mystery and Passion of our Lord. If any of you readers have written icons on this theme, please send them in and I will post them on the FB page for the American Association of Iconographers.

Entry Into Jerusalem

Entry Into Jerusalem Icon by Christine Hales

“Seated in heaven upon Thy throne and on earth upon a foal, O Christ our God, Thou hast accepted the praise of the angels and the songs of the children who cried out to Thee: Blessed art thou that comest to call back Adam”. From the Kontakion for the Feast

The Holy Washing of the Feet, Icon

Romanian Icon 19th Century

Peter, the Apostle is seated on a bench, on the floor is a basin with water, Jesus has his mantle pulled up to keep it dry, Jesus is wiping the with a towel Peter’s right foot.

The other disciples are grouped on the right and left sides, some are loosening their sandals, Christ is the only figure shown with a halo.  Only two are shown without a beard, because of their youth.

This was a lesson in humility.  Christ says that he gave them an example to be imitated by them.

The Mystical Supper

“As a mystical event, the “Supper takes place at every Divine Liturgy or Eucharistic Feast.  “ Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son Of God, receive me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of the mystery to thine enemies.”

A long table inside a house, usually Christ is seen in the center, his head inclines slightly to the right and with his right hand he blesses.  Peter is seated on the right side and John on His left side- Jesus rests his hand on John’s shoulder.  This is depicted in John’s Gospel, 13:23-24. Judas is stretching out his hand in order to dip his bread in  the dish.  Matthew 26:23

All the disciples are shown without halos.  Halos are not proper before Pentecost.  The disciples should not have their backs to the viewer.

The D shaped table  was first seen in the 6th century Ravenna mosaics.  Psychological perspective calls for Christ to be at the center of the table. ” ( Guide to Byzantine Iconography, Constantine Cavarnos)

The Crucifixion Icon

Crucifixion Icon by Christine Hales

The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy Gkorious Resurrection.

“The traditional Crucifixion icon is a hand-painted icon with the scene of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion in the center of the composition. Christ is usually surrounded by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, St. John the Apostle, Longinus the Centurion, and several other onlookers. All the figures depicted in the Crucifixion icon show emotions associated with grief, but nothing suggests sound. Their mouths are not open, and the icon holds silence. Christ Himself is depicted with His eyes closed and His head bowed as if showing His last minutes of life on earth.

The composition of the Crucifixion icon also often includes an open cave with the skull and bones of Adam right at the bottom of the Cross. According to the legend, Adam’s bones, which had been buried under Golgotha by the descendants of Noah, appeared on the surface at the moment of Christ’s death due to a great earthquake that split apart the rocks. Christ’s blood flowed down from the Cross and on to Adam’s bones, bringing the redemption to the First Man and the whole human race.” to read more follow this link for The Russian Icon Blog.

Descent From the Cross Icon

Descent From the Cross Icon c. 1350

The Descent from the Cross Icon, sometimes called “The Deposition”, shows Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking Christ down from the cross after his crucifixion. The Gospel mentions women attending, probably Mary Magdalene, Mary, the Mother of Christ and Mary Salome alongside St.John.

The Lamentation

Lamentation Icon by Christine Hales

The aim of this icon is to impart the mystical, spiritual truth of the lamentation. The colors, the composition, and even the lines of the figures all lead the viewer upward, they raise our thoughts beyond the crucifixion to the upward movement of Christ himself and the Ascension. It’s a sacred and divinely inspired icon, full of truth and transcendence of emotions to the spiritual realm of faith and hope.

The Resurrection Icon

Resurrection Icon

The Icon of the Resurrection evokes the fragrance of immortality and the fulfillment of the reclamation of Adam and all who have come after. The simple truths are depicted without theatricality.

“Though Thou didst descend into the grave, O Immortal One, yet didst Thou destroy the power of hades, and didst arise as victor, O Christ God, calling to the Myrrh bearing women, Rejoice, and giving peace unto Thine apostles, O Thou who does grant resurrection to the fallen. ” Kontakion for Easter

The Resurrection brings light and joy to all creation. May Pascha, Easter, and Lent be Holy and blessed times for you all and bring joy to your hearts.

Until next month,

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons Icon Prints Online Icon Writing Classes

Link to Register for Dr. George Kordis Lecture on Creativity in Iconography. You must register first, and the Lecture is scheduled for April 7, 2022, 7:30-8:30PM.

Andrei Rublev

Born in the 1360’s in Moscow , Andrei Rublev is widely considered the one of the greatest painters of Russian Orthodox Icons.  For a large part of his life he lived in the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow and his spiritual teacher was St. Sergius of Radonezh. He was able to express the spiritual ideals of his time and integrate the tenets of Byzantine Iconography into his icons in a way no one has been able to do before or since.

Andrei Rublev , along with the icon painter Theophanes, painted the icons for the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow.  Theophanes is generally considered to have been Rublev’s teacher in icon painting and one can certainly see the similarities in their work.

The Moscow Icon painters of the early 15th century transformed the rather heavy Byzantine style of the iconostasis and Rublev was among those, along with Theophanes, who created the Russian style of the  Iconostasis.  This fully developed representation of the Festal Scenes along with the central figures of Saints John, Mary, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel is often found arranged in tiers  at the high altar of Orthodox churches.  Many of these also include a tier of prophets as well.

Iconostasis of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius

Rublev and Theophanes introduced full figure saints into the Iconostasis as opposed to the Byzantine style of using half figures.  This brought a much greater sense of presence to the icons, allowing the viewer to feel present with the saints as they worshipped.

The Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir was painted by both Rublev and Daniel Chorny in about 1408.  They worked together also to paint the  Trinity Cathedral at the Trinity Lavra  between 1425-1427.

Rublev’s most famous Icon, the Trinity, now hangs at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, where it continues to stun viewers both by its great size as well as the artistic levels of excellence he was able to achieve in this work.  St. Sergius of Radonezh consecrated his Monastery Cathedral to the Holy Trinity, “So that the sight of the Holy Trinity would serve to vanquish fear of the hateful strife within this world”.

 Rublev’s work carries with it a luminosity and elegance of expression in the figures depicted. The harmony Rublev achieved through the use of sacred geometry in the compositions also evoked a sense of clarity and purity. 

One of the key characteristics of Rublev’s works is spiritual harmony, the blending of both inner and outer beauty in the saints he depicts.  This is an aspect of the Byzantine spiritual system- the harmony between beauty of body and beauty of spirit. “When the human being is wholly dissolved in Divine love, then outwardly he reflects the glow of his inner spirit.”   St. John Climacus

Understanding as we do, the importance of keeping our gaze on things above, one can see that the ideals manifested so exquisitely in Rublev’s work would be good ones to bring forward to our world of today.

May God continue to bless the work of your hands, and may He guide our thoughts and actions that we could do all that is honorable and pleasing to the One we serve, Jesus Christ.

Blessings,

Christine Hales, Iconographer

Newchristianicons.com

Icon Prints

Icons For Our Time


The Secret Supper (or The Last Supper) Todor Mitrovic (b. 1972)
Serbia, 2006
Egg tempera on wood panel

As I view FB posts and blogs about contemporary Icons there is a lot of talk about what is a “real” icon. There are as many different viewpoints as there are people! I think we all agree that icons cannot be relevant to only one denomination of Christianity . Nor can they stay stagnant in the past if icons are to be authentic to our time.

A current exhibition at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, is a wonderful collection of contemporary Orthodox iconographers from around the world that addresses some of these issues. Within this collection there is wonderful diversity and creativity. It shows that even within the Orthodox community of iconographers, some icons are more painterly and less formalistic than others.

For those who are not able to go in person to the exhibition, I include here some images and text from the exhibition materials. This is an important exhibition that can also be viewed online virtually on the website: Museumofrussianicons.org


Flight into Egypt
Stéphane René (b. 1954) Egypt, 2021
Egg tempera on wood

Icons For Our Time

 Icons for Our Time: Orthodox Art from Around the World, is an exhibition of 15 icons by some of the most important contemporary icon painters today.  New works by artists from Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Japan, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, the UK and the US have been specially commissioned for this anniversary exhibition. 

“There will be pieces by artists from all over the world – some are from Orthodox countries like Greece and Bulgaria, but there will also be works from Britain and Japan. Some of the artists identify as religious believers (Eastern Orthodox or other), some do not. Few of the icons strictly follow the traditional canon. As a curator, working with some of the big names in contemporary icon painting, I wanted to leave as much freedom as possible to each artist – so long as their work could be described, experienced, and felt as an icon.” Dr. Clemena Antonova, curator.


Cosmic Christ/Suffering Logos (Second Version)
Ouresis Todorovich (b. 1977) Greece, 2021
Mixed media on wood

Icons of Our Times will examine the spread of Orthodox Christian art through the medium of icons and explore three paradoxes: the icon as a living tradition, the icon as a signature feature of Orthodox Christianity, and the concept and relevance of the contemporary icon in modern culture.   

“These three paradoxes pose some immediate questions and problems for contemporary icon-painters, viewers of religious images, as well as to museums that exhibit religious art. Is the icon mainly a medieval art form, which we view inspired by our interest in history, in the same way that we experience an ancient Greek temple? Or is it a living, constantly evolving artistic tradition, which has the capacity to respond to the concerns and needs of our times? Is the icon inextricably tied to Eastern Orthodox Christianity? Can one create or experience an icon without any knowledge of Orthodox culture and theology? Does the icon make sense in a context stripped of religious meaning?”  


Holy Sophia
Vladislav Andrejev (b. 1938) United States, 2021
Egg tempera on wood

“These are not easy questions and very likely neither a conference nor the present exhibition will offer straight-forward answers,” continues Antonova. “What we aim to do with this exhibition is to create a space which provokes us to reflect on the meaning and function of icons for our times.”

On the Museum’s website are links to talks given by Dr. Antonova and also the link to the virtual exhibition. I’m so grateful for the Museum’s dedication to providing a forum for the appreciation of ancient icons as well as for the development of contemporary ones.


St. Tekle Haymanot
Christopher Gosey (b. 1962) United States, 2021
Acrylic and natural clay pigments on wood

As we enter this New Year, let us pray for each other, for God’s grace and Holy Spirit to enable us to do His work with great love, humility and brotherly love.

Christine Simoneau Hales

newchristianicons.com online.iconwritingclasses.com

  

Miracle Working Icons

Saint Sebastian Icon, believed to be effective in prayers for protection from the plague.

During these uncertain times, I’m drawn to thinking of how to address current issues like the covid epidemic, disunity, lack of brotherly love within the context of icon writing. How can icons be miracle working? The grace of God determines what can bestow His miracles, but are there ways we can support miracle working icons as a means of increasing the faith of viewers? Perhaps by bringing to mind those icons that we know of that are considered miracle working is a beginning.

Since Icons are windows to heaven, they actually remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Mother of God icons are well known for their miracle working through the ages. Throughout history, many Icons of the Most Holy Mother of God have had miracles attributed to them. Here’s a link to some of them: Russian Icons.

miracle working icons

Tikhvin Mother of God Icon

There are many kinds of miracles associated with icons. Some are healing miracles, where the prayers of the viewers have been answered with healings of many kinds, spiritual and physical. There are also the “weeping” icons – ones that exude an oily substance over a long period of time.

Healing Icons

I am most interested in the healing icons. In reality, most miracle-working Russian icons are actually copies (which is what in the Orthodox tradition they call copies of the original miracle-working icons) of a venerated original. The copies are believed to inherit the original’s miraculous powers. Hundreds of the faithful have experienced miracles from even these copies and this is testified through the gifts of jewelry and flowers that abundantly decorate the icons.

The Tikhvin Icon is one of the most revered icons in Russia, and the original is reputed to have been painted by Luke the Evangelist himself. It is called the Protectress of Russia and has a long history of both saving Russia from political enemies as well as being taken to other locations for safety. Here’s a link to a more complete article on its history: Orthodox Christianity. One of the copies of the Tikhvin icon became well known for many miraculous healings of children. This icon is commemorated June26/July 9.

Here is the Troparion associated with this icon:

“Today, like the eternal sun, your icon appears in the sky, O Theotokos. With rays of mercy it enlightens the world. This land accepts the heavenly gift from above, honoring you as the Mother of God. We praise Christ our Lord, who was born of you. Pray to him, O queen and sovereign virgin, that all Christian cities and lands be guarded in safety, and that He saves those who kneel to His Divine and Your Holy Image, O unwedded bride.”

Please consider contributing articles about miracle working icons throughout the next year so that we can become more familiar and understand them through God’s grace.

ECVA CONVERSATIONS

Sacred Art & Iconography

This is a series of conversations hosted by ECVA and moderated by Mary Jane Miller, Iconographer, open to everyone.

Please join us!

WHEN:      6 Thursdays in December 2021 and January 2022
                  5:00pm EST, 4:00pm CST, 2:00pm PST

WHERE:    Online Zoom Conference

All artists and contemporary iconographers are invited to participate in a series of 6 online conversations on Sacred Art and Iconography. We are planning six themes to discuss, with the hope of sharing our thoughts, our work, and what happens in our spiritual life. This program series is open to all and is free of charge. The series moderator is Mary Jane Miller, whose collection of contemporary sacred art are visual meditations whose root is in traditional Icon Painting.  

If you are interested please sign up today by sending an email to

conversations@ecva.org. Send any suggestions or requests to Mary Jane millericons@gmail.com.

If you’d like to contribute an article on this or other topics of interest to iconographers, please contact me below.

Blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Iconwriting classes New Christian Icons

Please contact me here with your ideas for future articles!

Saint John

Saint John the Evangelist Drawing by Christine Hales

“O dear Disciple, you reclined on the breast of Christ at the supper of the Lord and drew ineffable mysteries from it which you were allowed to reveal. Your heavenly voice thundered out to all, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He is Christ our God, the Saviour of our souls and the true Light who enlightens everyone who comes into the world.”

Last month I was blessed to teach an online Icon writing class painting Saint John the Theologian. We had some wonderful prayer time as we painted and learned more about this saintly man who was so beloved of Jesus. In this blog I want to share with you some of what we learned and prayed about. The following is excepted from an article on “Orthodox Christianity Then and Now”.

The Life of Saint John the Evangelist

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the theologian was the son of Zebedee and Salome, the daughter of Joseph. He was called away from his fisherman’s nets to preach the gospel when our Lord Jesus Christ, walking along the sea of Galilee, chose his apostles from amongst the fisherman. Jesus had already summoned two brothers, Peter and Andrew, when he caught sight of two other brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee. They were mending their nets in a boat with their father when he called them. Immediately abandoning their boat and their father, they followed after Jesus Christ.

Saint John the Evangelist Icon in progress by Christine Hales

At the time of his calling, John was called son of Thunder by the Lord, for his theology would be heard like Thunder throughout the world. John followed Jesus, learning the wisdom that preceded from his lips. John was well loved by his Lord Jesus. The Lord honored him as the fairest of the 12 apostles, and he was one of three of Christ’s closest closest disciples. When Jesus went to raise up the daughter of Jairus, only John, Peter and James were allowed to accompany him. Also when Jesus prayed in the garden, he took Peter, James and John to pray with him. Also on Mt. Tabor, the scene of the Transfiguration it was James, John and Peter who accompanied Jesus. We also know from the Icons of the Crucifixion and the Lamentation, that John never left Jesus’ side. From the Cross, Jesus instructed John to take his mother, Mary into his home and care for her and regard her as his own mother.

Patmos Today

Saint John on Patmos

Saint John and his scribe, Saint Prochorus, were ready to leave the isle of Patmos when there were almost none on the island of Patmos that he had not converted to Christ. The Christians learning of his intention, asked him not to leave them forever. However, the apostle did not wish to remain with them but desired to return to Ephesus. Seeing the Saint was intent on leaving, they asked him to leave behind a memorial with them – the Gospel which he had written there. For one, day having commanded all to fast, he had taken his disciple Prochorus outside the city and together the ascended a high mountain. Here they spent three days in prayer. After the third day a great clap of Thunder sounded, lightning flashed, and the mountain shook. Prochorus fell to the ground with fear. Turning to him, John raised him up and said to him , “Write what you hear from my lips”.

John Writes the Gospel

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, John began to pray again. When he had finished, he began to speak; “In the beginning was the Word…” and the Gospel of Saint John was committed to paper. Saint John agreed to leave a copy in Patmos for the Christians in accordance with their request, but the original copy he kept with himself.

On the same island, Saint John wrote also the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation. Tradition relates that one day John and his disciple Prochorus departed from the city to a cave in the wilderness where he spent 10 days with Prochorus and another 10 days alone. These latter 10 days he ate nothing but only prayed to God, entreating him to reveal what he should do. A voice came to John from on high saying John, John! John answered “What doest Thou command, Lord? The Voice from on high said “Wait 10 days and thou shall receive a revelation of much that is great.” John remained there 10 more days without food, then something marvelous occurred. The angels of God came down to him and proclaimed much that was ineffable. When Prochorus returned, John sent him back for ink and paper, and for two days thereafter John spoke to Prechorus of the revelations he had received. John’s disciple wrote them down.

John’s Death

At the end of John’s life, when he was becoming very weak, he reduced his teaching to the unceasing repetition of “Little children love one another”. One day when his disciples asked him why he repeated this to them incessantly, John replied with the following words; “This is the Lord’s commandment and if you keep it, it is enough.”

When the Apostle was more than 100 years old, he left the house of Dominus with his family of disciples and after reaching a certain place, John commanded them to sit down. It was then morning and he went a stone’s throw away from them and began to pray. Afterwards his disciples dug him a cross shaped grave in accordance with his will. He ordered Prochorus to go to Jerusalem and remain there until the end of his life. John preached yet one more time to his disciples, and kissing them farewell, the apostle said; “Take the earth, my mother, and covered me with it.” He kissed his disciples and they covered him to the knees. When he had kissed them again, they covered him to his neck leaving his face uncovered. Once again they kissed him, and with great weeping, covered him entirely. Hearing of this, the bretheren came from the city and dug up the grave. But they found nothing there! They all wept greatly, then praying they returned to the city. Each year on the 8th of May a fragrant myrrh comes from the grave, and at the prayers of the holy Apostle the sick are healed thereby, to the honor of God, who is glorified in the Trinity unto the ages of ages Amen.

Patmos

The small island of Patmos, part of the Dodecanese complex in the central Aegean, is known, above all, as the location where John the Apostle received his visions and recorded them in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. An impressive monastic complex, dedicated to him, was founded there in the early 11th century.

Interior of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (by Thanasis Christodoulou via Wikimedia Commons)

The monastery stands on the site where Saint John is believed to have written his Gospel, including the Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse); it is also located near the grotto where the apostle is said to have received his Revelation, hence called the Cave of the Apocalypse. Both the Monastery and the Cave, along with the rest of the historic centre of the island’s Chora (main town) have been declared a joint World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 as an “exceptional example of a traditional Greek Orthodox pilgrimage centre of outstanding architectural interest”.

The site of the revelatory visions, known as the Cave of the Apocalypse, is situated halfway along the road linking the port with the Chora (main town), which sits on top of the island’s mountain. The Holy Cave of the Apocalypse has been transformed into a place of worship, where visitors can see the dent on the wall of the cave, where the Evangelist was said to lay his head; according to tradition, the Voice of God could be heard coming from a cleft of the rock, which is also still visible today. The southern part of the cave has been turned into a church dedicated to Saint John the Theologian, while later a Chapel of Saint Anne (mother of Mary) was added, incorporating the cave, which is now entered through the chapel.

In 1091, Christodoulos began the construction of the monastery of Saint John the Theologian, over the ruins of a fourth-century basilica also dedicated to Saint John.

APOLYPTIKA

“O beloved apostle of Christ our God, come quickly to rescue your helpless people. The one on whose breast you leant will accept you as intercessor. O Theologian, implore Him to disperse the clouds of darkness and grant us peace and great mercy.”

May God continue to bless you with His peace and love,

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Exhibition Open Calls For Religious Art

ECVA has an open call for art relating to the Epiphany. Here is a link to more information.

CIVA also has an open call for religious art. Deadline is November 7, 2021 Here is a link to more information

Link to Online Classes with Christine Hales