An American School of Iconography

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

Last Supper, School of A. Rublev
Last Supper, School of A. Rublev

This month I wanted to write about the idea of an American School of Iconographers.  Not a brick and mortar school, but a school in the Benedictine sense of a community of people who share values, beliefs, and common goals.  A school of people  who desire to learn from and support each other in the goal of painting Icons would , ideally, be comprised of diversity as well as commonality.

One of the tenets in the Iconographer’s Rules  that we all learn when starting to write Icons is “Never forget the joy of spreading icons throughout the world.”  Although Icon painting is often a solitary process, joining together in classes can help combat the undesirable effects of isolation and promote growth and learning.

Mother of God Hodegitria
Mother of God Hodegitria

Recently, during the stay at- home -order due to the corona virus, several online Icon classes have sprung up, and I suspect that we will see a lot more of these in the future. Will these replace the onsite icon classes taught by iconographers at colleges and monasteries?  No.  Live, in-person classes provide an opportunity for feedback, practice, and personal remedial direction, and that works hand in hand with on line classes at other times during the year.  The on line classes provide an ongoing way to practice drawing and painting that make the in person classes a valuable source of individual instruction.

Writing Icons is no simple task, as most of you have discovered.  Initially, a novice Iconographer is encouraged to copy Icons from before the sixteenth century.  This usually involves tracing the Icon, then transferring the image to a board and painting.  However, after a few years of this kind of practice, one can move on to learning to draw iconographically.  Drawing icons freehand, and learning the basics of sacred geometry composition are tasks for intermediate level iconographers.  Color theory comes next, along with practice, practice, practice.  It’s good to practice on watercolor paper, do studies, learn how to draw garments, and hands.  Then, drawing the face, understanding dynamic symmetry and theology of icons are tasks for advanced Icon classes.

Seraphim Drawing
Seraphim Drawing

There’s always so much to learn and it’s exciting to have such rich subject matter to explore.  When you add all this to the joy of growing closer to God through prayer, contemplation, and icon writing you have an absorbing and life giving practice.

Nun Juliana, Saint Peter Drawing
Nun Juliana, Saint Peter Drawing

Being an active member of a Church and faith community is essential to writing icons also.  Since God, theology and art are so intertwined in this process, it is important to have a spiritual director with whom to ponder and question how God wants to use this art form through your work.  Iconographers need to have an active prayer life and understand how Icons are used in contemplation and liturgy.

Nun Juliana Icon
Nun Juliana Icon

The American Association of Iconographers is a free association of Iconographers who share a common desire to be supportive to each other and grow in faith and icon writing.  We have a Face Book Group ( just search for American Association of Iconographers on Face Book) which you can join.  Anyone who is a member can post their ideas, questions, useful links, etc.  Because it is an Ecumenical group, we practice acceptance of both Orthodox and non Orthodox Iconography.  We usually don’t publicize or promote individual Iconographers’ classes, but instructional video links are acceptable for posting.

It Takes Time to Develop

There have been many developments and changes to the world, as well as to the world of Iconography over the last twenty years.  Similarly, it will take time to develop characteristics, attributes, and a standard for excellence in this field.

It will be helpful to see visual examples and hear of other Iconographers’ experiences in their locations regarding community, learning, creating a standard for quality and relevance.   Perhaps in the future we could have a virtual conference or series of meetings to discuss these topics.  Also, writing blogs for this group can be a way to share experience and perspective.

So far, the guiding principles are: The creation of a spiritually healthy, ecumenical, support group that promotes the practice of Icon sharing, learning, and promoting the love of Icons that can provide direction and possibly regulate a  set of guidelines for future Iconographers.

Please feel free to use the contact form below with suggestions, ideas, and possible submissions for blog posts.

May God continue to bless you in all that you say and do,

Christine Hales

New Christian Icons.com

 

 

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

 

 

 

Practice

Dear Fellow Iconographers:
Angel

Teaching Icon classes as I do in monasteries, churches and art centers, the question that always arises at the end of class:  How can I continue with Icon painting?  Practice is what I always say. For that reason, this month’s blog for the American Association of Iconographers is a collection of information and links to help with further studies.

Ideally, someone who is learning to write Icons will choose a style or a teacher which whom to study.  But even with that, one can only realistically take one or two workshops per year.  What to do in the meantime?  Here are my suggestions:

Practice

Using sketch paper and pencil, draw as much as possible.  Copy Icons from books, prints, or the internet.  Drawing is the number one art skill needed in Icon writing, as it is in all painting.  Learning to think on paper is a valuable skill.  A book that I recommend to beginners is: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  You can copy Icons in some of her exercises and you will be surprised at how quickly your drawing will improve.

Raising of Lazarus Icon Sketch in Black and White Christine Hales
Raising of Lazarus Icon Sketch in Black and White.  Christine Hales

 

 

Simplified Palette
Simplified Palette

Use watercolor paper and the four basic color of Icon writing: red ochre, black, white and yellow ochre.  Make color and tonal studies of Icons on water color paper.  Again, this simple practice will yield large results.

 

 

John the Baptist watercolor sketch Christine Hales
John the Baptist watercolor sketch Christine Hales

 

Icon Retreats and Workshops

For those who choose to study with me, here is a link to upcoming classes.  My teaching method is always evolving and inspired by my prayer life.  I particularly enjoy helping students who have had some experience writing Icons and now want to create their own Icon (still copied from before the Renaissance).  If you do sign up for one of my classes and wish to do this, please email me well before the class date so that we can prepare you for getting the most out of the retreat.

Resources for viewing Iconographic Imagery

Kolomenskaya Versta is a site selling Icon books and materials. It is based in Russia and they regularly post free images to copy as well as links to all kinds of Iconographic information.  Also known as Russian Modern Orthodox Icon, here is a link to their FB page.

Online illuminated Manuscripts from  Open Culture.  Also, the Book of Kells on line.

A beautiful FB page with many good examples of Byzantine Icons- Byzantine Art

Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union Street, Clinton, Mass.  There is an exhibition of Prosopon Icons currently in addition to their permanent collection.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Nikita Andrei
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Nikita Andreiv

Resources for Icon Materials

Natural Pigments  They have pigments, red clay, gold leaf adhesives, brushes, etc..

Kremer Pigments has a shop in NYC but you can also order on linear an immense array of pigment choices and other materials like stand oil, linseed oil, etc.

Pandora- Pigment sets, Painting Tools, Porcelain Palette

Gold Leaf and Gilding Supplies

Sepp Leaf    www.seppleaf.com

Golden Leaf Products  www.goldenleafproducts.com

Gold Leaf Wholesalers  LA Gold

Icon Boards

Pandora Icon Boards, New York

St. John’s Workshop   Icon boards

 

Icon Painting Videos from You Tube

Villanova University– full process of painting an Icon.

Julia Brigit Hayes teaches online classes for drawing and painting Icons

Prosopon School of Iconology teaches workshops nationally. Another short video of their technique.

East X West online Icon Course with Sr. Petra offers many video tutorials and a thorough grounding in Iconographic history, drawing and painting.

That’s all for this month. Please let me know if this has helped you, and I wish you peace and  joy in spreading the beauty of Icons throughout the world!

Christine Hales

Icon Website 

Print Website

Fine Art Website

 

 

Training for Iconographers

Greetings Fellow Iconographers :

Training for Iconographers

St. Basil
St. Basil Icon by Christine Hales

This month I am recommending two articles that have been published in an on-line journal- The Orthodox Arts Journal– as elements contributing to  good training for Iconographers.  As I go around the country teaching an “Introduction to Icon Writing Class”, I am aware of how little knowledge people in general have about Icon painting.  It is impossible to gain enough knowledge of this art from a few classes to be able to make truly authentic Icons.  I recommend two things:  look at as much art and as many Icons as you possibly can. Books, online resources, museums, all of these will help your painting to become mature as you practice what you see.  The second thing I recommend is to read as much as you can about the history as well as the technique of Icon writing.   Both of these activities go hand in hand with taking workshops and practicing at home.

Two Articles for Iconographers in Training.

First Article

Mustard Seed Manual of Painting
Mustard Seed Manual of Painting

The first article is written by English Iconographer Aidan Hart and it is entitled, ” The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,: A Chinese Painting Manual Offers Inspiration to Iconographers.”  This article contains quotes from the Chinese manual as well as comments by Aidan Hart as to their usefulness for Iconographers.  It is quite a beautiful and clear article that speaks to some of the nuances of Icon painting.  Here is a quote from that article. The italics are quotes from the manual, and the regular text is Aidan Hart’s commentary:

“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. (17)

When we learn a second language, we consciously study its rules of grammar and learn its norms. But as we gain knowledge and confidence, we find our own voice. Iconography should be the same.

I have heard it said by some Orthodox thinkers that iconography is not art. I disagree. The icon is indeed more than art because it is part of the liturgy and exists for more than aesthetic delectation. But it is at least art. Although the icon’s sacred purpose means that its aesthetic categories are more extensive than those of secular art, it should nonetheless include them. The same universal colour theories and composition principles apply.”

One more quote:

“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.(19)

Hard work is the only path to the authentic abstraction. In the years that I have taught iconography I have found that drapery is the most common stumbling block for learners. Prolonged and analytical study is required to understand the drapery that the icon tradition abstracts. Drapery’s complexity needs to be mastered in order to make sense of its simplification, otherwise it becomes irrational, not supra-rational. Lines need to be understood as horizons of forms and not strings hanging in space.

Here is the link for the entire article.  Enjoy!

Anton Daineko
Anton Daineko

The Second article is written by Anton Daineko “The Living Icon”, also published in the Orthodox Arts Journal.  In this article, Anton grapples with the issue of what is the criterion used to make  authentic Icons?  This is not a simple or easy question to answer.  He cites examples of Iconographers from the past such as Andrei Rublev, Hilandar and Panselinos in order to visually show the necessary qualities of good Icons.

In this article, he also speaks about the importance of the Iconographer’s direct experience, through prayer, with God.

“The Criterion

Commenting on copying in iconography, Father Igor, a priest from Minsk and himself an icon painter, noted that “There are no icon copies; each icon is a REVELATION”. Naturally, this raises questions: is it even possible to define such a delicate matter as REVELATION, and what aspects should be included under the resultant definition?

It cannot be answered in a few simple words. With some icons, everything is easy: one look at the Redeemer from the Zvenigorod deesis tier, and you feel that it really is a REVELATION. But with most icons, the matter is far more complicated.

Confession of St. Peter Icon
Confession of St. Peter Icon

“It would be appropriate here to recall the words in the epigraph to this article, the Apostle Peter’s reply to Our Lord’s question “Who do you say that I Am?” – “YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD“.

Perhaps this line holds the key to understanding much about the Church, including the canonical texts: in those texts, the early Christians saw an image of the LIVING GOD, crucified and raised from the dead. And that is what is most precious in the Church. It is precisely the PRESENCE of the Living God that sets the Christian Church apart from other religions and other communities. And it is precisely this PRESENCE that we can observe in scripture as well as virtually everything else in church life. The icon is no exception in this regard.

The iconic image consists of many simple elements: strokes, stripes, and smudges, while the different colors are obtained by various combinations of minerals and egg yolk. Taken separately, none of these elements carry any artistic – let alone spiritual – meaning in and of themselves. But when these elements come together in a particular combination, a miracle occurs: the strokes, the stripes, and the smudges cease to exist, and we see the Face of the Living God looking directly at us. It is as much of a miracle as the image of the Living God emanating from the simple words of the Gospels’ narrative.”

I suggest again, reading the entire article in order to fully understand the nuances and also to see more examples of the Icons mentioned in the article.  We are so blessed today to have great contemporary Iconographer who are sharing their wisdom and experience to those who are eager to learn.

Enjoy, as we come to the official close of summer, and may God bless all of your Icon writing with His Presence.

Christine Hales

Christine Hales’ Icon Prints 

Icon Classes Taught by Christine Hales

 

Picasso and Icons

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

“The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your Glory.”  Isaiah 60:19

The summer stretches out before us with plenty of opportunity for good reading. This past month I have been reading Francoise Gilot’s “Life with Picasso”.  While I am surely not a fan of Picasso’s, I believe that the creative output of that era has many important facets worth gleaning for art practice today.  You may be surprised, as I was, with the following quote of Picasso’s, as related by Gilot in the book:

Egyptian painting
Egyptian painting

” You have to go all the way back to the Greeks and the Egyptians.  Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production ism submitted to rules.  They- the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians – did.  Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules.  But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was a painters sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals….what the artist gains in the way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.”

The Value of Order in Icon Writing

Surprising as this quote is coming from Picasso, it underscores what we as Iconographers have been blessed to experience, i.e., the order and beauty of Icons brings with it a sense of peace and fulfillment that can be found in no other form of art.  If you’ve read my book, Eyes of Fire, you know that I have made the correlation between contemporary art making and Icons.  The reason for this is that Icon writing is a living art form for today.  While we seek to incorporate the canons of Iconography into our work today, we also need to allow God to speak to our hearts as we work.  We need this practice of praying and painting in order for the Icons we create today to be authentic to our time.

Christ Icons at Holy Cross Icon Class taught by Christine Hales
Christ Icons at Holy Cross Icon Class taught by Christine Hales

Icon Writing Retreats

Order was very apparent in the recent Icon writing retreat at Holy Cross, an Episcopal Benedictine Monastery in West Park, NY.  Here we were able to participate in the Monk’s reciting of the daily hours: Morning prayer at 7AM, Breakfast at 7:45, Eucharist at 9AM, then Icon writing until Diurnum at noon.  After lunch we had more Icon writing until Vespers at 5, then supper, and at 8pm, Compline. Great Silence was observed from 8PM until 8AM. We were able to fit these intervals of prayer and silence in between Icon writing sessions and experience the refreshment this practice gives.  Painting and praying all through each day, being part of a living community of praying people allows us to experience the lift and support needed to practice the spiritual discipline of Icon writing.

Holy Cross Icon Class with Christine Hales
Holy Cross Icon Class with Christine Hales

Icon Retreats in 2020

In 2020 I will be teaching two more Icon writing retreats at Holy Cross, May 12-15 and July 21-24,  and one at their other monastery, Mount Calvary ,  in Santa Barbara, CA, March 3-6.

Interesting Links for Iconographers

Museum of Russian Icons , Clinton, Massachusetts    The current exhibition shows work from  the school of one of my valued teachers, The Prosopon School. The exhibition is called : Wrestling With Angels, Icons from the Prosopon School of Iconology and Iconography.  July 19-October 20, 2019

Icons and Their Interpretation is a blog about Icons and their meanings.

British Association of Iconographers is a group based in London, UK.  They have a website and newsletter available to members.

That’s all the news for this month!  Please keep us in your prayers as you are in ours.  Never forget the joy of spreading Icon writing through out the world.

Christine Hales

Icon Website

Christine Hales teaching at Holy Cross Monastery
Christine Hales teaching at Holy Cross Monastery

 

Message to an Iconographer

Greetings:

Dionysus Fresco
Dionysus Fresco

This month is a continuation of last month’s article on Hesychasm and Icons.  There is an interesting book that was produced in fifteenth century Russia called, “Message to an Iconographer.”  Message to an Iconographer is believed to have been written by St. Joseph of Volokolamsk.  It is helpful in explaining the role and meaning of sacred art and Iconography. It is believed that this book was put together at the request of the famous Iconographer, Dionysius for the purpose of training future Iconographers.

Part of the reason for creating Message to an Iconographer was a concern that after Andrei Rublev’s Icons, there was a progressive lack of focus on the spiritual depth and meaning of the Icon in favor of beauty of artistic form.  Message to an Iconographer  provides an answer to the prevailing heresy of the time and is a defense of the Icon and its veneration.  It is also a positive contribution that explains its spiritual content. Here is a quote from “Theology of the Icon, Volume II” by Leonid Ouspensky:

“How much more appropriate is it then, in this new time of grace, to venerate and bow down before the image of our Lord Jesus Christ painted on the Icon by human hands…and to adore His deified humanity taken up into heaven.  This also holds true for His All Pure Mother.  Likewise, to paint images of all the saints on icons, to venerate and bow before them is equally appropriate.  By painting images of the saints on Icons, we do not venerate an object but, starting from this visible object, our mind and spirit ascend toward the love of God, object of our desire.”  This statement echoes the defense of Icons by Gregory of Palamas.  Taboric light and the divine energies form the basis of this treatise.

Dionysus Fresco, Mary
Dionysus Fresco, Mary

The Jesus Prayer

Here is another quote from the Message to an Iconographer: “When adoring your Lord and God…let your whole heart, spirit, and mind be lifted toward a contemplation of the holy, consubstantial and life giving Trinity, in purity of thought and heart…Let your bodily eyes ascend to the divine …venerate them spiritually in your soul and visibly with your body.  Be completely turned toward the heavens.”

“The Message” is about a lifestyle of asceticism and inner prayer that is appropriate to an Iconographer.

“Wherever you may be, O beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting or lying down-ceaselessly pray with a pure conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’, and God will hear you. ” “Close your eyes to the visible and look at the future with your inner eye.”  These are instructions to an Iconographer from The Message.  They are intended to create a platform of prayer and faith from which to work on the Icon.”

Christ Fresco, Dionysus
Christ Fresco, Dionysus

I would suggest reading this chapter in its entirety to fully understand the context and  intent of the author.  It is from Chapter 13  Hesychasm and the flowering of Russian Art, in Theology of the Icon, Volume II, Leonid Ouspensky.  There is a great deal of value in the rest of the book also, and I highly recommend it for Iconographers.

One last quote that is a gem:

“The painter must be acutely aware of the responsibility that rests upon him when creating an Icon.  His work must be informed by the prototype it represents in order for its message to become a living, active force, shaping man’s disposition, his view of the world and of life.  A true Iconographer must commune with the prototype he represents, not merely because he belongs to the body of the Church, but also on account of his own experience of sanctification.  He must be a creative painter who perceives and discloses another’s holiness through his own spiritual experience.  It is upon this experience of communing with the archetype that the operative power of an Iconographers work depends.”

Dionysus Icon
Dionysus Icon

May God bless your Icons, as you grow in wisdom and understanding in the practice of writing the Holy Image.  Next month will be an article on the fifteenth century Iconographer Dionysus.

Christine  Simoneau Hales

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Advent

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

Black Madonna Icon by Christine Hales
Black Madonna Icon by Christine Hales

December 2, we enter into that period of Advent that is so full of excitement and anticipation.  How appropriate that it comes for us in the Americas at a time of profound seasonal change- the end of summer and the beginning of winter.  Advent marks the end of all that we know belonging to the old Testament and the beginning of the  fulfillment  of the Old Testament prophesies with the birth of Christ, our Redeemer.

Advent is a journey into the heart of promise and fulfillment with the Birth of Christ.

We share the hope of the Archangel Gabriel and Mary and witness the incredible faith journey that began the earthly life of Jesus Christ.  Mary models for us the essence of spiritual preparedness, the willingness of a faith filled acceptance of God’s will manifesting in her life.  Her surety and preparedness for this miracle is again a model for us to develop such a surety and willingness for all that God has for us.

Annunciation Icon by Ohrid, 14th Century
Annunciation Icon by Ohrid, 14th Century

Byzantine Iconography and Advent

And there is a similarity between Byzantine Iconography and Advent.  Canon Edward West, in his article on Byzantine Religious Art said that  an Icon is “notably the reflection of something which exists, but in its own way, it conveys something which actually exists  and conveys it really….Byzantine religious art is concerned with conveying truth, witnessing to the truth, and indeed, making it possible for the sensitive and aware Christian to have some part in that truth…”.  The birth of Christ 2000 years ago allows us to be in the present tense with God today, to experience His love, protection and guidance.  One could also say that Icons share in that ability to bring us into God’s presence, as symbols of the incarnation.

Canon West, who was a noted Iconographer in addition to serving at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City for over forty years, goes on to say that  what makes an Icon important is, “that it is a meeting point of this continuum from the past with the vertical thrust of the Spirit of God at the right moment- in terms which the individual Christian can understand.  It is essential that we remember this attitude about Tradition.  The Byzantines were concerned in Witnessing to the Truth.” Madona and Child

Icons in 2019

May we all be blessed with Mary’s patience, devotion, and willingness to carry out God’s plan in the coming year.  May our Icons be bearers of God’s Grace and Presence as we move towards a world where Holy Scripture is made visual through the sacred imagery of Icons and made available to all those who seek Him.

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icon Class Schedule for 2019                      Icon Book Available on Amazon

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Sacred Geometry II

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:       images

When we open our eyes to see the sacred geometry inherent not only in nature, but also in Iconographic composition we enter into the world of sacred symbolic language.  The Byzantine culture understood that it is essential to understand and use abstract symbolic representation.  The primary reason is that we are depicting God’s universe, that heavenly realm that operates differently from our humanistic, materialistic world.  We want to  convey this God centered point of view in Icons and the best way to do that is to understand and implement sacred geometry within our compositions.

Shapes and Patterns        images-2

Identifying shapes and patterns helps us understand principles of symmetry, balance, and motion within the Icon. When we cooperate with and work in agreement with universal principles handed down through the centuries, we can participate in creating a universal visual language that can speak the truth of God, the Bible, and the Gospels, bringing our everyday lives into this sense of harmony and cooperation.

Simple Geometric Constructs

Blessed Pauli Murray Icon by Peter Antonci
Blessed Pauli Murray Icon by Peter Antonci

A simple geometric composition for single figure Icons is the triangle which is set upon a plinth.  By measuring the height and width of the Icon composition, finding the vertical and horizontal axis, and drawing the diagonals from each corner of the base to the central axis point at the top of the composition, one can create an Icon using sacred geometry.

In the recent Sacred Geometry Icon Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY, students used this method for the construction of their Saint Francis Icon.

Olifa of Saint Francis Icon
Olifa of Saint Francis Icon

One of the most famous Icons using sacred geometry is the Rublev Holy Trinity Icon.  With this drawing, you can see the figures are arranged in relationship to the circle and contained within the square.  The circle is the symbol of unity, and God, in that it has no beginning and no end, but is energy in eternal motion. Rublev had been asked by Saint Sergius of Radoneh to create an Icon of unity and harmony which the community could pray with.  This now famous Icon was lost to the world until the early 1900’s when a resurgence of interest in Russian Icons caused an art restorer to clean the centuries of black soot and dirt from the icon, revealing a true masterpiece.    dee63ca17b15d01e89cffa4fa7aec172

May 9-12, 2019  Sacred Geometry retreat

Sacred Geometry is a foundational concept for Iconographers who wish to paint in the Byzantine Tradition.  The next Sacred Geometry Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, will be May 9-12, 2019.

New Icon Book

“Eyes of Fire, How Icons Saved my Life as an Artist” by Christine Simoneau Hales is an in-depth study on the evolution of religious arts and iconography, this book is about spiritual strength, timeless artistry , and groundbreaking personal transformation achieved through experiencing Icons. The power of religious images is  well documented in this book, as well as their influence on contemporary art.  There is an appendix containing valuable information to creating sacred art for the twenty-first century.

"Eyes of Fire" Book by Christine Hales
“Eyes of Fire” Book by Christine Hales

This book will be available on Amazon and a Kindle version will be available for a short period of time at no cost during the book launch in early October .  Email to receive a link for the free Kindle book (available during the book launch in early October only).

Blessings and prayers until next month,

Christine

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