This week’s quick takes are all related to icons and Byzantine mosaics.
The icon above is a beautiful modern icon of St. Michael, made by Jonathan Pageau in the opus sectile style (stone joined with stone)
Read more about this icon in an article Pageau wrote on the Orthodox Arts Journal site, including lots of process photos.
If you hang around the icon world, especially in America, invariably you’ll hear the phrase “to write an icon.” This stems from the Russian language (mirroring the Greek) word for creating an icon, which is the same as writing. Additionally, icons are thought to be a form of scripture in image form which further justifies the term. The usage has always seemed a bit awkward to me, and I was interested to read a lively discussion of the terminology on the Orthodox Arts Journal. Mary Lowell wrote a piece, "Is Write Wrong? A Discussion of Iconology Lingo":
For starters, being purposely odd serves no honest purpose. Saying that one “writes” an icon can be, and sometimes is, “affected jargon” – a kind of NEON Orthodox-speak of the cognoscenti who insist upon the verbiage as the only proper way to refer to the process and the product. As has been demonstrated, Russian use of the term “to write” is a part of their fine arts vocabulary and is used “to describe the process of making a painting – any painting, not just an icon”.
The English language has none of the imbedded linguistic references that my Russian respondents have noted which would indicate a preference for the use of “write” over “paint”. A surface filled with theologically didactic-delivery can be spoken of as being either painted or written without suffering diminishment. There are no canons requiring or restricting this verbiage in English derived from Russian via Greek and possibly Italian influences (see footnote 4). As one respondent said, “In English, I prefer ‘to paint icons’ and ‘write letters’.”
At the same time, those who police the verbiage to exclude the use of “write, writing, written” in English can be equally totalitarian to the point of correcting Russians. Used metaphorically the adopted terminology (albeit having a specific Russian linguistic basis) can be revelatory to English-speakers as to the particular purpose of icons, that is to articulate through images the textual content to which icons refer. In this sense an icon can be said to be “written” for the right reasons.
The greater risk of implementing derivative iconology-lingo is in harkening to Russian/Greek imports as an opportunity for Gnostic invention. Again, one of my respondents: “The use of the word ‘write’ has absolutely no extra or esoteric connotation. That’s simply the way things are spoken in Russian, and in our language and culture it all makes sense. But when transplanted into English, such direct translations may come across as having some additional hidden meaning.”
- the entire article by Mary Lowell
- and follow up thoughts by Andrew Gould.
The Graphic Arts Collection of Princeton University’s Firestone Library has recently acquired a group of “paper icons,” woodcuts and engravings made in Poland for the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai:
…the graphic arts collection has acquired sixteen early religious woodcuts and engravings made for the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai. The prints, which have been dated from 1688 to the early 18th century, are among the earliest known religious prints produced for circulation in the Orthodox East.
The woodcuts were printed mainly in Lwow, Poland, under the patronage and at the expense of the Greek trader Hatzikyriakis Vourliotis. This collection is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the very presence of such early prints from wood, a technique abandoned in the early 18th century and replaced by copper engraving. As Deluga notes, “Few have survived to our day, and they are generally considered a rarity; many are known in a unique impression.” - source
read more on Princeton’s Graphic Arts site.
The Redemptorist nuns in Dublin, describe themselves as:
an enclosed contemplative community of religious women. Our life is centered around the Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharist, personal prayer and contemplation.
These nuns have a thriving practice of iconology. Click over to see photos of many individual icons, quite lovely.
I came across a fascinating article about Thomas Whittemore, who restored the great Hagia Sophia in the 1930s. Here are the opening sentences:
On a summer night in June 1929, the 12th to be exact, the American Thomas Whittemore, English professor, Egyptian archaeologist, Russian relief worker and restorer of the mosque of Ayasofya, the former church of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul, dined with eight friends at the city’s finest hotel. This was the Hotel Tokatlian, located on the Grande Rue de Péra, now İstiklâl Caddesi, next to the Cité de Péra, today the Çiçek Pasajı. - source
Read the entire article on Cornucopia, a site about Turkish culture.
Earlier this week I wrote a post about the Heaven and Earth Byzantine exhibit that is finishing its run at the National Gallery in Washington DC and will be at the Getty in LA this summer. To complement the exhibit The National Gallery produced a short film, Five Byzantine Churches:
This film presents still and original moving footage of historically significant Byzantine churches in Greece. Set to the music of Byzantine hymns and chants, the film evokes the original context of many works of art in the exhibition Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections at the National Gallery of Art, October 6, 2013–March 2, 2014. - source
You can view the film on the NGA site, here.
For the entire month of February, 2014 Lichfield Cathedral in England has hosted a display of the icons of Ian Knowles, Director of the Bethlehem Icon School. In conjunction with the exhibit, Knowles has presented related lectures, a workshop, and has been artist in residence at the cathedral this week:
- on the Lichfield Cathedral site, here and here.
- To see icons painted by Ian Knowles, visit his website: