The power of icons
Icons may appear remote from us, but people remain fascinated by them. Is this because their roots lie in the spring of our humanist Christian civilization? Is it the impartial way in which they depict Christian themes, such as the Mother and Child, that also derive from more general human experience? Do the simplicity and clarity of the representation play a role in our fascination? Are we intrigued by the hidden symbolism? Or does the mystery lie at a deeper level?
One of the main characteristic of icon art is that it has always remained true to itself. For centuries artists painted the same saints and scenes after established models according to a fixed pattern. And this is still the case. The icon painter`s unconditional respect for tradition produces seemingly static depictions in an unchanging way that manage to touch the heart and the soul.
This is not to say that there have been no developments in icon art. Over the centuries new themes have emerged and local styles and differences have evolved. But for almost two thousand years icon art has essentially remained pure and unchanged. And this is an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of European art, where changes and styles constantly succeed each other.
Another intriguing phenomenon is the fact that icons have lost none of their eloquence and energy. The vitality of the icon art is the expression of a timeless power to speak directly to the heart.
The Orthodox Way
To understand what the icon represents to Orthodox Christians one need only enter a church that follows the Byzantine rite. There, sacred images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the local saints are gently illuminated by lamps and candles, and the faithful kneel before them, cross themselves and kiss the icons. The icon ( from the Greek eikon, “image”) is a sign of the presence of god. It is the simplest , most immediate form of religious self-awareness that the Christian orthodox people possess. Before the icon each believer can say: ”Behold my faith, that in which I believe, in these divine personages and saints, made visible in forms and colors.”
Far from being a form for idolatry, the icon rooted in a solid theology that has passed through the gauntlet of ideological as well as physical strife(violent persecution, destruction of images)- emerged victorious in the year 843, with the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The victory of the icon is the victory of Orthodoxy itself against the early heresies that, in denying the incarnation of Christ, also rejected any representation of his image. It becomes clear that what people worship in the icon are not the wood and colors, but what it represents as it travels a path from the visible to invisible, the material to the spiritual.
/During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox faithful always have before their eyes the iconostasis, a wall of icons behind which the officiant consecrates the bread and wine. A veritable theological and visual summa of Orthodox Christianity, the iconostasis, while it appears to hide, actually reveals, like a window open onto the mystery. This is why tradition considers the origin of the icon to be divine and revealed, just as all Christians consider the Gospel texts to be the work of divine revelation./
The very first icons of the Virgin with the Christ child in her arms are attributed to Saint Luke the Evangelist, a physician and painter. The “cloth” (Mandylion) that Christ sent to king Abgar of Edessa, and which bore his portrait, formed the original icon of the Holy Face, “not made by human hands”; a variant of this tradition has the image deriving from the veil of Veronica, which she used to wipe the face of the suffering Christ and which retained the imprint of his face. Some scholars assert that these images, like the Holy Shroud, are true “copies” of the face of Christ. Indeed the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped, bearing a “negative” image of his face, was on display in Constantinople until at least 1204, the year of the Fourth Crusade.
The authenticity of the icon as a copy(or a copy of a copy) proves the truth of the Incarnation, as derived from the written testimony of the Gospels, but also from the tradition of the icons themselves, that faithfully reproduce the physical features of Jesus Christ: eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, and hair.
Every attitude of the body, every movement of the hand, every color has a precise meaning in icons. Icons do not merely depict a holy personage or event; they interpret them in a symbolic light, in accordance with the ideas of the Church Fathers.
The very materials out of which the icons are made are important: a carved wood panel covered with layers of gesso, glue, and canvas, colors and gold leaf. They all appear as elements of the sacred ritual.
The twentieth century witnessed a remarkable renaissance of the icon. Important restoration revealed their original colors, in-depth studies recount their history and meaning, the diaspora of intellectuals and iconographers from Eastern Europe spread orthodox art and culture around the world.
Behind icons are hidden fascinating stories of apostles, ascetic martyrs, and “fools for Christ”. And the eyes of saints gazing through us , into the next world.
Icons speaks for themselves, and we can learn a great deal just by looking at them. There is a spiritual dimension that communicates through the mystery of art, and we need not know much history and only a little theology to understand them. It is self-evident that icons come from a wonderful “other “ world, and we all have something already there in us that can recognize that.
Icons depict a world of order where the agitation and haphazard forces that constitute our lives are transformed into energies that are intelligent and contemplative. It is a world of clarity and light where harmony and color flow through symmetrical, abstract compositions.
Icons inspire to inner confidence and stillness. Icons are an introspective art form which presents a sacred world. To penetrate this world requires patience and an open mind on the part of the viewer.
Only then icons will reveal their power.
I wish you all to enjoy my works! Thank you .