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Name without a face


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#1 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 09:20 PM

Perhaps some wise soul out there could tell me how iconographers choose/create a particular face for a saint about whom no particular image or description exists historically.

For example, over the past few years I've seen more and more icons of Celtic saints, few if any of which have surviving images or sufficient physical decription for a face to be painted.

Then there is the question of older style icons where even on known faces the stylizing is so thorough that it's more of a "face symbol" and the particular saint is idenified by personal items or symbolic demeanor (in addition to a written name)...but you could take those icons and a dozen or so others of different saints lay the unlabled images side by side and find there is very little that actually distinguishes this saint from that saint if anything.

And then there are even more well known saints about whom we know little, yet we have images of them. If I look at icons of the Saints some of the faces are done almost exactly alike...one may have darker hair or be holding something and so we can guess if that something is characteristic....but the actual face itself seems to be larglely an iconographers's best guess...or super stylized generic saint face fill in?

For example here is a link to an icon of the Holy Nativity at St. Catherines....its faces and forms are so abstracted as to make it almost a modern painting: http://touregypt.net...therines2-7.htm

I know icons are supposed to point more towards the Christ transformed life of the saint rather than earthy naturalism...but there has to be some point of departure from the person as he/she was in the earth...or so I thought.

Any thoughts?

#2 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 09:57 AM

I know that pious iconographers (I don't really know if such a word exists....) pray continuously while they are working on an icon. Perhaps an image comes to them through their prayers.

Effie

#3 Ilaria

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 01:46 PM

While reading your message I was thinking of the two sides of an icon: one side has to be a guiding mirror to Heaven; the other one has to define the earthly living of the saint. So, the iconographer has to reveal in the icon the earthly body transfigured by holiness...as Effie pointed out, this can not be done without prayer...
And I remember a word of my father:we have wonder working icons, but any "prayed to" icon can be a wonderworking icon...
so, this makes me think that there is a profound link between the icon and the person praying in front of the icon.and through this link, which is a mystery, the saint reveals himself...I mean, it is a personal,deep relationship, revealed in prayer.
Ilaria

#4 Fabio Lins

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 10:36 PM

I think that all saints, even the female ones, are supposed to be painted with the same lines and proportions of the face of Christ because they have recovered the image and likeness in them. It is precisely some of the minor details that make them look different at first glance, but they are supposed to be in fact all alike. Isn't that so?

Fabio L. Leite

#5 Paul Cowan

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 02:34 AM

The hyperlinked icon looks to be Georgian or even Oriental Orthodox. From what I have seen of each of their "styles' they don't paint the faces to be natural looking like the EO and Byzantines do. They look even more cartoonish (if I can get away with that). So even if they look cookie cutter it would be following these styles or writing them.

But then I could be way off base.

Paul

#6 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 12:29 PM

The hyperlinked icon looks to be Georgian or even Oriental Orthodox. From what I have seen of each of their "styles' they don't paint the faces to be natural looking like the EO and Byzantines do. They look even more cartoonish (if I can get away with that). So even if they look cookie cutter it would be following these styles or writing them.

But then I could be way off base.

Paul


I don't think you are. It bears striking resemblance to an Ethiopian icon that a friend of mine has. They tend to have more almond-shaped eyes (an Asian/Middle Eastern quality) and are generally more "cartoonish" (I don't have a better word for it, either!). Compare these to typical Islamic artworks, like this Islamic painting of Adam and Eve.

#7 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 04:16 AM

How about, instead of "cartoonish", one could say "stylized".

#8 Ned Toporowski

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Posted 22 April 2011 - 09:49 PM

In the overwhelming majority of Byzantine-style icons, I don't think there is any significant attempt to portray the actual psygionomy of a saint. The icons are all painted in stylized form, anyway. The main features distinguishing one saint from another appear to be those that one would expect to see on such a person. For example, a saint who was a virgin girl would have no head covering, a saint who lived in the desert would have a hair shirt and so on.

I have seen one or more modern icons of St. Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. He is depicted wearing Byzantine-style clothes and a beard. But we have at least one good sculpted, more or contemporary likeness of Constantine remaining, and he was clean shaven, for starters, with an aquiline nose.

#9 Kusanagi

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Posted 22 April 2011 - 10:21 PM

I think that some iconographers research into the land of origins that a saint comes from and make some sort of basis on how they might have looked. This kind of information is widely available in museums and history books.
For eg. St Theodore of Canterbury was from Tarsus and he has some resemblance to St Paul who was also from the same area.

#10 Donna Rail

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Posted 23 April 2011 - 02:44 AM

Perhaps the iconographer made reasonable approximations based on what was known about the person's life, and the physical traits of the given ethnic group. For instance, if the saint lived to an advanced age, that gives you a general type from which you can work. From there, it follows they may add the hair color, general facial appearance etc. that is known to people of that area.

#11 Olga

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 09:43 AM

In the overwhelming majority of Byzantine-style icons, I don't think there is any significant attempt to portray the actual psygionomy of a saint.


On the contrary. Where the likeness of a saint is known, then iconographers should reflect that physical appearance, while keeping to the traditional non-naturalistic artistic styles. Even in the early Christian era, it was commonplace for a detailed verbal dscription to be recorded of a recently-departed person who was regarded as likely to be later proclaimed a saint. This was definitely the case with many Fathers. It is striking to see the great consistency of portrayal of saints such as Sts John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and, especially, Nicholas of Myra, across the centuries and from all corners of the Orthodox world. Such consistency cannot be fully explained by simple "faithful copying" of earlier icons. IIRC, in a famous sermon on the Dormition of the Mother of God (the name of the saint who wrote it escapes me at present), the author gives a surprisingly detailed physical description of the Virgin.

Where the appearance of a saint is not known, then the iconographer can draw from established "stock" imagery to paint the icon. Since the advent of photography, this form of recording has made life both easier and more difficult for iconographers. On the one hand, knowing exactly how a saint looked removes the uncertainty of relying on a stock image. On the other hand, it takes great skill and diligence to paint an icon from a photographic reference in such a way as to maintain the stylised, non-naturalistic look of an icon, while still maintaining a physical resemblance to the saint.

and he was clean shaven, for starters, with an aquiline nose.


Icons of saints are almost always painted in frontal pose, so the shape of the nose as it was in life is not evident. The same goes for the less common three-quarter (more like seven-eighths) orientation, seen in deesis (supplication) icons. Staight profile is never used, as both eyes of a saint must always be visible.




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