Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

Considering the Composition of New Icons


  • Please log in to reply
16 replies to this topic

#1 Reader Luke

Reader Luke

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 145 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 22 October 2015 - 03:30 PM

As a cantor, reader, and student of the Byzantine tradition of chanting, I know that Byzantine Chant (iconography in words & song) is a living and evolving tradition. There are always new compositions being made, and even new hymns being written. Many start off being para-liturgical, and then later are melded into the active liturgical life of the church.

 

Because I don't know much about iconography, though I am interested in it, I would like to know the process and tradition regarding the composition of new iconography.

 

With Byzantine chant, there is a method to composing new works, which I would consider similar to the traditional canonical way of composing icons. But it's a method that allows for freedom in local and regional traditions and influences, as well as the composition of new works.

 

I've seen many iconographers argue against newly composed icons, yet I don't understand why they are rejected. I also would like to know what iconographic styles would be acceptable and molded into the existing tradition.

 

One "new" icon I've seen rejected by some is the following, which depicts the Theotokos & Elizabeth greeting one another, and depicted in their wombs are the Forerunner, and Christ, with the Forerunner bowing to Christ, and Christ giving the blessing:

http://www.orthodox....ith-fetuses.jpg

 

However, there seems to be a precedent for it, although the example is still probably only a hundred years old, if only a little bit older:

https://s-media-cach...b9e246bccc7.jpg

 

Another icon that I've seen rejected is the Holy Family. I don't know if it is rejected because of Orthodox Romophobia, or because it's uncanonical. But It depicts the Theotokos & St. Joseph holding Christ. I can understand having an problem with icons that show St. Joseph embracing the Theotokos (as they were betrothed, but not wedded, he was a guardian rather than husband), but depicting the three together shouldn't be a huge issue. Although St. Joseph seems to have had trouble comprehending the glorious conception of Christ (don't we all!), he still was a huge part of Christ's life, at least in childhood. In some icons of the flight to Egypt, he's even show carrying Christ.

https://static.trini...500/2022709.jpg

 

There is also the Lament of Rachel, which is used by Orthodox pro-life organizations.
http://www.orthodox....t-of-rachel.jpg

 

______________________________

 

So what is acceptable, and what isn't acceptable in the composition of new iconography?



#2 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,032 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 22 October 2015 - 07:05 PM

Some points raised here are addressed in the thread, 'Problematic' icons. However, Olga is the one to deal with the questions raised. I would only comment that I would not favour the use of the expression, 'Orthodox Romophobia' - we are not afraid of the Roman Church, but only sorrow at its heresies.



#3 Kosta

Kosta

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,517 posts

Posted 22 October 2015 - 10:16 PM

The "holy family" icon is simply not part of our tradition. In the infancy narrative of Matthew the angel appeared to St. JOSEPH to instruct him to take the Theotokos and Christ Child into Egypt. The angel said, "take the child and its mother"... Never any mention of taking his wife or son or family into and out of Egypt.

The problem with icons based on lesser known scripture or based upon the hymnal tradition is the great ignorance of iconographers themselves. An original icon maybe based on some liturgical hymn but by the second generation the iconographer adds to its composition not knowing what the original represented to begin with!

Ive argued this with these Trinity icons. Hymns which speak of Christ as the ancient of Days becoming a child morphed into "paternity icons". Commentaries of the church Fathers of the gospel account of Christ being the visible image of God and other Trinitarian hymns over time have morphed into depictions of the Father. Iconographers have an artistic ability but usually a poor historical and theological understanding.

Edited by Kosta, 22 October 2015 - 10:18 PM.


#4 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 12:05 PM

  So what is acceptable, and what isn't acceptable in the composition of new iconography?

 

I'll answer your last question first:

 

If a new image does not conform with what the Church teaches about a saint or feast, it is not suitable for veneration as an icon. Iconographers, like hymnographers, work in service to the Church and what she teaches. They are not artists giving full rein to their artistic creativity, nor beholden to the whims and desires of patrons if such are contrary to what the Church espouses, nor should they paint to express support for sociopolitical causes, no matter how "good" such causes may be.

 

I'll be addressing other points in Rdr Luke's post later.



#5 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 12:08 PM

Some points raised here are addressed in the thread, 'Problematic' icons.

 

Due to the change in forum format a couple of years ago, many of the links to images in that thread were broken. I am in the process of restoring them, which will make following that thread much easier. :)



#6 Reader Luke

Reader Luke

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 145 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 01:38 PM

Thank you for the reponses!

 

 

Some points raised here are addressed in the thread, 'Problematic' icons. However, Olga is the one to deal with the questions raised. I would only comment that I would not favour the use of the expression, 'Orthodox Romophobia' - we are not afraid of the Roman Church, but only sorrow at its heresies.

 

I use the term Romophobia usually to refer to things that Orthodox people reject because they seem to be "Roman Catholic" influences, but are either fully Orthodox in content and origin, or are perfectly in line with Orthodox teaching, even if originating in the post-schism West.

 

 

The "holy family" icon is simply not part of our tradition. In the infancy narrative of Matthew the angel appeared to St. JOSEPH to instruct him to take the Theotokos and Christ Child into Egypt. The angel said, "take the child and its mother"... Never any mention of taking his wife or son or family into and out of Egypt.

The problem with icons based on lesser known scripture or based upon the hymnal tradition is the great ignorance of iconographers themselves. An original icon maybe based on some liturgical hymn but by the second generation the iconographer adds to its composition not knowing what the original represented to begin with!

Ive argued this with these Trinity icons. Hymns which speak of Christ as the ancient of Days becoming a child morphed into "paternity icons". Commentaries of the church Fathers of the gospel account of Christ being the visible image of God and other Trinitarian hymns over time have morphed into depictions of the Father. Iconographers have an artistic ability but usually a poor historical and theological understanding.

 

But tradition is evolving and growing is it not? Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity as part of the Hospitality of Abraham was not part of our tradition until he painted it.

 

 

(will continue writing later)



#7 Phoebe K.

Phoebe K.

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 279 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 02:32 PM

I have asked my friend who is an Iconographer about the process of composing Icons as she has composed several of western saints in recent years.

 

"With respect to the composition of new Icons, generally there is some visual information to work from as a basis, but in this country where we have fewer resources, research has to be done as to the character of the Saint, the dress of the time usually by referring to Bede and other specialist sources. The 19th Century depictions of Saints can be sentimental and inaccurate and so must be checked. For example when looking at St Swithun and St Wilfrid, they were both still part of the Roman Patriarchate and so tonsuring was the norm. The Bishops mitre, was not at all like the more recent ones but like that of St Cuthbert as depicted in an icon by Annie Shaw  (see link :  http://www.annieshaw...ery_british.php  )  With British Saints in particular, despite the reformation, there are visual records in the form of old fresco (if you are very fortunate) or statues or stained glass all of which can point towards the sort of imagery which will be helpful in composing an icon.  

For a broader outlook, Aidan Hart has written extensively on this aspect. We have Tradition with a capital 'T' and tradition with a small 't'...i.e. there are aspects we cannot change and those which are regional and to do with style which can of course be different and reflect different artistic styles and preferences. 

 

http://thewayofbeaut...y-aidan-hart-2/

Painting an Icon of a Contemporary Saint, written by Aidan ...
I wrote a piece a while ago about the creation of an icon of a contemporary saint. I learnt about this from directly from my teacher Aidan Hart.

 

 

It is important to take a solid source from past Iconographers, hence generally Iconography must be taught through passing on in an apprenticeship form rather than through study alone. Generally the role of the Iconographer as a Christian fully participating in the life of the Church informs and sanctifies the work undertaken. 

 

So, to summarise, to compose a new icon, I would;

 

a) research the life and character of the saint 

b) see what visual images are available and together with written descriptions, make sure they are as true to the reality of the Saint as is possible 

 

In some cases it may be necessary to refer designs to a more experienced iconographer, particularly if it is a very different image from that found in past iconography."

 

I hope this helps.

 

Phoebe



#8 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,032 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 05:44 PM

I use the term Romophobia usually to refer to things that Orthodox people reject because they seem to be "Roman Catholic" influences, but are either fully Orthodox in content and origin, or are perfectly in line with Orthodox teaching, even if originating in the post-schism West.

 

The 'phobia' part of the word means 'fear' in Greek, hence my comment.



#9 Kosta

Kosta

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,517 posts

Posted 23 October 2015 - 07:53 PM

Thank you for the reponses!
 
 

 
I use the term Romophobia usually to refer to things that Orthodox people reject because they seem to be "Roman Catholic" influences, but are either fully Orthodox in content and origin, or are perfectly in line with Orthodox teaching, even if originating in the post-schism West.
 
 

 
But tradition is evolving and growing is it not? Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity as part of the Hospitality of Abraham was not part of our tradition until he painted it.
 
 
(will continue writing later)


of course it was. The OT trinity type of Abraham's hospitality is one of the most ancient icons. Its found in the catacombs.

#10 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,032 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 08:55 PM

St Andrei's 'Trinity' icon had precedents. It is an all-too-common assertion that his 'Trinity' icon was an innovation, but it was not. It followed a depiction by Theophan the Greek. But we have been there before.



#11 Kosta

Kosta

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,517 posts

Posted 23 October 2015 - 09:19 PM

I'm not even sure what the big deal is of St. Rublev's trinity icon. Its simplicity perhaps? Perhaps one needs an artistic eye to catch the fine details in its composition?

The 6th century Ravenna mosaics depicts Abraham's hospitality with the same three angels. Miniatures of this Icon even have it labeled as "ayia trias' since the 11th century. St Procopios in the 6th century even explains that in his day that Abraham's hospitality is interpreted in three ways, one of them as a type of the Trinity.

Edited by Kosta, 23 October 2015 - 09:21 PM.


#12 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 23 October 2015 - 11:42 PM

A caveat on some of the work of Aidan Hart and Annie Shaw:

 

Both have painted certain images which do not conform with Orthodox teaching, but can easily be mistaken for canonical icons. Annie Shaw's St Christopher is based on imagery which greatly post-dates the schism; Aidan Hart has painted a couple of "Holy Family" images, including one which is based on the Hospitality of Abraham/Holy Trinity composition. A very confused theological conflation.



#13 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,032 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 24 October 2015 - 12:34 AM

I'm not even sure what the big deal is of St. Rublev's trinity icon. Its simplicity perhaps? Perhaps one needs an artistic eye to catch the fine details in its composition?
 


On every level, the 'Trinity' icon of St Andrei is as deep and complex as it gets. Theologically, it works at the level it was supposed to, expressing the connection between the love among the Persons of the Holy Trinity and the love which should exist between men, a theme which was urgent at the time and which has universal application. Artistically, it is extremely complex and evinces the consummate genius of St Andrei even in the condition in which we now see it.



#14 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 24 October 2015 - 12:40 PM

A note on the Problematic Icons thread:

 

I have now completed the restoration of working links, lost in the changeover to the new forum format. It should now be much easier to follow that thread. :)



#15 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 October 2015 - 08:58 AM

 I've seen many iconographers argue against newly composed icons, yet I don't understand why they are rejected. I also would like to know what iconographic styles would be acceptable and molded into the existing tradition.

 

One "new" icon I've seen rejected by some is the following, which depicts the Theotokos & Elizabeth greeting one another, and depicted in their wombs are the Forerunner, and Christ, with the Forerunner bowing to Christ, and Christ giving the blessing:

http://www.orthodox....ith-fetuses.jpg

 

However, there seems to be a precedent for it, although the example is still probably only a hundred years old, if only a little bit older:

https://s-media-cach...b9e246bccc7.jpg

 

The second image is, if memory serves, a Cypriot fresco, and the only historic example I have come across of the Visitation which shows the unborn Christ and John the Baptist. The rarity of such a depiction cannot be accidental, just as the 12th-century Ustiug Annunciation, which shows the unborn Christ over His mother's body, seems to be the only historic example of showing the unborn Christ in this way.

 

2213-1-big.jpg

 

 

The first image linked is one painted by a Byzantine Catholic artist, specifically for use in anti-abortion campaigns. Artists who are not Orthodox are capable of painting icons which are, in their composition, acceptable for Orthodox veneration. What is completely unacceptable is the painting of icons with the purpose of the image serving a sociopolitical cause, irrespective of whether such a cause is "worthy".

 

There is also the Lament of Rachel, which is used by Orthodox pro-life organizations.
http://www.orthodox....t-of-rachel.jpg

 

See above. There is nothing wrong with the icon of Rachel's Lament, but it is a debasement of iconography for this, or any other icon, to be used as a tool for political activism.



#16 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,032 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 October 2015 - 09:20 AM

With regard to the icon shown above, we may note that, rare though it is, it does conform to patristic teaching inasmuch as it shows Christ fully formed and not as a zygote: Christ’s incarnation involved His development in His All-Holy Mother’s womb ‘not by procreation but by creation through the Holy Spirit: not developing the fashion of the body by gradual additions but perfecting it at once’ (St John of Damascus; St Basil the Great). Some may object that this distances Christ from human beings formed by post-Fall generation but Christ was the new Adam and Adam was created, not generated.


Edited by Reader Andreas, 26 October 2015 - 09:21 AM.


#17 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 27 October 2015 - 06:37 AM

Rdr Luke wrote:
 

 

I use the term Romophobia usually to refer to things that Orthodox people reject because they seem to be "Roman Catholic" influences, but are either fully Orthodox in content and origin, or are perfectly in line with Orthodox teaching, even if originating in the post-schism West.

 

On the matter of whether the Holy Family can be depicted iconographically, resembling the imagery seen in Roman Catholic and some other non-Orthodox denominations, the short answer is no. Such imagery is neither fully Orthodox in origin, nor is perfectly in line with Orthodox teaching. Indeed, such portrayals, though they have appeared in "iconographic" form in recent years, are simply copies of non-Orthodox art, largely painted in honest ignorance. The perpetuation of such "icons" has been helped along by non-Orthodox artists who have learned to paint in an iconographic style. Well-meaning Orthodox iconographers with rudimentary training can easily be swayed by such portrayals, and copy them, in good faith.

 

Here is the first post in a detailed analysis on how St Joseph should be portrayed in Orthodox icons. It is worth reading the entire thread, however.

 

Here is another example of an image which can easily be mistaken for an Orthodox icon, but which is unacceptable for Orthodox veneration:

 

img_8657635.jpg

 

This image is inscribed Fatimskaya (of Fatima), referring to the series of visions to three children in the Portuguese town of Fatima in 1917. The white-clad woman the children saw was holding rosary beads, hence their inclusion in this painting. The medallion, surrounded by a wreath of thorns, over the body of this Fatimskaya, bears the Slavonic word сердце/serdtse (heart). This is a direct reference to the words of the woman in one of the visions referring to the consecration of Russia to her immaculate heart, and the "conversion" of Russia.

 

None of this is at all part of Orthodox tradition or teaching. Moreover, there are also major errors in the composition which eliminate any possibility of it being suitable for veneration. The three stars of ever-virginity are absent from her forehead and shoulders, and she is shown gesturing to her symbolic heart, not to her Son and God. The way to salvation is through Him, not through her "immaculate heart".

 

The danger with such imagery is that it could find ground with unsuspecting Orthodox believers - at best, a misguided mistake, at
worst, a deliberate attempt to confuse the Orthodox and risk leading them astray from the teachings of the Church. Not every painting in an abstracted, non-realistic style is an icon.






0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users