Icons

Catholic News Service has published a feature on a contemporary iconographer, Veronica Royal. Raised in the Ukranian Catholic Church, Royal grew up with a rich tradition of icons, and is now producing them and teaching others how to do so.

“The Holy Spirit speaks to us through sacred art and allows us to gain an understanding of the subject’s experiences in the Christian journey that we are all undertaking,” Royal said in an interview.

“St. Damascene calls icons ‘Scripture in paint,'” she continued. “I like that because it suggests the process of visualizing what we know from the Bible or the lives of saints and bringing these experiences to a personal level through prayer.”

She is often commissioned to depict some of the lesser-known saints of the Catholic tradition, such as St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the article noted.

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4 comments

  1. The early “iconography” or art of the Church consisted of beautiful and often symbolic representations of Our Lord, Our Lady and the Saints painted on walls or on pieces of board. While the depictions in catacombs and churches are well preserved, few of the very early “Icons” on wooden boards survive before the start of the second millennium. However, by this time, a sacred tradition had developed so that stylised images were reproduced of earlier depiction, now often destroyed or lost. An artist, often a monk, would prepare himself with fasting and prayer before taking on the solemn portrayal of his holy devotion. The resulting image or icon would be blessed and revered as a spiritual depiction of the holy.
    While most icons have their origin in the East, we should remember that they date from the time when the whole of Christendom was eastern in character, before the growth of the western, Roman, Church. Hence the writing on these images is usually in Greek or Cyrillic script. We have four reproductions of icons in the sanctuary of our small village church here in the UK. These represent the three angelic visitors to Abraham (the Old Testament Trinity), The Prophet Isaiah, St. John the Baptist and Our Lady.

  2. Icons have quite a long history (no news to anyone here) which has yielded a variety of styles and influences. Those that remain more or less pure or true to the artistic and typological bearings of their nascent periods are the most Iconic, embodying all that an icon has to tell the viewer. Some periods of icons incorporated Persian and Indian elements, not to mention the more ‘humanly’ elements of western art. This was a net loss to the icon as icon. Pretty pictures (read western art, whether ‘painted’ or ‘written’) are not resplendent with that mystique and spiritual power that makes an icon and icon: An icon that speaks from beyond and communicates from beyond. It takes more than a pretty picture to do this, even if the pretty picture is a masterpiece. To the degree that a would-be icon departs from the artistic and formal conventions which for centuries have made the writing of icons the unique and profound presence and messenger from beyond that it is, the icon ceases to be an icon. (Rather: it doesn’t cease to be one: it never was one.)

    I often think of fine sacred music as phonic icons, audible icons, icons in sound, sonic icons: a number of terms to express the reality that there is, often something iconic in the best of our heritage of sacred music. One might think immediately of a given Palestrina motet or mass, or, converesly, of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G-minor. This would be music (the art of ordering sound) that sui generis teaches some spiritual truth or understanding in a manner not unlike that of an icon. (I think that I shall stop here: there are, no doubt, others who could write more eruditely than can I on these matters.)

  3. As a Western Christian, I find icons beautiful but I have a hard time understanding why they should be regarded as “more holy” than religious art from the West. I know it’s the Eastern tradition to venerate icons, and I fully respect it, I just don’t feel the religious “superiority” of icons to be as self-evident or compellingly obvious as others seem to find it. Can anyone help me out?

    When I am in the presence of great religious art of the West I’ve had profoundly religious experiences. I have been moved to awe at the incarnation and redemption; I’ve experienced the grace of healing, and a quickening of faith and hope. I can contemplate religious works for hours, not merely to admire their formal virtues but because they open up the divine mysteries. Is this less holy somehow?

  4. Rita’s point about Western Religious art and Eastern icons is an important one. Although much of the religigous art of the West was originally made for church installation, I personally find it too flowery and decorative to stir
    my senses, other than to recognise that here before us is a fine picture, made with great care and skill.
    An icon however has a sparseness that takes us beyond the figurative image and offers a stilness for our contemplation that is of an altogether different order. Just a personal view.

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