Windows into Eternity
Mirrors to Mystery
Icons: Windows into Eternity - Mirrors to Mystery
by Marice Sariola
Icon is a painting that reflects the spiritual reality of a Holy Person. It is depicting the Iife of a Saint and will encourage spiritual reality beyond the material world in which we now live.
According to the Church tradition St Luke was the very first icon painter, who painted images of Our Lady and Jesus while they were still alive. There are several old icons depicting St Luke as an icon painter.
Another tradition tells about King Abgar, a contemporary to Christ, who wanted an image of him to be painted, when suffering from leprosy and wanting to be healed. He sent his archivist Hannan to paint a picture of Jesus, but he was blinded by the dazzling Iight coming from Christ, therefore no image could be painted. Jesus noticed Hannan's effort and asked for water to drink, dried his face with a piece of cloth, where the image of Jesus arose.
Third, maybe the most widely known story is about Veronica, the Sixth Station of the Cross, when encountering Jesus on the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, wipes the blood and sweat from his face with her veil. The miraculous image of Christ immediately appeared.
Icon painting is based on several antique painting styles in the Middle East already before Christianity; one of the oldest styles was painting the face masks of mummies in ancient Egypt. The painting reached its perfection thousands of years later in the Byzantine Empire. Now many revered motifs reflect golden era between 1000-1453.
Icon painting has several rules:
- Perspective is inverted, several focus points can be in the same composition
- Near objects are drawn smaller
- Colours do not reflect realism
- Value perspective is used in some cases where important persons are pictured larger than others
Many motifs were refined over centuries, when original compositions were time by time interpreted and developed further to produce harmonious images. The oldest icons scientifically can be dated to the 6th century. Their existence 1,500 years Iater is the testament to the painting technique used.
The paints are an egg tempera mixture of Iight resistant earth pigments and egg yolk. The painting is done on solid wood that has been covered with gauze fabric and then grounded with rabbit skin glue and chalk powder. The gold used is genuine gold leaf. The typical translucent look of icons is due to many thin layers of paint and the expression is amplified by varnishing the finished painting.
When the icon is made following the procedure just described, it also makes theological statement by the materials which it contains. The wooden panel reminds us of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. The layers which are applied symbolically re-assemble all of creation: chalk is ground rock, glue is from animals, cotton cloth represents plants, and all is combined with the life-giving water. The colours are the rocks and minerals of the earth, while the gold represents the metals. The artist represents the humanity. So when the icon is finished and blessed, we have the whole of creation once again in harmony with God as it was before the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
The icons can be based on older ones like this Holy Trinity, originally painted by Andrej Rublev in the 15th century, they are not copies but new creations of old motifs. However icon painting is a living art form and new icons are created by professional painters all the time. Here in Australia we have our first Saint Mary MacKillop.