Iconography Guide

Iconography in general PDF Print E-mail

Theology of colors

Someone poeticly said that the iconography is "theology of colors", which is really true. The purpose of the icon is to theologicaly represent character or some event from the Bible. This is very important for faithful people to teach them and help them to turn their mind and spirit to God.

st. Nicholaus

In theology it cannot be preached what is not part of a Divine revelation, and every event must be described properly, not as a theologian imagines it. So it is very important that the iconographer paint event or sacred character properly, too. Every picture speaks more than thousand words, so it is clear that iconographer, during painting icons, can not only rely on what is written in the Bible. If he do that, he will inevitably have to fantasize something what is not written, and therefore to present false event.

Everything can be more complicated when we want to convey the message or essence of an event, not only its historical dimension. To achieve the authenticity of icons, iconographer resorting to copying, or better said, looking on icons which are mostly paint a few centuries ago by iconographers inspired with God. On the one icon St. Luke is shown as painting icon of Virgin with the Christ, who stands in front of him, while behind him, the Angel tells him how to paint. St. iconographers were inspired by the Holy Spirit as the holy fathers were, and the Holy Spirit breathes with them through their works. All iconographers painted also as the holy fathers also wrote, testifying about the same Spirit that inspires them.

st. Lucas painting icon

Studying the language of icons today, we note that it is one special simbolic language, very specific, language which only gives possibility to properly paint the icon.

Middle Ages iconography

Iconography was created with the set up of the Church and his style is formed through the years. The highlight of the development of iconography was in medieval Byzantium. From Byzantium turned in Serbia and in the West (in Italy), especially in time of the Turks invasion. In Russia was a specific situation. There, before reception of Christianity, was not especially developed architecture and art. Russian medieval churches have not reached the success of the Byzantine and Serbian buildings. In Serbia and Macedonia  was a different situation, mainly due to the spatial vicinity of Romeas Byzantines. Today, the top iconography is iconography of the Eastern Romeas and Greeks, the so-called "Byzantine style''. Next to the icons, monuments of this sophisticated iconography art are wonderful frescoes. They are not only in Greece, they are also in Serbia and everywhere where the Greek and Romean masters painted. One of the most beautiful frescoes are in Ohrid, Macedonia.

st. Lucas painting

Iconography is passed from generation to generation, traditionally. It was studied, mainly in monasteries. There are groups, associations of iconographers, who worked together. They used natural materials and primitive tools. To prepare the board for painting, it had to be processed by the primitive tools, ax, chisel, and drawing knife, which required a huge effort. Making high-quality board was very expensive. Gold is also dealt in primitive way, but the process was much more easier. Gold is forged with hammer between some pieces of skin. The final gold paper was not thin as today's, so the gilding required significant investment. Gold is glazed with teeth of animals: wolves and dogs. Setting the substrate and painting was almost the same as today. Only getting the pigments were complicated. Iconographers used mostly natural pigments which were difficult to purify. Pigments were not completely cleaned of unwanted impurity, such as chalk and clay. Some of artificial pigments were known in ancient times, such as vermilion, lead white and (later) synthetic ultramarine. Some pigments were very expensive, such as lapis Lazur, intensive blue pigment that was more expensive than gold. Lacquers were also poor. Iconographers used oil lacquers, called olifa (in a later period) which became darker with time. In the early period lacquers were not used at all.

painting middleages studio

Today iconographers use quality lacquers and pigments. Although today use quality materials and accessories, during the painting, the artists are looking at masterpieces of the ancient iconographers. Because, although they had poor and primitive equipment, and poor materials, they were unique and phenomenal experts.

Modern iconography

For a renewal of iconography in our time, one of the most important man is Kongdulu priest, who recently worked on the restoration of Greek iconography. From Greece in middle 80's, this skill comes to us in Serbia and in 90's experienced a real boom in popularity along with the Byzantine church singing. Well-known iconography workshops in Serbia are: Decani Monastery, the monastery Zica, Kovilj monastery, the monastery Celije, workshop of nun from monastery Bođani (now in the Bishop's house in Novi Sad).

baroque icon

Modern iconography consist two directions: modernist and traditionalist. Traditionalist, and also the major direction, pleads for the constancy of style and rules, it is conservative, and keep the old templates, generally believing that any deviation from the traditions is regression and wrong. Unlike traditionalist, modernist direction is committed to the modernization of iconography, which should be, in their opinion, witness to the true faith in a modern way, with modern language, modern painting style and materials. Modernist icon by father Stamatis Skliris.The modernist conviction that technique and style should not be conservative, but on the contrary, it should be open to new ideas and directions in art, which would witness, always the same truth, in a new ways.

stamatis skliris icon

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Last Updated on Sunday, 28 February 2010 18:36

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Sabadoš and Milan Sibinski


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