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Author Topic: Painting white garments
daniel
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You know, I have heard that about black in an icon, too. But icons of Orthodox monks have them in black robes, because, well, they wear black. I had to decide about this when commissioned recently to paint an icon of a Roman Catholic blessed, who was a lay brother in a religious order who wore a black cassock...

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daniel

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Theron
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Seems to me that if you write icons canonically and according to tradition, you pick up a lot of symbolism whether you realize it or not. Sort of like painting a portrait of a soldier in formal uniform. You may not understand the symbolism of the ribbons and badges, but it's there.

So, for example, many icons of Saint George the Dragonslayer show the face of the sun god on his shield. Christ and angels wear the sash on their shoulders that was worn by Roman and Byzantine upper class and nobility.

Same is true for some colors in some situations. There is definitely some universal color symbolism in icons. Blue and earth red for Jesus's robes, red and blue or just blue for the Theotokas's robes.

I've been told more than once from different sources that a predominant color of black or gray is only used to represent evil. Hence dragons emerge from black caves. But then of course, the raven in icons of the Prophet Elijah is black because all ravens, heavenly or not are black.

Some colors vary by school or tradition. The iconographers of the Novgorod School sure do like red backgrounds. Since red in Russian culture represents "beautiful" among other things, this is not surprising. Now whether red in Novgorod represents "the blood of Christ" or "the fiery love of God", I don't know. Perhaps each at different times or for different writers, or perhaps both.

Some color traditions are hard to track down for their symbolism. Blue wings on angels for example. Some one at some time had a reson for painting angel wings blue. And when not blue, two distinct brown colors. The interpretation I was given is that angels have different sets of wings for flying in the heavenly and earthly realms. Blue wings represent the heavenly set.

But it seems to me that whatever symbology doesn't conflict with canon, the teachings of the church, and Christian theology, and which strengthens personal faith serves the purpose of an icon. I had one woman tell me that the ribbons fluttering on each side of the Archangel Michael's head were antennas so he could be in constant contact with God. Who am I to insist that it's just headband ribbons fluttering to symbolize the dynamic motion of the angel?


quote:
Originally posted by Theron:
quote:
Originally posted by Tom:
A while back, when Iconofile was relatively new, a fellow posted an article on "symbolism" of iconography especially pertaining to egg tempera icons. He went on about the board representing the wood of the cross and the cloth was the shroud and yada, yada. I thought about this a long time. Who comes up with this stuff?

It still seems that a lot of later day attributes are assigned to features of icons that merely happened out of necessity. Egg tempera works because someone must have noticed that dried egg does not easily wash off the breakfast plates, not because the egg represents the ressurection. and placing braces on boards keeps them from cracking and warping while the linen gives it a steady ground to paint and holds the board together. The don't represet the pieces of the cross and the burial shroud. It was practical. So can probably assume the product came first, the over wrought meaning came second.

Where does one begin to figure out what is real and what is nothing but Hallmark sentimentality when attributes are assigned to icons that have no basis in reality.

In my younger days it was not uncommon to read a review of a show I might have been lucky enough to get in and have the reviewer assign some deep meaning to my work that I had no idea I was thinking that hard (or at all for that matter)

To be honest with you all, the last time a figure in my icon stepped slightly out of the frame was because I was too lazy to redraw it the right size and keep it within its border. No mystery there and no thoughts on grace extending to the world.

I don't see a lot of icons that breach the ordinary in all my travels and hundreds of Orthodox churches I get to visit.

So I am still wondering, is this for real?



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Theron
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quote:
Originally posted by Tom:
A while back, when Iconofile was relatively new, a fellow posted an article on "symbolism" of iconography especially pertaining to egg tempera icons. He went on about the board representing the wood of the cross and the cloth was the shroud and yada, yada. I thought about this a long time. Who comes up with this stuff?

It still seems that a lot of later day attributes are assigned to features of icons that merely happened out of necessity. Egg tempera works because someone must have noticed that dried egg does not easily wash off the breakfast plates, not because the egg represents the ressurection. and placing braces on boards keeps them from cracking and warping while the linen gives it a steady ground to paint and holds the board together. The don't represet the pieces of the cross and the burial shroud. It was practical. So can probably assume the product came first, the over wrought meaning came second.

Where does one begin to figure out what is real and what is nothing but Hallmark sentimentality when attributes are assigned to icons that have no basis in reality.

In my younger days it was not uncommon to read a review of a show I might have been lucky enough to get in and have the reviewer assign some deep meaning to my work that I had no idea I was thinking that hard (or at all for that matter)

To be honest with you all, the last time a figure in my icon stepped slightly out of the frame was because I was too lazy to redraw it the right size and keep it within its border. No mystery there and no thoughts on grace extending to the world.

I don't see a lot of icons that breach the ordinary in all my travels and hundreds of Orthodox churches I get to visit.

So I am still wondering, is this for real?


Posts: 144 | From: Alexandria, Virginia | Registered: May 2004  |  IP: Logged
Theron
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The students and at least some of the associates of Phil Zimmerman are of the "extension beyond the border school." In two workshops I have used two of his cartoons, the Archangel Michael and the Prophet Elijah. The Elijah icon has both of Elijah's feet and the raven feeding him extending beyond the inner border. The Archangel Michael has both his wings and his sleeve extending beyond the border.

Peter Pearson, who also studied with Phil Zimmerman shows many of his subjects extending beyond the inner border.

At its very basic roots, the practice seems to me to be a canonical attempt to add dimensionality to an otherwise flat, two-dimensional perspective.

quote:
Originally posted by daniel:
Jill: I am happy to report that for once we are in complete agreement regarding the regretful metal icon covers...

I googled the image of St Elias, and of the many that turned up, only one had his foot extended beyond the border, like in the pattern my teacher gave me, and which his teacher, Phil Zimmerman, gave him.

I looked through my books last night, and about half of the portrait style icons had the halo extended beyond the border, and very few figures extended beyond. And it seems more common among the Slavic iconographers, who at any rate I prefer. There does not seem to be any strong traditon one way or the other. I find it pleasing to the eye, and I like the symbolism I was taught...


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daniel
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Yeah, I don't know.
I know there are various schools of iconography and they do things differently, and each has its "mystical" explanation for them.
I have often thought the same, that the symbolism follows the function. But that doesn't mean there is nothing to it.
And like I said, it is pleasing to the eye. Someone may object to this, saying that it is mere aesthetics, or personal expression, but the iconographer, whenever he picks up the brush, makes aesthetic choices. Do I paint in the opaque Greek manner, or the more transluscent Russian style? Should I paint Christ's outer garment sky blue, or a more somber tone? Should the Mother of God's robes be toward the red end of the spectrum or the purple? Should I use bold colors or more muted tones?
It really does come down to what pleases the eye, which is very subjective.
Icons in which the figure extends outside the border simply appear more dynamic to me, and that matches the symbolic explanation I was taught.

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daniel

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Tom
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A while back, when Iconofile was relatively new, a fellow posted an article on "symbolism" of iconography especially pertaining to egg tempera icons. He went on about the board representing the wood of the cross and the cloth was the shroud and yada, yada. I thought about this a long time. Who comes up with this stuff?

It still seems that a lot of later day attributes are assigned to features of icons that merely happened out of necessity. Egg tempera works because someone must have noticed that dried egg does not easily wash off the breakfast plates, not because the egg represents the ressurection. and placing braces on boards keeps them from cracking and warping while the linen gives it a steady ground to paint and holds the board together. The don't represet the pieces of the cross and the burial shroud. It was practical. So can probably assume the product came first, the over wrought meaning came second.

Where does one begin to figure out what is real and what is nothing but Hallmark sentimentality when attributes are assigned to icons that have no basis in reality.

In my younger days it was not uncommon to read a review of a show I might have been lucky enough to get in and have the reviewer assign some deep meaning to my work that I had no idea I was thinking that hard (or at all for that matter)

To be honest with you all, the last time a figure in my icon stepped slightly out of the frame was because I was too lazy to redraw it the right size and keep it within its border. No mystery there and no thoughts on grace extending to the world.

I don't see a lot of icons that breach the ordinary in all my travels and hundreds of Orthodox churches I get to visit.

So I am still wondering, is this for real?

--------------------
Tom

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daniel
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Jill: I am happy to report that for once we are in complete agreement regarding the regretful metal icon covers...

I googled the image of St Elias, and of the many that turned up, only one had his foot extended beyond the border, like in the pattern my teacher gave me, and which his teacher, Phil Zimmerman, gave him.

I looked through my books last night, and about half of the portrait style icons had the halo extended beyond the border, and very few figures extended beyond. And it seems more common among the Slavic iconographers, who at any rate I prefer. There does not seem to be any strong traditon one way or the other. I find it pleasing to the eye, and I like the symbolism I was taught...

--------------------
daniel

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Jill
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quote:
Originally posted by Tom:
Interesting. That icon was behind an oklad or cover made of chased silver originally so the actual "frame" is missing. I don't know much about covered icons. I wonder if they were painted to fit the frame or the frame was fit to the finished work. Is there anyhting else out there?

Icons which have had an oklad/riza/poukamison cladding are easily spotted. Just look for the puncture marks on the surface of the uncovered icon. Sometimes only the halo in pressed or wrought metal was attached, and there is quite some variation in how much of the icon showed through the metal cover; anything from only hands and faces, to only the background being covered, leaving the figure of the saint fully visible, to only a metal halo being present. Even the incomparable Holy Trinity icon painted by St Andrei of Radonezh (Andrei Rublyev) once had an oklad retrofitted to it [Eek!] . The holes are still clearly visible in this icon.

Of course, many icons were painted "as is", then, as with countless icons of the Mother of God, or of saints of particularly strong local veneration, and even the Holy Trinity mentioned above, were later given covers, often greatly encrusted with jewels, as a gesture of piety. (Sadly, this gesture is misguided, as such covers often obscure an icon's composition to such an extent, that much of the theological meaning of the icon is lost. But I digress ...)

On the other hand, many icons were painted which were clearly commissioned with the intention of an oklad being placed on them after their painted completion. One that immediately comes to mind is the famous icon of the Stroganov school of Sts Dimitri and Roman of Uglich. The artistic workmanship in the figures of the saints, and of the motif of the Mother of God of the Sign on the upper border are exquisite. But the background is a completely plain, dun-coloured monochrome. The puncture holes are still clearly visible in the icon now that the oklad has been removed.

The third category of covered icons painted with covering in mind are the mass-produced ones where a template was placed over the icon board, and only the hands and faces of the subject of the icon were painted. These, sadly, can only be regarded as "cheap and nasty", as they have no resemblance to proper icons (even so-called "school" icons which were produced en masse but at least were complete paintings).

What to make of the Novgorodian St George? The plain vermilion background was characteristic of many icons from this region in the 12th-14th C, as was the distinctive sage green of the Pskov school. However, I suspect the icon came first, then followed quite some time later by the oklad.

I might also add that the practice of elements of an icon (even if only the halo) extending past the border is practically absent from Greek iconography, and in Slavic iconography, where it is a little more frequent, it is very much confined to the halo, and not to other elements of the icon. Sure, there are a small number of icons whose elements step minimally over the border, but these are still quite uncommon compared to the very great numbers of icons where the elements are completely confined within the border.

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daniel
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I am a pretty low tech guy, and don't know how to link to an image, but the icon of St Elias is the one where he is sitting at the entrance of a cave, with the raven bringing him bread...
Where did you hear that that icon of St George was originally covered with silver? I thought the silver covers came later; this icon is, if I am not mistaken, late medieval.
And like I said, if it is good enough for Ouspensky...

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daniel

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Tom
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Interesting. That icon was behind an oklad or cover made of chased silver originally so the actual "frame" is missing. I don't know much about covered icons. I wonder if they were painted to fit the frame or the frame was fit to the finished work. Is there anyhting else out there?

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Tom

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John_Curran
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Here's a link to an early icon of St. George, he and horse escaping the border...

http://www.abcgallery.com/I/icons/icons19.html

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Tom
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Which icons of St. George and Elias? Do you have a link?

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Tom

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daniel
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I'm sorry, but my memory failed me; this icon is a couple of years old. I looked it up and while the figure is copied from Father Gregory's icon of St Seraphim, his did not "escape" the frame, which would have been impossible anyway, as it is painted within a stone arch.
I looked through my books last night, though, and there are lots of icons in which the figure breaks through the "frame". Not often in "portrait" icons, where it is compositionally awkward (though I own an icon of St Anthony the Great by an Orthodox iconographer where his hand reaches outside the frame) but often, as in my St Seraphim, when the saint is portrayed full-bodied. The icons of St George and St Elias have already been noted. There are even festal icons where figures are not contained by the border.
I also found one of St Silouan the Athonite, by Leonid Ouspensky, very similar to my St Seraphim, but not portrayed with a full figure. Hey, if it's good enough for Ouspensky it's good enough for me.
I mentioned that I was taught that this represents grace breaking into the world, the frame representing this world. I realize this is not universal, that there are lots of icons where not even the halo extends outside the interior of the icon. Different schools present different explanations of the symbolism of the content of the icon and of the process of creating it. Sometimes they contradict one another- I'm sure we have all seen conflicting explanations of color symbolism, for example...

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daniel

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daniel
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Jill- As the icon in question is a copy of one by Father Gregory Kreug, considered by most to be a master, I don't think I did anything wrong. There are other icons where the figure is partly out of the frame, the one of St Elias in the desert coming immediately to mind.

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daniel

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John_Curran
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But, isn't the border itself optional?

Not so much a frame, but a suggestion of the seperation between the holy and the profane?

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