Art, from time immemorial, has always been used by man to transcend his physical nature and express a vision of timelessness, metaphysics and, of course, the sacred. Just looking at the art history one can see that, through the ages, artists – from the most primal to the most sublime – have used art to express their beliefs, their god and the images relating to it.
Beyond this desire to “show God” is the icon. An icon, (from the Greek εικόνα eikona) “image”, is a representation of holy characters in the Christian tradition. Much more than a simple graphic representation, an icon has a profound theological meaning that distinguishes it from pious images. Indeed, in the tradition of the Eastern Christian Churches, the icon is object of veneration which has its own energy. It revives faith, protects the household; it favors the peace of the home, removes the enemy from the city.
The icon is completely integrated in Orthodox catechesis but also in that of the Eastern Catholic Churches which have preserved the tradition of the icon as well as in parts of the Western Catholic Church and in non-Chalcedonian churches. By becoming objects of veneration for the faithful, the icons were submitted, as early as the thirteenth century, by the Churches of the Pentarchy, to severe artistic constraints (stereotypical sources of inspiration, rigor of the line, games of colors). Until today, these canons have been perpetuated, ensuring the astonishing continuity of these paintings dedicated to the glory of God.
From the end of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine Empire, the cultural split between traditional Roman iconography and the more stylized approach of Eastern artists becomes striking in the representation of religious themes. Much more abstract and two-dimensional, the eastern vision uses very little modeling suggesting more essence than body; silhouettes slightly stretched, eyes larger than life – “windows of the soul”- , noses and narrow mouths. The dominated and immovable body expresses the universal, peace, eternity. Space, outside the terrestrial dimension, is represented by a solid color of gold, divine energy and light, or a blue dotted with stars.
This new plastic approach comes in parallel with the separation of the churches of Rome and Byzantium. The ideological and dogmatic quarrel that will come to create the Orthodox Church and the graphic representations inherent to each of the Christian factions will be radically redefined within the pictorial work proper to each facet of an altogether identical faith. Icons painted in mosaic, stone, enamel and metal, the art of the icon spread throughout the sphere of Byzantine influence, but far beyond, as evidenced by the Ethiopian production. Russia became one of the major centers of production, with the schools of Novgorod, Moscow and the famous one of Andrei Rublev, presenting a religious sensibility, a construction of pictorial space and new symbolic fields.
The themes of the icon are varied.
The icons are classified, in general, as follows:
Characters: Mary, Christ, apostles, martyrs, saints, angels…
Feasts commemorating episodes from the life of Christ (Nativity, Resurrection …), Mary (Entrance to the Temple, Annunciation …), the history of the Church (exaltation of the Cross, Councils of Nicaea …)
The historiated representations: scenes from the Old Testament, the miracles of Jesus, the lives of saints…
Theological representations: the path of the monk, the Last Judgment…
Calendar icons called Menaions or Menologes.
For the same saint, representations are also classified by themes. Thus, the Virgin is usually represented with Christ the child in her arms. However, we speak of “Virgin of Tenderness” if the cheek of mother and Christ are joined, of “Virgin who shows the Way” (Odigitria) if the mother designates Christ, of “Virgin of Kazan” if Christ seems to be standing beside her mother, the “Virgin of the sign” if the mother is praying (icon) (her hands raised as a sign of prayer), Christ appearing as a medallion “in her” (this last representation refers to the text of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin will be pregnant, she will give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel …” Es. 7.14). Each of these representations follows precise rules, the freedom of the iconographer being marked out to avoid departing from the teaching of the Church.
THE USE OF ICONS IN THE MODERN CONTEXT
In the orthodox confession, it is as important to worship the icon as to listen to the word or read the writings. Currently, Christians of Catholic faith are increasingly using the icon in the liturgy, without giving it the same richness as in the use of orthodox Christians. Today, this word sees its expanded meaning to refer to the sacred characters of any religion.
ANCA PATRU IN THE TRADITION OF ICONS
Anca Patru is a Quebec artist of Romanian origin who, for several years, has devoted her considerable talent to introduce this artistic approach not as widespread in the West.
A seasoned painter, she brings mastery of painting to an almost mystical vision of art.
The aura of mysticism and spirituality emanating from the small icons she creates can easily compete with the work of icon masters working in Eastern Europe and other countries in the Orthodox world.
Le Balcon d’art has long ago made a conscious effort to promote the work of this extraordinary artist and is proud to present an important collection of iconographic works produced by Anca.