Byzantine art and expressionism

The art of the byzantine icons’ painting , an art form that  was expressionism centuries (maybe a millennium) before expressionism /symbolism or surrealism ever even existed. Some of the characteristic elements of this painting “genre” that point towards this direction are:

-The main figure/ feature Enlightened being -The saint, the Saviour or the Holy Mother) is bigger that anything else in the icon
You can see saints in the background that are bigger than the ones in foreground- You can see Saints on horses that are equal in size with the animal. Proportions in general are based on priority that is a sort of unrealism: But then again, we we seek meaning

-The background too- it may be buildings (which are always distorted or proportionally wrong, rendered with  reverse or inverse perspective ) it may have rough mountains – but the main mentallity is that the background shows a distortion a lack of space or time. That is also why gold is used symbolizing enlightement, eternity, something infinite and eternal.


We speak by symbols. As we alter proportions in space we also alter facial features or body proportions in order to highlight a spiritual quality.
So that is why the ears are longer lips are thin, eyes are big, noses are way to long
and that is also why bodies are “bodiless” – There is no muscular tone, and certainly no curves 🙂
The body is just like a cloth of convenience that would soon be thrown away.
 
 Finally in byzantine painting we are speaking of , we are narrating (the first word in Greek for painting icons is historein which means sayng the history of) the story of another reality, one that is more real than this one we are living in.

 

God’s pauper – St Francis of Assisi

There is a book written by  Nikos Kazantzakis, a Cretan novelist, for St Francis of Assisi titled: “God’s pauper” that really influenced my view  Saint Francis. which I always wanted to paint in the Byzantine manner, plainly without the company of little birds or more complicated compositions, like I ve seen his representation in old frescoes and medieval paintings.

St Francis of Assisi – Contemporary byzantine icon

One of my favourite quotes in the book is the following : “….One day, Saint Francis saw an almond tree in the middle of winter. So Saint Francis told him: “Brother almond tree, talk to me about God”.And all of a sudden, the almond tree became covered with flowers….(source http://fresques.ina.fr/)

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Coincidence and custom ordering

A custom order for two byzantine icons of Saints Euphrosyne of Alexandria and St Theodora, the Holy Empress

The Byzantine icons of Sts Theodora and Euphrosene

There is also a connection between them that I considered  a nice coincidence and  a good “omen” for this commission: the Holy Empress when retired chose the monastic life for the 8 final years of her life, in the Monastery of St Eufrosyni in Constantinople.

“Athivolo” Drawing

Sometimes icons seem to “choose” one another!

 

Saint Menas day and the Cathedral on his name

Today, 11/11 is a great feast- The day of our city’s patron St Menas!
Here are some of the wonderful frescoes that glorify his Cathedral – a sample of a living, vibrant tradition of byzantine iconography right in the Center of my town, Heraklion.



The dome with the Image of the Christ Pantocrator (IC XC ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡ) overseeing everything


View on the Iconostasis, on the top scenes from the Passions of Christ



A fresco of the Theotokos

Saint Menas of Egypt, riding his horse and his life of many Miracles

 
Note: The images are found on the web and are not my property- Nevertheless,  would love to have permission to share and give  the due credit to their owners.

For Eudocia, connecting civilizations and haunting Greek psyche with a song

Aelia Eudocia Augusta, in an archaic sort of movement. Like a Cycladic idol,

Saint Eudocia
Saint Eudocia by Angelicon

 like praying . Painted with black and brown egg tempera on a background made of silver  leaves and pieces of silver and copper gold leaves, like a collage.

Saint Eudocia is representative of what Byzantium was: An amalgam of Greco/Roman civilization and of Christianity. 

St Eudocia
Another version of St Eudocia with golden colored background.

The icon is inspired by a colored stone inlay  that originally comes from Lips monastery  in Constantinople and dates  in the 10th-11 th century,
now found in the Archeological museum of the city. (view original work)

The first thing someone notices about this painting is the way the hands are open up in the air, like dancing There are some (magical) moments in life, that  praying and dancing come together in one- at least for us Greeks; And the name Eudocia (Evdokia) has “haunted” the Greek soul for decades, connected with a famous solitary, manly dance and a music piece that is named  after her: “The Zeibekiko of Evdokia” composed by Manos Loizos in the movie of Alexis Damianos.

Dedicated to all Eudocia’s on their name day, dedicated to you all!

The world of St Gregory the Theologian, byzantine book art

I find medieval art, and most of all the paintings found in old manuscripts, fascinating- After all, they are miniatures in paper created with a great amount of detail and craftsmanship.

St Gregory the Theologian

I ve imitated a representation such as this from an old byzantine manuscript,  using a hard white cardboard specially treated with glue and gesso to be hard and steady in order to be able to hang on the wall.

The icon represents the world of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, with Christ the Savior and Mother Mary. St Gregory’s life’s work was tremendous and cannot praised better that in the hymns of the Church – I quote here the translation of his Apolytikion from orthodxwiki.org:

The Saint is otherwise known as St Gregory of Nazianzus

“…The pastoral flute of your theology conquered the trumpets of orators.
For it called upon the depths of the Spirit
and you were enriched with the beauty of words.
Intercede to Christ our God,
O Father Gregory, that our souls may be saved…”

Saint George and the Hero’s journey in the land of Cappadocia

I always liked this theme, with St George drawn in this vivid red, other- worldly background. It coincides better with this story coming from another time. I used this portable wooden triptych as the stage where the curtain opens and the story almost as a romantic tale unfolds.

Triptych icon of Saint George han painted with egg tempera in a vivid red background

Saint George is slaying the dragon and saving the princess.- One of the many stories concerning the life of the Saint, maybe the most known on the West with origins that can be traced back to the romantic ages with knights and princesses.

And maybe older than that. Roots that are found, in the holy land of Cappadocia in Asia Minor, where the Saint has lived. A land of myths and legends, still echoing the stories of of byzantine saints and ancient Heroes.

St George on his white horse, with his golden halo surrounding his young face slaying the dragon with the help of God.

Cappadocia, filled with symbols and archetypical images to be found deep into the collective subconscious, where stories about the “Hero” and the “Hero’s” journey still flourish and continue to move us.

St. John Rigologos- an Ai Yiannis that brings you the chills…

The last big feast of the Greek Church year comes on August 29th. It is the feast of  “Ai Yiannis o Rigologos” that can be loosely translated as St John that brings tremors or maybe the chills.

The day of the Beheading of the Saint, where a strict fast is observed; People do not eat anything related to blood (no black red grapes and red figs  of the season), anything touched by a knife (bread is cut by hands ) – otherwise they will disrespect the name of the the Saint , and have tremors instead (an orthodox Greek nemesis).

Strangely this was connected with outbreaks of malaria fever and the Saint was believed to assist and relief people from this disease.



St Jonh the baptist
Holy byzantine icon of Saint John, egg tempera on wood 7″ x 5″ (18cm x 13cm)

There is a very old custom in a village in South Crete (a beautiful place named Viannos) – The person that is sick should visit the church of the Saint, pray on the Saint’s icon, light the candles, fragrance the whole place with censer and then tie a thread (from his clothes or his handkerchief) on the church candles and pray:

Here I lay to you, Ai Yanni, my fever
Here I lay to you, Ai Yanni, my tremor
Here I lay to you, Ai Yanni , my anorexia and my disease
He /she will then “round’ the church three times with the tread, repeating these words, and then the skinny Saint, the “Angel on earth” will listen to his/hers prayers and give his/her health back again

Baking a Pie in a Saint’s name- Greek Fanourios pie or "Fanouropitta"

Recipe’s are not my “strong” spot but this one is prepared in the name of, Saint Fanourios. A beloved saint that has been revered by Greeks (much more than many others more “important”saints) for centuries. As his name indicates, St. Fanourios (from “fainein” to make seen, to reveal)  is an expert – in making  things obvious, in revealing things, or persons that are lost.- So when requesting his assistance you promise to bake his pie and bring it to his church as an offering.



An icon of St. fanourios by angelicon
Saint Fanourios in a pink Background, egg tempera in wood (13cm x 10cm)

Each year the faithful compete each other by baking the most delicious “fanouropita” that is basically made by 9 ingredients, in the eve of his name day (August 27th). The priest blesses the cakes (maybe hundreds of them) that are gathered in the church and everybody returns home with 3 or maybe 4,  varieties of this delicious desert.

I translated the traditional recipe form the excellent book of Maria and Nikos Psilakis; “Traditional Cretan cuisine- the miracle of Cretan Diet” and here it is:

 


A priest on the Saint's day blessing his pie
The priest blessing the Saint’s pie,
in front of his icon

Fanouropita

1 glass of olive oil
1 glass of sugar
1 glass of orange juice
1 spoonful (soup) of raki or cognac
Half a glass of nuts
1 apple or pear in cubes
1 spoonful cinnamon and one of clover in powder
1 spoonful baking powder, 1 teaspoon of soda (powder)
Half a glass of raisins
Flour “as much as it can get” (the mixture should be thick, not too fluid)
We mix oil with sugar and add the baking powder (which is dissolved inside the cognac), soda (which is dissolved inside the orange juice), cinnamon and clover, raisins, fruits, nuts and finally flour

We mix very well and empty the mixture in a well “oiled” baking pan. We put sesame (that is slightly roasted in a pan) on top and bake in a medium oven for an hour approx.

Even if not near a church, we dedicate the pie to the saints name!



Note: The final Picture comes from the book Traditional Cretan cuisine- the miracle of Cretan Diet”- of Maria and NikosPsilakis

Saint Lucy, Brown hair could never obscure her light- Creation process

Starting with an order, I see each of my artifacts as the beginning of a “discussion” with my media. The end result -either satisfactory, or not- is always a lesson learned and an opportunity; to communicate my feelings of worship


Adding shellac

The wooden panel is covered in a mixture of gesso, and the first sketch, is drawn by pencil. A thin layer of dark shellac prepared the surface for the application of glue and Lucia is covered in copper gold leaves- as it is used in byzantine icons where shapes seem to float inside the golden light.

Copper gold added, colorings

Then, the first layer is applied were the medium tones of clothes are produced, the color of the flesh same as the soil; a symbolism of her human nature.


Medium tomes, first “light” on flesh

Afterwards, we gradually step from darker to lighter tones adding extra light, moving from shadows to the light. From ignorance to enlightenment- from earth to heaven- Outlines and dark lines are added as a guide for the addition of more light on clothes. Light on hair, still another layer of flesh , lighter this time, as if light is the material that creates the face.

Out lines

Ultimately, more light will be added, but it does’ nt comes from a certain point of view or a light source, – The light should emanate from within, the figure is bathed in it. The Human made out of soil, becomes a radiant Saint and the flesh unites with light, its source.

A radiant saint Lucy