Embracing, Saints Joachim and Anna

A heart -shaped slice of birch wood-  and the haloes of Sts Joachim and Anne merged as to form an actual heart after their embrace.
A very pious couple and a couple that loved each other dearly for many – many years. Our sources (mostly the Protoevangellion of James, a text that belongs in the Apocrypha ) tell us that both were especially tormented for being childless so,  St Anna at the news that she was with child: “…saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck…”

That is exactly the moment that this icon pictures, being a study from an older work made by an unknown master from of the 16th century, found in Sofia.

The use of a very bold, almost “explosive” red on the garments of Hannah, and the lines of the painting were ideal  in communicating  all this unexpected joy, all this energy gathered after countless years of longing and show it in this icon.

Mikael Sjælevejeren- or a Danish Soul "weigher"

Archangel Michael holding a scale, taken by the most beautiful Danish fresco painting of “Mikael Sjælevejeren” found in Højby Kirke in Denmark. A combination of Northern european, medieval painting with a modern eye.


St Michael religious icon mixed technique on wood

After 3-4 weeks of wondering how am I going to paint temptation in St Michael’s kalkmaleri- yesterday I decided to skip the question all-together and just focus on what I know how to paint.

And then the rest was pretty easy cause I ve painted a miniature (less risk) – and then to compete with the very impressive feathers of the original I decided to use gold, then the highlights were certainly golden, and the colours were already found (from your welcoming committee) etc, etc

The icon has the proportions to be fitted in a 8×10 icon favor (as you can see in the final pic)

 

Sts Martha and mary; Theory and practice needed to tame the Dragon

A custom order that turned out as an ideal metaphor, combining two concepts that have long occupied theologists and philosophers on the Christian world Vitta attiva and Vita contemplativa, theory and practice – Sts Martha and Mary and the legend of their life in  France (you may read a previous post related to this Saints Mary and Martha in the Legends of Provence)

Saints Martha and Mary taming the mighty dragon of Tarascon

First my background, I almost used perspective in the sky and the mountains behind, there are some lines that indicate movement in the clouds- the same was my choice for the river ( I never knew about river Rhone, lucky choice) I played with the notion of something ominous in the background (like Leonardo Da Vinci 🙂 I know…I am becoming delusional right now) , something unsettling, and contrast with the sisters that have postures that are tall but relaxed. They are tender in their movements and totally serene.

The background has also something “vague” – There is no real detail in it, there is nothing solid- The detail is focused in the sisters- the background is like a mirage (my version of maya) – the sisters are the only thing that is true (with the white “light” line around them that I so much like in frescoes)

In icons, usually the Saints are looking at the viewer but not always…. I played with the ideal of combining theory with practice -so Martha and Maria are looking at each other discreetly- They are connected with each other even from a distance and that is the ideal for theory and practice.

Byzantine icon with the sisters of Lazarus- Egg tempera on wood

 

The Myrrhbearer or a contemporary painting of a Myrrh-bearing woman

Contemporary icon of the Myrrh-bearing woman

I consider female saints an essential part of my work, a theme that I very much like working on and exploring their imaging. In orthodox tradition there is a basic core of 7 women  that are called the Myrrh-bearers. The Myrrh-bearing women (Sts Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary of Klopas, Ioanna, Salome Susanna and many more)  were following and were disciples of the Lord, and stood by His side all times, in situations of peril even when all others have abandoned every effort and hope.

The “Myroforos” egg tempera on wood

 This icon of the “Myroforos”was an opportunity for me for an experimentation that I hope it paid out. So I drew inspiration from personal images and created this “saint” with modern clothes and a sober grey background, the background of the crucifixion.

A painting of a young woman, not knowing with her head, only with her heart, loving and not knowing, walking to the grave of the Lord in the darkest night.

The icon was hand painted, with several layers of egg tempera, on a canvas that was wrinkled attached on a wooden panel, and then covered on edges with a special plant dye that gives the icon an antique patina. Finally the icon was sealed with traditional wax varnish (or keronefto in Greek made with turpentine and wax) something that makes the light colours even more brighter

Versions of St Mary Magdalene

 

A look of compassion – Saint Dymphna of Gheel

Saint Dymphna religious icon

When applying color -in our technique- you actually get a certain number of “opportunities” to actually intervene in the facial expression- I usually tend to avoid pronounced or easily identifiable expressions in my icons (for several reasons), but some works seem to take a course of their own like in the case of Saint Dymphna of Gheel, the patron saint of people with mental ailments

In every color layer this delicate”sadness” of a Saint, bathed in light was evident. Sainthood is a “phenomenon” that I cannot actually comprehend (maybe that is why I chose this painting genre, so I could maybe catch a glimpse of this experience) but this was a quality I could somehow relate with- explaining it as empathy, compassion and unconditional love.

 
Looking again at the work, I am glad for the course it took.

Saint Mary and St Martha- Legends of Provence

It is believed that later in life Sts Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus- reached the shores of Provence, where they lived until the end of their lives.

Sts Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus
Saint Mary the Hermit

They stood true to what they always represented [(Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42]


Martha represented practice- Mary was theory- Martha was Vita Attiva and Mary Vita Contemplativa- Two life’s examples that influenced Christianity for the centuries to come- A perennial dilemma for the spiritual man, a theme of an actual and philosophical debate that lasted for centuries.




St Martha of Tarascon

Saint Mary chose the life of a hermit in  Sainte Baume – while saint Martha established and led a religious community in Tarascon. There are a whole series of legends in this regions connected with the two sisters and the mighty dragon of Tarascon and how they two have help people to be free of that menace.

The two  saints are pictured at this stage of life- St Mary dressed as a hermit, holding the cross with the inscription Sainte Baume (liberally translated in Greek as holy balm) and Martha as a religious leader holding some leaves of basil to sprinkle holy water onto  the faithful.

Martha and Mary of Bethany in their later life

 

Fearless- St Marina humbling evil

It is a rare event to see such fierce female Saint in icons- St Marina is at times (after a very popular legend) depicted with a hammer fearless and serene beating evil to the ground, humiliating him.

St Marina with the hammer beating the devil

A very popular Saint where in my region (in the Monastery in the village of Vonni, in Crete a great panygyri (religious feast)  is held for three days (15, 16 and 17 July in her day) and people from all over Crete are reaching there in a pilgrimage by foot. You may learn more about the monastery and the pilgrimage in : http://orthodoxcrete.com/en/places/monastery-of-st-marina-boni/

St Margaret of Antioch

 

There is no absolute black (only absence of light)- St Theodosia of Constantinople

Saint Theodosia Contemporary byzantine art

I only found it natural to photograph Saint Theodosia of Constantinople under a wild vineyard. There is something fierce -if I am allowed to say- a bit unexpected in the nature of this female Saint. The colours used (to my delight) are mostly black and red (for the ladder). Since there is no absolute black (only absence of light) , the colour was mixed with cinnabar red, white and cerulium turqoise to create a mauvish, discreet highlight in her nun’s garments. 

Additionally I was intrigued by the fact, that in the prototype I ‘ve used for my drawing (a much older representation of an unknown painter) the eyes of the Saint are much alike the eyes of the Pantokrator – a quality that I noticed for the first time in a female Saint but I can clearly see the justification for St Theodosia, a woman brave enough to fight the iconoclasts as in the mini icon study of Her



Fighting iconoclasts

The egg tempera was applied in layers and on top of them shellac (goma laca) and a final layer of “keronefto” a mixture of wax and turpentine (wax varnish) is to be used to permanently seal the colours.

As tradition demands a full “sensory” experience while participating in the worship -Keronefto is meant to invoke the sense of smell apart from the other more obvious senses of sight and touch- and open the a “wider” way to the awakening of the heart- the communion with the saints that icons are meant to provide.

Like in old churches- custom made for a baptism favor

Was asked to a baptism favor with Sts Luke and Zoe, but on how to – I  always revert to iconography tradition in order to find an answer to my questions- The initial background, to have these Saints together, in an icon, came from frescoes in Greek orthodox Churches where- you can see -Saints and even the sponsors/founders of the Church (Ktitor) standing side by side. Then images of the glass stained windows came to mind and then everything fell into place.

St Lucas and St Zoe

It turned out to be Saint Luke the Evangelist and St Zoe in a small portable icon, custom made to eventually become the small baptism favors

Baptism favors of St Luke and Zoe


 

Protecting the world over the clouds- Skepe or Panaghia Nefeli

A custom order for a Nefeli a very pretty Greek name, denoting cloud or better cloud formation.  was one of the Hymns for the Virgin Mary that caught my attention- It somehow translates like: (Rejoice Oh) Cloud most bright that overshadows (shelters) all faithful, and it is only one of the occasions where the Holy mother is called “Nefeli”.

 
 

Theotokos in the clouds, Aghia Skepi first drawing
Folk like icon of the Virgin Mary


The Aghia Skepe, is equally important to Russians and other eastern orthodox people celebrated in the feast of Pokrov  and I imagined a russian “Matryoska”-like Virgin Mary, in bright colors, that shelters and embraces all faithful.

Feast of the Protection of Theotokos- Aghia Skepe or Pokrova icon

 I did the painting in a thin panel, using acrylics for the cloud background and egg tempera for the figure of the Holy Mother. Finally the colors were covered with shellac and sealed with resin varnish.