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.


Unexpected sources of modern

A very modern representation comes sometimes from the most unexpected source; A medieval manuscript.

Inspired by a medieval manuscript -Adam and Eve  egg tempera on canvas

Copper gold background in a small panel
I just loved the basic, clear colors used, and also loved the simplicity and the power of the lines especially in the movement of Adam, the effort that is shown in the lines of his garment, in the clothes of Eve and her rounded belly.

– And then, the verses of the bible came to mind:…”cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
This is one of the religious stories told in my work, if you want to see more you may visit my section dedicated to religious art:

Saint Tryphon, a protector for animals and… vine-yards!

Saint Tryphon. A young imposing Saint in beautiful garments, holding a cross really tight, and a small bird. 

St. Tryphon miniature by angelicon

To quote dear Virginia: ” In Russia, people ask for his help and protection when they look for work… we believe that he provides everyday assistance to us.. We also have a story that St. Tryphon helped to find a lost falcon of the tsar (otherwise the bird keeper would be executed), that’s why St. Tryphon is a protector of animals and when we lose a beloved animal we pray for his help and safe return.”

In Crete Greece (even for such a distance place as Crete is to Russia) St Tryphon is considered the protector of vineyards so the priest was performing a litany each year in the Saint’s day, through the vineyards and fields of villages.

Myself personally, and my family  have also a very special connection with this Saint: My grandfather was a farmer, earning his living by his vineyards (and olives).
Each year on the crop season he made a special dedication to Saint Tryphon (the ceremonial bread) and brought it to his church, humbly requesting his assistance for his new crop. Therefore the Saint was considered somehow a protector of the daily meal of my family, and a most beloved Saint!

St. Tryphon with St Matrona of Moscow

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

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 Basil and his Greek Carols

St Basil the Great,  from Caesaria ,  a Saint that holds a very special place to Greek people’s hearts

St Basil’s miniature icon

His life of giving and caring for the poor, had made Him the Greek Father Christmas; All children are getting their gifts from “Agio Vasili”, and on New Year’s Eve (one day before His feast on January 1st) , regardless of the weather (which can be relentless… believe me), small children go out on the streets, in merry little companies, singing the carols of St Basil (kalanda) from door to door:

“…The New Year follows on Christ’s birth
So holy Christ who walks the earth
May bless you, every girl and boy
And fill all, and fill all—and fill all your hearts with joy!”

There is more of these wonderful translation of St Basil’s carols in

St Basil of Caesaria- original byzantine icon

My very best wishes for a Happy New Year and for the lucky coin in St Basil’s Pie!

Rescuing the sailors- St Nicholas in a religious folk art painting

When Saint Nicholas assumes command, sailors have no longer fear. This boat is named Captain Nicholas: Kapetan Nikolas- in Greek. He is the Captain of this one, he prays to calm the tempest and to return sailors safely home.

St Nicholas folk art painting- Egg tempera on canvas

In Greece all ships carry the icon of “”Aghios Nikolaos” where a candle is lit before him, and prayers are been made for safe passage. When in danger, captain and sailors pray and make a solemn promise, a “tama” to bring to his church “when saved”

Agios Nicholaos saving the sailors

It is a silver or a golden ship that is to be hanged it to his icon. You can see the icons of St Nicholas in Churches in the Greek isles filled with ships such as these!

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.

In a black background- Holy Mother; Annunciation in purple and black

There is this feeling, you enter a in a church, (maybe in the countryside somewhere  in a small village) and the evening mass has started.-A traditional mass where there are no lights, only the small flames of the candles,

So among the fumes of the incense, the little bells, and the chants, images of Saints (written in dark backgrounds) are emerging from the walls lighted up by their halos, leaning towards you. And then Her figure in the front- She is always there, Open to you, ever forgiving, radiant with love. The Mother.

Holy Mother in black background
Virgin Mary in Annunciation -Size 5.5″ x 7″ (14cm x 18 cm)

“..Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word..” KJV, Lk 1:38. Says the icon; It is the Virgin Mary in  a part of a larger synthesis depicting her Annunciation.

Eka interpreted this theme, painting Mother Mary, Panagia (Pan-Aghia – All Holy- the word for Her in Greek) using more dark colors, trying to catch the sentiment I just tried to describe….

One night in Heaven…

It is the story of one night in Paradise -and as proof of that, a branch of heavenly apples held by St Efrosynos,  patron Saint of the cooks commemorated today, September 11th.

St Efrosynos holding a branch of heavenly apples
St Efrosynos the cook, egg tempera on a canvas panel 4.88″ x 4.88″ (12.4 x12.4 cm)

A  very humble, scorned, ridiculed, unlettered man -the cook of a monastery in Greece that- “…gave the unfading radiance of his goodness and humility, and the miraculous apples, his gift of love…”.

In this icon we can see the Saint found, in the middle on the night, in the heavenly garden, being the guardian of the place and, holding a branch of heavenly apples.

Another version of Saint Efrosynos, patron of cooks in a golden background

I cannot describe the story better than Eva C. Topping (Sacred stories from Byzantium- by Holy Cross Orthodox Press). You may find this story marvelously narrated at

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