mmekourdukova (mmekourdukova) wrote,

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Сдавшись на пинки дорогих друзей и френдов, начинаю вывешивать сюда английский перевод сваво бестселлера. Иногда - с картинками. Просьба считать эту антрепризу постовой епитимьей.
И завожу особый тэг даже, чтоб не было ходу назад.
апдейт: все постинги-главы по порядку.

By Irina Gorbunova-Lomax

Originally published as Икона: правда и вымыслы,
by Satis Publishing House, St. Petersburg, in 2009

Chapter 1 – Materials, painting technique and technology
Chapter 2 – Can an icon be painted from a live model?
Chapter 3 – Artists’ signatures on icons
Chapter 4 – ‘Reverse’ perspective
Chapter 5 – Spiritual vision and the icon
Chapter 6 – Iconographic canonicity
Chapter 7 – Style in icons (part 1)
Chapter 7 – Style in icons (part 2)
Chapter 8 – Spiritual canonicity of the icon, spiritual physiognomy of the iconographer
Chapter 9 – The iconographer’s training
Chapter 10: East of the Iron Curtain
Chapter 11: West of the Iron Curtain
Chapter 12 – On the veneration of icons and the assessment of their artistic level
Chapter 13 – The icon: its true place and ‘theological’ fables


When the subject of my concern, which led to this book, first presented itself to me in the late 1990s, I had as yet no idea that I would one day come to live in Belgium or that I would write about icons. At the time I was content to paint in the workshop of Mother N, on the shores of Lake Onega icons in the depths of Karelia.

My subject first took the guise of a friendly young woman, a French television journalist, who had undertaken a seemingly endless journey (hundreds of miles by plane, then a night train, and then two hours by bus in endless forests) to find the parish of the Dormition in the town of Kondopoga, and there our workshop. It was here, she had been informed, that real iconographers still painted real icons, respecting all the rules and all the canons.

Hardly had she glimpsed our parish house, and our intrepid traveler's face already fell slightly: the large isba was decorated and furnished in the style of a house in the European countryside. In addition, one of Mother N’s iconographer assistants (the author of this book) addressed her in pretty decent French, rendering redundant the interpreter she had brought from St. Petersburg.

But the biggest disappointments were yet to come. On entering the workshop, our visitor stopped horrified. On a table in front of her was an icon in the nineteenth century “Academic” style, awaiting restoration.  "What’s that?" the visitor asked. "Aren’t such icons banned in Russia?" It took a bit of time for us to realize that it was the Academic style of the icon that shocked her. But we soon informed out Parisian fundamentalist that these icons have never been proscribed and are still in use in churches, just like Byzantine icons. "But you, surely you don't still paint in this decadent style? our visitor insisted. We were obliged to explain that no, our workshop indeed worked only in the Byzantine style, but we also accepted to restore icons. And, as we had the know-how to restore not only icons painted in tempera, but also those produced in oil, people brought to us icons in every style.

The fact that we also know how to paint in oil did not improve our reputation in our visitor's eyes.  Her critical eye ran round the workshop: on the walls, the shelves and on each painting desk were dozens of small photos of icons of every conceivable origin, school and period.  One served as a model of a canonical scheme, a second was used for facial expressions or folds, a third had been left by someone on a visit, a fourth was dear to one of the iconographers for personal reasons. All this "iconostasis", this delightful jumble of colors and style, so common to any icon workshop, smelt to her of sedition: paper icons are not "real", we cannot pray in front of them, because they are absolutely empty of divine presence. And even more so they can obviously not serve as models, and especially the reproductions of icons painted in an Academic style!

"But how then does one go about creating the image of St. Seraphim of Sarov, who lived in the nineteenth century and for this reason was never painted in the Byzantine manner?" we ask, trying to call our visitor back to her right mind. Our Parisian replies without hesitation that in this case you have to paint the icon after the witnesses' descriptions, because the resemblance is not nearly as important as holiness, and a person painting an icon from a photo, a portrait or worse, from nature, commits irreparable damage to holiness. Surprised at the depth of knowledge of our visitor, herself a Roman Catholic, though by her own admission non-practising for many years, we question her as to the sources of her knowledge. Her response lacked both clarity and intelligibility. For her, what she says is commonly accepted, it is simply "in the air".
Visibly the Parisian air vibrates with a whole series of very amusing theories about the Russian icon. For example we all, starting with Mother N., fell into sin by using ready-made pigments (small bottles marked "Sennelier" and "Windsor and Newton" betrayed us!).  Instead of these artificial products, deprived of all spirituality, we should have collected colored stones and ground them ourselves, as only in this way does Mother Earth offer its minerals to God. Our timid assertions that our ready-made pigments are also of terrestrial, not Martian, origin failed to convince our visitor. Next to be condemned were our palettes: pigments and egg yolks ought to be mixed directly with the finger in the egg shells, of course! And our modern varnish! Only olifa oil is truly holy! But thank God, our eggs do attract any reproach: we gladly buy them in the village itself (but for the untheological reason that they are fresher and firmer). What would have remained of our reputation if we had purchased them in the supermarket. Horribile dictu!

Having completed her review of the "material" aspects of our work, our visitor turned her interest to the spiritual side, that is the "special" prayers we were supposed to recite when working. She stunned to learn that we do not recite, and indeed do not even know, any prayer of this kind: in the parish house we say the regular morning and evening prayers, nothing more or less. Every Sunday and every church holiday we go to church, and we take communion regularly, but while working we do not recite any incantation, either aloud or silently.  In any case, there is no obligation to do so.

With all this inquisition we no longer even have time to speak of icon painting itself. Besides, the artistic side of our business does not interest our visitor that much. What interests her is authenticity, the criteria of which she appears to know better than we do.  More than that, she shares with us some pearls of "Parisian wisdom." For example the faces on Mother N.'s icons are for her far too lightly colored: faces in "real" icons must be clay-colored, because Adam was modeled from this substance. "How then do we depict the enlightenment of the faces of the saints and the Lord Himself?", we ask stunned. "You have to understand all this in the spiritual sense" the visitor replies. But as we still do not grasp why we are required to understand clay in the literal sense and illumination in the spiritual sense, she adds: "Illumination is expressed by the absence of shadows in the icon!"

"What, no shadows?  What's that all about?" we say, pointing to the reproduction of the famous Mother of God of Vladimir. Here are the shadows under the eyebrows of the Mother of God, under her chin, and look, here is the shadow of her nose." "These are all own shadows, and not cast shadows! But it's cast shadows I'm speaking of! Where are they?" our visitor retorts triumphantly. I take a brush and press it slightly into the palm of my hand. “In your opinion, is what kind of shadow is this?” “Cast, of course!” “And this one?” I remove the brush and replace it with one of my fingers of the other hand, so as to cast the same shadow. "Cast!" our visitor affirms. "You really think so? It's still my body, even if the hands are different." Finally, I slightly lift my index finger so as to cast its shadow on the palm of the same hand. "And that, what kind of shadow is that?"

Our visitor feels the ground becoming unsteady under her feet. The borderline between cast shadows and own shadows is clearly not as distinct as in the treatises or lectures from which she has drawn her information. There it was all so understandable, so obvious. "You know all your optical and physical science proves nothing. I'm talking about the spiritual meaning of the icon!" she says, trying to extricate herself.  Faced with that argument we remain speechless.  We are dying to ask her how a cast shadow, for example by a person's foot, on the floor could make him no longer illuminated, while a shadow cast by her nose on her cheek could not. But we sensed that our visitor's tolerance with our lack of spirituality was beginning to run out!

Meanwhile lunchtime had arrived, and we trooped down to the dining room. Father N., his family, guests, carpenters from the parish workshop, iconographers — twenty people in all — sat down at table. The Parisian glances around her with some concern, no doubt preparing to repast on black bread and water, but as we are not in Lent, we are served chicken soup, chops and kasha. And then, horror of horrors, the iconographers share the same menu as the others! The last illusion collapses! "But what? You don't fast forty days before commencing your work?" our visitor asks with trembling voice. I translate the question. The apprentices giggle, the carpenters burst out laughing.  We explain to our visitor that here we work every day and not once every forty days, and that our only fasting rules are the general rules of the Church.

She in inconsolable.  Inconsolable and deaf to all the theological, historical and cultural exhortations of Father N., himself a graduate in Art History of the Academy of St. Petersburg. She knows better than we what a true icon is!  She has made a crazy journey in the hope of finding, in the heart of impenetrable forests, a wooden hermitage populated with emaciated startsi with long white beards and dressed in black, speaking only Church Slavonic, and eating locusts and wild honey. These startsi should cut linden boards with an ax, grind ocher and cinnabar in copper mortars and, every forty days, while singing secret incantations, paint a "true icon". And not having found in our parish house and workshop the exoticism of the old Christian Russia she had come looking for, she feels cheated. But for her, those who have deceived her are not the people who have fed her with these crackpot ideas about icons, it is not those people who recommended Mother N's icon workshop to her. No, it is us! "Well, if at your workshop you do not paint true icons, we can't really make a film about you!" she says, and gets up to leave.

We had a good laugh, and quickly forgot this strange episode. Maybe our Paris lady is still searching for the true iconographers of her dreams. Who would have thought back then that less than ten years later I would not laugh at all! That I would see with my own eyes the horrible and shameful daubings, presented by dozens of painters as "traditional Russian icons." That I would be hearing lectures in which pious audiences were led to believe that Eastern Christian spirituality lies in the plastering of the boards and the grinding of stones into pigments, in inverted perspective and differentiated appearance of the two halves of Christ's face. That my timid call for restraint would lead to an accusation of lack of spirituality, and even of communism! And not only me but also all contemporary Orthodox Russia. And what was then a silly misunderstanding, a small insignificant episode in the parish of the Dormition, is reproduced here in Western Europe in far more appalling proportions. These daydreams about Russian icons appeared to have acquired the strength of dogmas. Horrible amateur daubings, engendered and justified by all these false doctrines, unworthy of the name of sacred art or even just Christian art, are spreading more and more, and are accepted by millions of Europeans, Christian or not, as real Christian icons.

But fortunately there are exceptions, people whose Christian conscience is not content with such theology, or such icon painting. Here in Belgium the author has met sincere people, Orthodox or Catholics, who are seriously learning to paint icons, or are already painting them and painting them well. This book, in fact, was born out of my answers to their questions, and those that we get at exhibitions and lectures.

It is not our fault that these questions are nearly always suffixed with "Is it true that ...?" and that our answer is almost always" No, because ... ". It is not our fault, but that of the false doctrines that still hold sway in Europe. And if a series of chapters in this book are devoted to the demolition of ideas that are too often presented as self-evident, the reader should not be surprised. This is not the first time in the history of ideas that completely wacky theories have led, by healthy reaction, to more reasonable views on one or the other issue. The entire corpus of Orthodox theology, for example, was developed in response to heresies.

We shall limit ourselves in this book to judging the veracity and quality of all-too-widespread false theories on the icon while remaining in the framework of the history of art, because it is in that context that these theories indeed belong, not in the field of theology where they fell through ignorance and inadvertence.  Our goal here is only to examine closely, both as an art historian and a professional icon painter, these doctrines that parade themselves under the name of "theology of the icon."  The author does not claim to be a theologian, but she always takes care to check the accuracy of her theological remarks with Church teaching.
Tags: the icon: truth and fables, ликбез

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