Divine Mercy Icon

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.

I have wanted to write the icon of the Divine Mercy for quite a while. It can be difficult to know how to write a “Catholic icon”, which depicts a devotion popular mainly in the Western tradition, or a saint who lived after the schism between East and West.  Examples of “Catholic icons” might be an icon of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Avila, or the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the Divine Mercy.  The question is how to remain faithful to the ancient Christian canons, to those visual works which were preserved by the Eastern Orthodox Church, while incorporating saints and devotions that have no prototype or canon in that tradition.

In the Roman Catholic church, there is no official guidelines for visual arts.  No one to touch base with about consistency with Church teachings.  Visual arts are left to the subjective interpretation of the painter.

To write a Catholic image and have it be an icon rather than a painting, one needs to study and research.  To move slowly and carefully and conservatively.  Small changes can mean much, can mean things not intended, by the altering of a symbol that the artist might not even be fully aware of.  The icon is a teacher as well as a beautiful devotional image.  Changes and additions cannot be made lightly and still maintain the doctrinal aspects of the icon.

The Divine Mercy image came about this way:  St. Faustina Kowalska of Poland experienced repeated visions of Jesus during her lifetime and wrote about them in her diary. In 1931, Jesus appeared to her as “King of Divine Mercy”.  His right hand was raised in blessing, the left touched his garment near his breast.  From beneath that garment, just slightly below his hand, came two large rays of light, one red, one white.  Jesus told her:  “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature “Jesus, I trust in you.”

The Lord explained the image: “The two rays denote Blood and Water.  The pale ray stands for the Water that makes Souls righteous.  The red ray stands for the Blood that is the life of Souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of my tender mercy when my agonized heart was opened by a lance on the cross.”

Sr. Faustina was not a painter, so her spiritual advisor helped her to find an artist named Eugene Kazimierowski, of Vilnius.  He worked under her direction, completing the painting in 1934.  Sr. Faustina was not all that happy with the picture, but did approve it–nothing that was painted could equal the beauty of Jesus as she saw him.

Jesus then reassured her, saying “Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush, lies the greatness of this image, but in my grace.”  He also said “I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world.”

Many versions have since been painted.  The most popular and widely reproduced one was painted in 1943 by Adolf Hyla.

As I work on sketches, based on the simple,  nonrestrictive guidelines provided in St. Faustina’s diary, I wonder if this is a valuable thing to do.  Should new versions continue to be made even though there is a recognizable image already?  Should it be depicted in a Byzantine style, simply because that was the art form of the early Christian Church?  Or does the original version, rapidly becoming familiar to us all, remain The Image of Divine Mercy?  What do you think?

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About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
This entry was posted in art, Catholic icons, Catholicism, Icon, Iconography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Divine Mercy Icon

  1. Jordan River says:

    I think you should paint this image according to your talent and your heart. The very act of painting, the process of creative endeavor and your intention will surely make not just you, but the world a better place. Please send me a jpg with your preferred credit and a weblink (URL) when completed. This is a great story to tell. I never knew the origins of this image or that it was a woman who caused this signpost to be made visible.

  2. From what you’ve written, am I right to understand that there is no icon of the Divine Mercy at the moment? Not only are icons beautiful pieces of art, but they also inspire devotion. In that case, an icon of the Divine Mercy can only inspire devotion to the prayer by its esthetic beauty. That’s my roundabout way of saying that I think there is merit to your completing the icon.

    • reinkat says:

      Hi 8kids, there are many icons of the Divine Mercy, none of them really stand out definitively. The image that comes to mind is the religious painting by A. Hyla in 1943. I guess my wonderings, given that there is a painting that most people envision when thinking of Divine Mercy, is whether there would be any public reason to make this image, versus one for my private prayer. Or if that even matters.

  3. SR says:

    Given that you have the heart that you do for Sacred Art I say go for it. It would be one thing if creating an icon was just a way to pass the time for you, but that is not the case. It is truly an inspired gift you have given to you by the Holy Spirit. I think it would be such a blessing for all of us to see. God Bless, SR

    • reinkat says:

      Yes, for my own private prayer journey and devotional practice, it would be a good thing–and that is probably reason enough. I had had it in mind to give an icon to my parish church, where we do not have any Divine Mercy image. However, our pastor does not like images and turned me down with polite evasiveness.

      • SR says:

        It is “good reason enough.” It is a prayer from your “heart.” If there is anything God wants it is our hearts, in whatever form He can receive them. As far as your pastor. Well….at least he was “polite” about it. LOL! His loss Girl, His loss! God Bless, SR

  4. lilyboat says:

    I wholly support your idea and plan.. I think it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It will be a wonderful experience for you, and for those who will witness the end result of this writing process. Please do this! I feel very devoted to the Divine Mercy and it is my favorite prayer. I have received many blessings through it. I am surprised that there hasn’t been an icon previously.

    • reinkat says:

      I thank you for your supportive comment. The Lord did promise many blessings through veneration of this image, and he is faithful to his word.
      I may go ahead and make an icon of this image, using the “guidelines” given to St. Faustina.

  5. I’ve subscribed to this blog in hopes of one day seeing your plan played out. I believe you probably know in your heart where to go already, and that you should proceed. Icons are precious and inspire devotion, which is fitting, because devotion often inspires the icon!

    • reinkat says:

      Thank you, coachdaddy. I think you are right: I knew deep down that I wanted–NEEDED–to write this icon. Thank you for your following, and your insightful comment.

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