I’ve spent the last several days preparing for, and installing, a small local exhibit of icons in a Catholic gift store. Four iconographers shared their work. The display will run for a month.
The theme is “Mary, the Mother of God”. I thought that perhaps those of you who are unable to come see the exhibit might enjoy an online tour, so here it is:
There are 13 icons and 2 religious paintings in the exhibit. As you enter, the largest icon is one of the Korsun Mother of God. (Icons are frequently named for the town in which the prototype appeared.) This image is known as the “Sweet Kiss” type of icon, and is filled with warm affection. I chose this icon because I love the pensive expression of Mary’s face, and the comforting love expressed by the Christ Child.
Next you see a detail from an icon of the Virgin of the Sign. Mary glows with the grace of God, as she accepts the Angel Gabriel’s message and agrees to bring the Son of God into the world. The gold coloring is symbolic of the Presence of God, and halo is a symbol in both Eastern and Western traditions of the radiance of God surrounding a holy person.
Around the bend are these two icons: First, Our Lady of Klokochovo, a miracle-working image from Slovakia. The prototype of this icon is said to weep tears, which are then used by the faithful for healing. There is a custom among the people to crown this image, much the way Roman Catholics crown statues of Mary with flowers during the month of May. Right next to this icon is a festal icon of the Dormition, or Assumption, of Mary into heaven. Mary lies on her funeral bed, surrounded by grieving apostles. In their sorrow, they are unable to see that Jesus is there at her side. He is holding her soul, swaddled as He was once swaddled and cradled in her arms. There is no sense of linear time in icons, in the upper portion of the icon, angels are taking her soul directly to heaven.
There are three icons of The Mother of God of Tenderness in the exhibit. They are side by side to illustrate the fact that icons are not copies of a model, but translations. These are so similar in composition and prayerfulness, yet so different in appearance. Each clearly shows the individual style of the artist, yet remain within the basic theological tradition. There is no attempt to mimic exact brush strokes nor create an exact copy. The iconographer is free to paint an image that reflects his/her own prayers, spirituality, and sense of beauty. Every icon is a work of faith, and prayerfulness.
Next we see the festal icon of the Presentation, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “Catholic icon”, and although not part of the Orthodox liturgy, shares with Eastern icons a miraculous origin, and an appearance that transcends time and place. The other two icons here are more traditional. The prayer inscribed below Our Lady of Sorrows is from an Orthdox feastday liturgy for the month of January.
In the next section of the exhibit, there is a traditional image of the Annunciation, from a very ancient prototype painted in the early days of Christianity. Right next to it are 2 very beautiful religious paintings. The first is a personal religious painting, of the iconographer’s adopted Korean daughter being tenderly held by the Blessed Mother. It is modelled after the icon of the Mother of God of Korsun. The second is a devotional image done in the Mexican retablo style, which is a folk art derived from traditional Roman Catholic church art. This retablo depicts the soul of Mary, opened to the Holy Spirit, remembering the visit from the Angel Gabriel calling her “full of grace”, and her subsequent “yes” to God. The title of the retablo is “Alma de Maria” or “The Soul of Mary”.
Finally, our small exhibit features 2 icons of Mary in the “Hodegitria” composition: She Who Shows the Way. It is one of the oldest types of icons, first attributed to St. Luke, and is more formal and doctrinal than the Virgin of Tenderness types. Mary presents Jesus to the viewer, directing attention away from herself and indicating Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The first one is patterned after Our Lady of Czestochowa, which has been a national treasure of Poland for more than 600 years. The second one is patterned after Our Lady of Smolensk as written by the master iconographer Dionysii, in 15th century Russia. It’s origin is purely Byzantine and eastern Orthodox. Once again the viewer can see the differences in artistic styles that make each icon a unique image of prayer, and not a simple copy.