Developing a New Icon: St. Anthony

Dozens of drawings later, I am closing in on a final design for an icon of St. Anthony of Padua.  There have been lots of challenges, and although last night I thought maybe I had a final drawing, a close look this morning tells me that there is still more revision to do before it is ready to be put onto the board.

Much research went into this project so far.  So many unknowns. First challenge: to find a basic pose, using classic traditional icons of other subjects as a model. There will be no classic icons of St. Anthony himself, as he lived after the schism between East and West, and is thus not part of iconographic tradition.

There are many paintings and illustrations of him in the Western tradition, and I also made use of those to formulate a design for this icon.  They are often very beautiful and loving, a glimpse of St. Anthony relating very sweetly with the Christ Child. However in an icon, the relationship is not between the figures in the image, but between the depicted ones and the viewer, the person who has come to pray.  Thus the figures do not look at each other, but outwards towards . . . you.

They are spiritually present for you, loving you, relating to you through their witness to the communion of saints, to the Incarnation of God, to the truths of faith.

St. Anthony was known for his love of Scripture, and is usually shown with the book of the Gospels.  One day when he as studying Scripture, he suddenly saw the Christ Child appear.  Witness saw him cradling the Child Jesus, and thus he is most often shown holding Jesus in paintings.  Thus, I included the elements of book and Christ Child into this icon, using Our Lady of Smolensk as the basic model for composition.  I liked the way, in that icon, Our Lady indicates Jesus as the important figure, deflecting attention away from herself.  Christ is the important one.  I think St. Anthony would do the same, so I made it this way.

St. Anthony was also known for his eloquent preaching, and in iconography a symbol for being filled with the Voice of the Spirit is a large throat/neck area.  Jesus is a young Child, but no ordinary child.  He is filled with the Spirit and wisdom, teaching and blessing the viewer.

Figuring out how to render St.Anthony’s garments was a challenge.  I had thought Franciscans wore a brown habit, as that is what I have always seen.  But there are also black and gray Franciscan habits.  I looked into history, using old paintings, only to find very little consistency.  It was easier to find images of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived at the same time as St. Anthony, and I began to look at very old frescos, some done within decades of St. Francis’ death, to see how what kind of habit he wore. To my surprise, his actual habit is still in existence, carefully preserved in Italy.

It is a faded brown, much patched with shades of fabrics of browns, greys, and beige–no doubt whatever was at hand.  And so I came up my best guess at the habit which St. Anthony might have worn.

I will continue to work on the drawing, until it is strong and accurate. The drawing is the basis of the image, and most important part of the process.  The beauty of the icon will depend greatly upon this groundwork.

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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.
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12 Responses to Developing a New Icon: St. Anthony

  1. Biltrix says:

    I’m always fascinated by the thought that goes into these icons and the significance behind that. It’s all so spiritual and theological. I love them more and more the more I learn — thanks for educating us! Your posts help these details to sink in more as you present us with the application.

    Incidentally, I saw that habit of St Francis when I was in Italy. Assisi is a great place to visit if you ever have the chance. I’ve never been to Venice, but aside from that, I’d say if you could only visit two places in Italy, make it Rome and Assisi. Assisi is one of the most spiritual places on earth.

    • reinkat says:

      THanks for your comment and encouragement.
      What a blessing to have seen St. Francis’ habit, and to visit Assisi. Decades ago I went to Rome–and Venice. Both were wonderful, Venice was a delight and I hope you will get to see it some day.

  2. Wow! This is so interesting…I never know how much went into this process! You certainly have a gift!

  3. The relics of St. Anthony are visiting London this Friday! What a coincidence that I read you post today. I too have learned much from your posts. Fascinating and inspirational..

  4. lilyboat says:

    I so look forward to witness the progress of this icon.. What you have described- the researching phase- is so much like writing. I always love the researching stage before I actually sit down to start to write for the pure love of learning new things!

    • reinkat says:

      Thanks. I don’t think writers’ work has an “ugly” stage but that is where I am right now with the icon. 🙂 All underpainting and building up. Maybe akin to the rough draft outline, to continue the comparison.

  5. Catherine says:

    Very impressive research and a beautiful drawing.

  6. cptnemo7029 says:

    Great Blog! God Bless! Thank You!

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