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.