Dr. Cassiane Flom, who is an iconographer, recently came to speak to my Christian Worship Theology class at St. Thomas. Dr. Flom has created over 150 icons of her own and has studied under two major iconographers. Going to a Catholic University, I feel that we are blessed to have the opportunity of hearing fascinating seminars such as this. My Theology class had been studying iconography is class, so my professor, who is a Russian Orthodox Catholic priest, invited Dr. Flom in to provide a more in-depth approach to iconography.
“Icon-o-graphy.” Iconography is the process of a religious image that is written, not painted. Iconography stems from the Greek word for icon, which is iconographia. Iconography dates back to the time of the apostles where Luke was the first iconographer. Icons appeal to the intellects and spirts, but never to the emotions. In order to create an icon, the iconographer is required to be fasting and partaking in prayer so the grace of God is written into the icon.
There are three different types of medians used for icons. Each start with a white gesso base and then uses pigment and a medium in the form of egg tempera, wax or acrylic. The egg tempera method dates back to the B.C. times and is still used today by taking ground pigment and mixing it with egg yolk. Wax iconostas consists of pigments and melted wax. The acrylic method is used by mixing pigments and an acrylic median. Icons must be 2-dimensional and are on surfaces such as wood, boards, mosaics and sacred vesicles or vestments. The iconographer must follow certain steps and procedures while writing the icon. Specifically, it is said that the iconographer must first lay the foundation colors, which are darker, and then apply the highlighting colors, which are lighter, on top. This order represents the darkness without Christ and then the light that is brought by Christ.
Icons consist of images of Christ, Mary, the saints and biblical events. Icons cannot be 3-dimensional, have to parallel the scriptures, bear witness to the truth, must be biblically correct, and cannot just be created. There is a difference between worship and venerating something, and icons are only to be venerated, never worshiped. Veneration might be done in the form of praying in the presence of the icon, looking at it with with devotion, bowing or kneeling before the icon, crossing oneself, lighting a candle or offering incense. Icons are used or placed in the home or church.
I found what Dr. Cassiane Flom presented on icons to be truly fascinating. I think that a lot of people are aware of elements in their faith, but they do not always understand or know why these things are the way they are. I had little knowledge of icons prior to the seminar, and left wanting to know even more about icons. Below are some examples of icons.