Sep 27, 2008

Coptic Icons , The New Beginning

Contemporary Coptic Icons
An Icon may be an image of our Lord Jesus Christ, or of the Saints, or a representation of events from Scripture. It is not merely a picture or a drawing but a spiritual and dogmatic expression. Thus, an Icon is written and not painted. The Icons in the Church or at home signify the spiritual presence of Christ, the Saints and events of their lives.

An Icon is a faithful representation of the Holy Scripture or a biography of a Saint; therefore, nothing may be added by the way of intervention. The inner life of the Church must be expressed as a doorway or window so that Heaven on Earth is realized. Thus, Icons are always serene and peaceful.

The Iconographer
Because the icon is an ecclesiastical medium, the icon-writer like other ecclesiastical writers, must be an active member of the Church, live a spiritual life and be theologically knowledgeable.

The Iconographer is not just an artist, but a person who has a deep understanding of the Church dogmas and the life of the Saints. The spirituality of the Iconographer is an essential element in his ability to translate and express the spiritual depth of the Icon.

Written, Not Painted ...
Just as letters are combined to form words that work together to express ideas and information in the making of a book, so do lines and colors combine to form images, gestures and symbols that convey theological concepts and spiritual meaning in the making of an icon. For this reason, it is traditional to say that an icon is "written", not painted. Then, one need to understand the language in which an author is writing.

An icon must have theological content and be able to convey it to the worshipper simply and clearly, for no other purpose than to lead the observer to a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching.

General Rules for Writing Icons:
  • The Savior and the saints must always be depicted facing the worshipper frontally and look directly to him.
  • In Orthodox iconography, the halo is an expression of light radiating from within the saint, as a sign of the holiness he attained by his spiritual striving, supported by the grace of God. This differs from the haloes depicted in western images, which often appear as flying discs descending from heaven. Thus, Orthodox icons emphasize that the saint is an active participant in his sanctification, rather than a passive receptacle.
  • Contrary to common practice in painting, the iconographer, starts by applying the dark colors first and then continues applying more and more light into the icon. In this manner, he follows the same order of "enlightenment" which proceeds upon our fallen nature, which is in darkness until the light of Christ shines upon it and saves it, such that the words of Christ would be true when He said of His Saints "You are the light of the world" (Mt. 5:14).
  • Because the saint has already completed his struggle and has attained victory, he must be depicted as victorious and joyful, never as weak or full of pain.
  • Because the saint is now in the state of glorification, the background behind him must be gilded (covered with gold), as gold symbolizes heavenly glory. Icons depict saints in their glorified state for a two-fold reason: to honor the saint who is portrayed, and also to encourage us, who are struggling, to emulate their lives. When we see the Divine comfort given to the children of God, we are thereby heartened to persevere in our own struggles for the Lord.
Specific Symbolism
The art of making Orthodox icons follows specific symbolism which carries meaningful messages. Some of these characteristics are, for example: firstly, large and wide eyes, symbolizing the spiritual eye that looks beyond the material world, for the Bible says, "the light of the body is the eye " (Matthew 6:22); secondly, large ears, which listen to the word of God, for the Bible says, `If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:23); and thirdly, gentle lips to glorify and praise the Lord, for the Bible says, `My mouth shall praise You with joyful lips" (Psalm 63:5).

The eyes and ears on a figure in an icon are disproportionately large because a spiritual person spends much time listening to God's word and seeking to do God's will. On the other hand, the mouth, which can also often be the source of empty or harmful words, is small. The nose, which is seen as sensual, is also small. When an evil character is portrayed in an icon, it is always in profile, as it is not desirable to make eye contact with such a person and thus to dwell or meditate upon them. Figures in Coptic icons often have large heads, meaning that they are individuals devoted to contemplation and prayer.

The New Beginning
Dr. Isaac Fanous professor of Coptic art at the Higher Institute for Coptic Studies in Cairo is the founder of the contemporary school of Iconography.

Writing an Icon
These Images illustrate the steps taken to write an Icon. You will see how Dr. Isaac Fanous starts writing an Icon by using vertical and horizontal straight lines so that you can see and feel a symmetrical and eye relieving image... The following Icons had been photographed during their writing:

Check the album i posted on picasa web albums Including 40 Beautiful Coptic Icons, most of it are written by Dr. Isaac Fanous

Coptic Art
Coptic Christian Paintings
Coptic Icons & How They Are Written
Dr. Isaac Fanous and the Renaissance of the Coptic Iconography

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