Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Brilliance of Eternal Values

"By using [the perspective of importance], Byzantine painting accentuated the holiness of the persons represented.  Their individual and temporal aspects were thus clothed by the brilliance of eternal values, and the image itself receives a function other than that of a simple drawing.

The way that an icon grasps, understands, and draws its subject cannot be based just on physical vision but must be interpreted by thought.  In the same way, its optical effect undergoes a change; by enlarging the proportions, the main person seems to move out from the interior of the icon toward the spectator.  The focus is thus inversed.
Pere Egon Sendler SJ. 'The Icon: Image of the Invisible


For an iconpainter, the representational conventions of Byzantine painting are so familiar  that it is easy (at least for me) to lose sight of how peculiar those conventions are that depict the human form in space.   I've been sketching out the cartoon for an icon of St. Anne, with her daughter, Mary, the Mother of God and Mary's son, Jesus.  I first encountered this image of mother, daughter and son in the work of my teacher, Pere Igor (Egon) Sendler, in the photograph of a fresco he painted in the 1980's.  As in many icons, Mary is depicted both as the Mother of God (that is to say, as an adult woman with her son, Jesus), and as the youthful daughter of St. Anne, symbolized by her diminutive stature in comparison with her mother.  

Which is a reminder for me of two things.  First, that drawing is always a way of seeing and thinking about the visible and invisible realities that we seek to perceive, comprehend and depict.  Second, that when it comes to what Pere Igor speaks of as those realities that are "clothed by the brilliance of eternal values", our ordinary, natural ways of sight and perception are inadequate to fully represent the subtle and elusive mystery of a world tranfigured by divine Grace.  Paradoxically, the more painstaking the attempt to enclose such realities in the garb of naturalistic realism, their luminous brilliance simply fades from sight.  

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