Atelier saint André Aesthetic outlines
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The one who paints icons is called to become transparent to the grace of the Holy Spirit. He must fill himself with the richness of the liturgical and evangelical texts and guard against sentimentality in writing the icon. The tradition of iconography offers to the icon painter a proper framework within which to express his own understanding of the icon, to give direction to his interpretations, and to orient his creativity.


The icon celebrates truth and light and distains the devotional form, however touching they may be. It does not tend toward the narrative form with its theatrical gesture. Nor toward the historical form which is heavily influenced by chronological detail. The icon is the realization of that which is timeless. It is the sacred made manifest through the peace and serenity of the events that are represented. The icon is the expression of centrality and unity in the subjects that it treats. This is achieved through restraint in composition and inscriptions; simplicity in its essential forms; purity in its colors and highlighting; transparency in technique and of inherent power in the movement that it expresses.

Adoration des Mages The Adoration of the Magi
Crete XVIth Century

This is a narrative icon in which the multiplicity of characters creates great confusion and as a result the true subject matter of the icon is lost. By its composition, it gives the impression of horizontality, and it is dominated by the anecdotal. Through the introduction of too great a number of architectural elements in icons a similar complication can arise.

Wisdom builds her house.
Novgorod, XVIth Century.
La Sagesse a bâti sa maison

From the middle of the Sixteenth Century, Russian icons began to be filled with symbols and allegorical motifs. This icon is an illustration of the text of Proverbs 10, 1-6. Here Wisdom is personified in the left medallion. In the lower register the servant is cutting the calf's throat, preparing the wine and setting the table. All are obvious allusions to the Eucharist. From the top of a tower, King Solomon speaks to his people and the Virgin with the Child, who is the receptacle of Wisdom, appears in the medallion on the right. The meaning of the icon is not given through expression or rhythm; but by allegorical symbol. Thus the icon is removed from the world of contemplation and enters into the world of illustration. It requires that the individual make the mental effort to "figure-out" or clarify through explanation the complexity of metaphors within the icon.


Mannerism is a style and period generally corresponding to the Sixteenth Century that is noted for its deliberate reaction against calm and balance. Mannerists often exaggerated earlier styles to enhance the emotional content of their work in various ways:

- by exaggerated movements of the subjects that do not correspond to the situation at hand;
- by worried or tormented expressions, or exaggerated facial features. In the icon the psychological or individual characteristics of the saints are present but are treated by way of appropriate stylization. This suppresses exaggeration in favor of transparency. For an example see the icon of Saint Paul by Andrei Rublev. This icon expresses to perfection the interiority and strength of the theologian.
- by a profusion of detail treated with a miniaturist great technical skill;
- by drawing the garments much to close to the form and structure of the underlying human body;
- by placing to much significance on the embellishments and developing a superfluous complexity of architectural elements;
- by realistic or anecdotal details accenting the material dimension of the occasion represented;
- by too many inscriptions;
- by enhancing the allegorical and didactical aspect of the image rather than giving precedence to the role of contemplation.

Sinai XIIth Century.

Instead of taking up the vigorous simplicity and quiet dignity of figures of this era, the composition of this icon favors the complexity of extremely refined whirling movement. The figures are elegantly presented with delicately affected gestures, i.e., the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel. The dramatic tension is accentuated by the play of reflecting light that animates the whole surface of the scene. The balance of this tableau is broken by the disproportion between the space covered by the gold background and that of the characters.
Saint Ephrem Dormition of Saint Ephraim.
Cretan school, XVth Century.

In addition to accents of the purest Byzantine style, this icon borrows from the realistic style which characterizes Italian painting of the time. It has a miniaturist tendency as evidenced in the charming landscapes and the picturesque details. There is also a tendency toward monochromy and narration.
The iconographer must let the details of the world be awashed in the divine light of the icon.
Mother of God, joy of the afflicted.
Russia, XIXth century.

The decline of Russian iconography is illustrated in this late nineteenth century icon. The floral decorations, clouds, figuration of the sun and moon, the overload of the diverse compositional elements forced the author to write explanations that create a confused and cumbersome sense rather than contributing to a clarification.
Joie des affligés
Christ Christ Pantocrator
Russia XVIIIth Century

What appears to be most striking about this face are the eyebrows. This despite the fact that the three circle Byzantine module was respected and that it has been done with good technique and delicacy. The high eyebrows cause the appearance of the nose to be to long, the forehead to narrow and, when compared to the eyes, the eyebrows are curved to high which makes the glance seem strange. The role of the eyebrows is to support the glance and to give the eyes life. Here they seem to be independent of the eyes because of their distance from the eyes and their form. Also the stark contrast between the black hair and clear flesh tones discourages unity and harmony. Further, the extreme delicacy shown in the drawing of the beard, its precise spirals of hair, as well as the decorations on the clothing, give this icon a mannerist character which removes presence to it.
Mother of God, "Rock sent from the mountain".
(Acathist hymn)
Solovski, XVIth Century.

The generosity of the decoration, the extreme freedom with which the artist painted the throne of the Mother of God, the use of expansive lines and forms, all attempt to create the impression of the vastness and the terrible beauty of the cosmos, of which Christ appears as the Sovereign. But could a Christian pray calmly in front of such an icon?

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Last update : Mon, Dec 8, 2008, P. Grall © ASA 2000 - 2009 All rights reserved.