Institute in the News

We are proud to have been covered recently by the Catholic Sentinel. Please read the article on Trinity Iconography Institute here:

Courtesy of the Catholic Sentinel.

Summary of Stylistic Elements of Icons

Icons reflect creation redeemed, the ideal of man, eschatological man, pure without sin in contrast with man of the fallen world. Man is shown in Heaven as described in the Book of Revelation and also as reported during the Transfiguration. Here are some typical characteristics of the iconographic style:

Exaggerated Features:  eyes, ears, nose are typically lengthened to show that a saint is one who contemplates divine mysteries, hears the word of God and follows it, smelling the fragrance of paradise.

Reduced Size of Expressive Body Parts:  mouths and hands are smaller because a saint always listens and considers information with wisdom, before acting. Lips and gestures can be smaller and more refined because saints are full of divine power, so their words and deeds are very potent. They do not need to do or say much for a lot to happen. The emphasis is on saintly humility, without drama or self aggrandizement. (Fingers are the exception, however, as they are pictured as long and graceful.)

No Emotion – because a Holy person is calm, all knowing and doesn’t need to emote.

Saint is the source of light – icons show no shadow and no glint of reflected light in the eye of a Holy person, because they do not need created light. The saint is the source of light itself.

Position – full frontal or ¾ view. A Holy person is never shown in profile to ensure face-to-face interaction with the viewer.

Two Dimensional – because the icon represents another world without space and time, there is no need for naturalism of three dimensionality.

Two Dimensional Flatness helps the viewer to pass through the image in unity with the Holy person. Flatness denotes Heaven and the fullness of God, where there is no time and space.

Hierarchical Perspective – denotes spiritual importance – Christ is always the focal point, then Mary, all else is subordinate, which is why trees, rocks and mountains may depicted in icons as bowing to them.

Multiview Perspective – (AKA axonometric) allows for the front and back of buildings to be shown simultaneously because when we look at something of absolute purity, our knowledge does not need to be restricted by reality.

Sacred Geometry is used to order the icon for a well-balanced composition.  The relationships follow Pythagorean ratios of 1:2, 2:3, 3:4.

Christ the Peacemaker

Savior of Zvenigorod by Andrei Rublev

This amazing early 15th century “Savior of Zvenigorod” is often described as Christ the Peacemaker, or the Seeing Christ, and has quite a history. Some say in an effort to save it from destruction, it was hidden under a barn floor near the Cathedral of the Assumption, used as a step, only to be discovered again in 1918. This could account for the damage we see today.

In the book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord, Praying with Icons, Henri Nouwen identifies many of the qualities that differentiate Rublev’s Christ from many other icons of the time, for example:

Rublev’s method of painting Christ:

  • Full hair
  • High forehead
  • Large, open eyes
  • Long nose
  • Small mouth/mustache
  • Round beard
  • Elongated face
  • heavy neck

Russian iconography descends from the Greek tradition. Rublev used color for spiritual qualities in the Greek/Russian tradition – Christ wears a red tunic covered with a blue mantle, because red represents divinity and blue represents humanity. This icon of Christ has a dimension of psychological depth that is very rare in medieval art. His eyes reflect uncommonly genuine humanity and unsearchable wisdom.

Henri Nouwen, in his meditation on the painting writes: “When I first saw the icon, I had the distinct sense that the face of Christ appears in the midst of great chaos. A sad but beautiful face looks at us through the ruins of the world. To me, this holy face expresses the depth of God’s immense compassion in the midst of our increasingly violent world. Through centuries of destruction and war, the face of the incarnate word has spoken of God’s mercy, reminded us of the image in which we were created, and called us to conversion. Indeed, it is the face of the Peacemaker.”

Here is how Rublev’s Zvenigorod Savior differs from traditional Byzantine iconography:

  • No severity
  • Humanized
  • Elegance in strength
  • Tenderness, yet firmness
  • Handsome
  • Face evokes love and not fear
  • Mysterious gaze directly into the viewer’s eyes
  • Omnipresence, loving care
  • Face to face experience with the viewer
  • Eyes that hold tears

Many find this icon embodies pure compassion. Compassion is a way of connecting with another by God’s love and grace. The word “compassion” is compounded from two words: “com” meaning “with” + “passion” which can mean to suffer. It is to suffer with someone else. Compassion means more than sympathy, empathy, or kindness; it is the grace to experience someone else’s struggles and pain.

The Savior of Zvenigorod is at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Praying with Icons

Join Reverend Matthew Lawrence, Episcopal Priest & Canon for Spiritual Formation at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and Father Jon Buffington, Chaldean Catholic Priest & Master Iconographer of the Trinity Iconography Institute, in a contemplative mini-retreat called “Praying with Icons.” There is no charge for this retreat and a free will offering is gladly accepted.

Saturday, October 19, 2019
9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Morrison Room, 147 NW 19th Ave
Portland, OR 97209-1901

Learn more by downloading the flyer below.

The Icons of St. Catherine’s

The Life Giving Spring
Icon at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai

Princeton University just updated a website on the expedition of the late 1950s/early 1960s to St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, where there is a repository of the world’s oldest icons. This collection is unique in that it documents, in color and condition, all of the monastery’s icons after cleaning and restoration in the 1950s and 1960s. These photos have not been digitally altered, except for cropping and rotating. Princeton’s Visual Resource Center digitized and catalogued the collection of several thousand color images (5 × 7 inch color Ektachrome transparencies and 35mm slides) of icons in the Monastery of Saint Catherine made by the joint expeditions that you can view and download by clicking the link below.

Click here to visit the Princeton site and then click “Browse Collections” to see the icons as they were originally photographed.

Iconography Terms

Have you ever wondered what a Deisis might be?

Deisis (Деисус, Gk. for “supplication”) The depiction of the Virgin, John the Baptist and possibly many more saints interceding with Christ on behalf of mankind. The Deisis is the most prominent image on the Iconostasis and is associated with the Last Judgment. Also called “Trimorphon” when only Christ, the Virgin and the Baptist are shown.

Or what an Iconostasis/Iconostas is?

Iconostas (Иконостас, Gk. for “icon wall”) The wall of icons separating the Sanctuary from the nave, also called the Templon. In the center of the Iconostasis are the Royal Doors; the Deacons’ Doors are located on the flanks.

There are many terms in iconography that have their roots in ancient languages and traditions. This list compiled by the Russian Museum of Icons is invaluable in understanding terminology we encounter when studying iconography.

Click here to read and/or download the list of iconography terms.

This invaluable resource of Iconography Terms was Compiled by Nicholas Roumas, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Nick Beinor, Boston College Edited by Raoul Smith, PhD, Museum of Russian Icons

How to Read Christian Iconography – Symbols & Saints

Iconography in terms of symbols – A truly comprehensive resource for the iconography community, this secular website enables the viewer to learn how to identify symbols and saints in medieval art and read the legends behind the saints’ pictures. Everything is beautifully linked and has an extensive bibliography.

This site was prepared by Richard Stracke, assisted by Claire Stracke, for the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Augusta University. Dr. Stracke is Emeritus Professor of English in the Department, and Mrs. Stracke is a veteran of Davidson Fine Arts School and of several projects like this one.

Dual Nature of Christ

Christ Pantocrator
Christ Pantocrator
Composite images of both sides of Christ’s face

The Christ Pantocrator of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai is one of the oldest Eastern Roman religious icons, dating from the 6th century AD.

Did you think that maybe the artist didn’t quite get the eyes right? There is a reason for that. Just like there is a reason for every brushstroke in iconography.

Many agree that this icon represents the dual nature of Christ, illustrating traits of both man and God, perhaps influenced by the ecumenical councils of the previous century at Ephesus and Chalcedon.

Christ’s features on his left side (the viewer’s right) are supposed to represent the qualities of his human nature, while his right side (the viewer’s left) represents his divinity

His right hand is shown opening outward, signifying his gift of blessing, while the left hand and arm is clutching a thick Gospel book.