THE TERM „ICON”
Icon is a word coming from a Greek term eikon and means an image. This is a religious image intended for cult purposes. The way of depicting the figures of saints on the image was developed in Byzantium, the meeting point of the Christian, Hellenic and Greek culture. Icons originated before the division of Christianity; however, they mostly survived in the Eastern Church. The oldest preserved icons coming from the 5th Century can be found in the St. Katherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.
A characteristic feature of an icon is the fidelity to the canon. The canon is a set of rules referring to the process of making the icon, including both the technology and defining the rules of composition (ways of depicting a figure, the sketch, symbolism and the colour pattern). Contrary to appearances, the canon does not limit the freedom of the artist but only helps him to convey the Truths of the Faith, saving him from making a mistake by taking too subjective view of the theme. The icon painter obeying the canon still needs to seek for best artistic solutions for a given work of art.
Icons are characterised by a very rich symbolism. Deep references occur already at the stage of preparing the subimage. The board can be associated with the wood of the Cross, and the indentation grooved in it (the so called kovcheg or ark) – with the Ark of the Covenant. The pasted cloth can be linked both to the shroud as well as the sheet which the Saviour attached to His face, leaving a reflection of His Saint Face on it.
When it comes to painting itself, symbolism is present inter alia in gestures, poses and elements of architecture. On the icon there is no perspective typical for western painting. The so called reversed perspective is applied here – the objects which are farther can be larger than the ones which are nearer. The presented object makes an impression of being looked at from several points at a time (edges which should not be visible from one point can be seen). Achronology is also characteristic for the icon – events which took place in different times are presented on one image. Colours have a symbolic significance as well. Special attention should be drawn to gold which in this case is not a just colour but constitutes a metaphor of light, the shine of Holiness and God’s Glory.
All these procedures are aimed at emphasising that the icon is not a naturalistic image and that it is intended for introducing the person standing in front of it with the use of material means into an extrasensuous reality, in the Theosis of the world of the Holy Ghost.
THE CULT OF THE ICON
Icons have been surrounded with cult for centuries. However, the praise given does not refer to the icon itself (i.e. to the board or paint) but to the figures which are depicted on it. The icon is a place of personalising the Archetype and due to this fact it becomes the object of cult.
The foundations of the cult of icons were created as early as before the division of Christianity into Eastern and Western. They were formulated by the Fathers of the Church and the councils – the 7th General Council in Nice (787) as well as the Council in Constantinople (843).
Numerous icons can be found in the Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches since their cult is an important element of the byzantine liturgy. However, icons surrounded with cult can also be found in Polish Roman Catholic churches such as for instance the image of the Holy Mother of Częstochowa or the Holy Mother of Perpetual Help. Many icons are destinations of pilgrimages since they are believed to have miraculous powers and to be a source of numerous graces.
The icons also constitute the objects of private cult. They accompany a person in important moments of his/her life and they facilitate prayer. It is believed that the presence of icons brings prosperity, God’s grace and protection to the people living in the house.
I make icons with the use of traditional techniques originating from Byzantium. I paste cloth on a carefully prepared board made of wood from a deciduous tree (usually the linden). I cover the board with many layers of base prepared earlier from a mix of quality types of chalk and natural glue. After that I make a sketch. I put flakes of gold and szlagmetal in places intended for plating. I use the egg tempera for painting. This is an old painting technique consisting of mixing pigments with egg’s yolk. Pigments used by me are usually powdered soil and minerals. Paints made in this way are extremely long-lasting. Next, I initially cover the whole painting with darker colours than the ones intended for the final result. I gradually light up these colours by spreading many translucent layers of glaze. The last touches of the brush are “bliks” – the brightest points depicting light shining from the inside of the figure, the glare of God’s energy. This method of painting symbolises moving out from the darkness into the light; it also has a symbolic dimension. In the artistic aspect, it also allows for obtaining luminosity and soft permeating of colours. The icon made in this way undergoes finishing works. Preparing final inscriptions has a special significance at this stage. In order to preserve the whole icon I use a medium made of eggs and a varnish.