The making of an icon
From a technical point of view, icons are painted onto wooden panels, using natural pigments. Broadly speaking, the procedure is as follows.
First of all, the wooden panels are prepared: a sheet of fine linen is glued to the side to be painted. The glue used is a natural one derived either from fish or rabbit. To the glue various layers of gilding chalk are brushed directly onto the cloth.
Once this has dried, the entire surface is sanded to obtain a perfect support for the gilding and paint. At this point, the preparatory drawing is transferred onto the pre-treated surface.
Before painting, gold leaf is applied to the parts to be gilded. The gold leaf, once applied, is burnished using agate.
Then various coats of paint are applied, layer upon layer. The pigments, mostly in the powdered form, are bound using egg yolk, diluted with distilled water and a dash of white, wine vinegar. The soft brushes used to paint are made from squirrel and marten hair.
Having completed the painting, the icon is allowed to stand for twenty-thirty days, so that the various layers of paint will dry out properly. To finish the picture the painted areas are coated with a natural, protective and transparent varnish, usually de-waxed shellac.
Clearly, this extremely concise description of the technical procedure aims merely to convey the complexity of the work involved.
The iconographer carries out his work in strict accordance with the requirements of the iconic tradition, developed over the centuries and approved by the Church.
In iconographic art everything is symbolic, nothing is left to chance. Even the choice of the colours – red, blue, yellow, white and so on – is not intended, as in the case of secular painting, to produce a realistic image but merely to suggest the transcendent.
Icons convey to those who contemplate them the holiness and glory of the intelligible world, but also portray a transfigured humanity, especially that of saints who, once ordinary beings like ourselves, were elevated by God to holiness, a condition which all Christian are called upon to attain.
The Church teaches us that icons are not personal paintings resulting from the work of a specific artist (for this they must never be signed), but a kind of other-worldly creation, where the Spirit practically moves the brush in the hand of iconographer. For this reason the role of the personal prayer the iconographer recites daily, as he prepares to work on the icon, is essential.
The icon has been admirably defined by theologians as the “visible image of the invisible“. To the aesthetic and artistic value of the icon – a value it undoubtedly possesses, because every sacred image should be beautiful– another is added, that of the spiritual dimension.
Source: Museo dei Santi Italo – Greci di Staiti, a cura di Daniele Castrizio – Collana del Parco Culturale della Greek Calabria – Testo di Sergej Tikhonov – Iconografo.
Il Museo dei Santi Italo-Greci di Staiti [Museum of Italo-Greek Saints]
Mystical aspromonte: landscapes of the spirit
Building up the memory of a territory through recovery of the images and humanity that characterise it, means adding value to our own lives and defining that indispensable urge we feel to restore the priceless bond connecting us with history and with our identity. More than once, we have been bewildered by the omissions of official historiography and the distance we ourselves have deliberately created and communicated, as if the silence of men were not the fiercest of weapons against the dignity and identity of peoples and their territories. So, the oblivion, calumny and infamy of some who have betrayed the sanctity and beauty of places and things, still disturb history, faith and life.
Staiti’s Museo dei Santi Italo-Greci [Museum of Italo-Greek Saints] is the remarkable outcome of a fruitful interactive collaboration between Institutions and Associations. It houses exhibits that express the intensity and extent of the presence of Saints who chose this area as their hermitage, a place from which to lift up their souls and prayers, an abode from which to spread faith and prayer.
The catalogue seeks to complete a journey which marks its passage, leading to an understanding and discovery of written, therefore narrated, testimonies of an experience, at once mystical and carnal, of a human community deserving of attention thanks to its spirituality and devotion.
The icons exhibited in this Museum provide fragmentary accounts of an epoch when the encounter with God was based on everything and celebrated in the essence of an uncontaminated, harsh natural environment which became meek and mild thanks to the sacrifice and humility of his Saints.
We need, therefore, to retrieve these values, along with the spirit and spirituality of the place, and write a new story of the territory and of Aspromonte. We need to work for beauty and justice, to delve into the deepest recesses of memory, to look, amid icons and portraits, for the route traced by those who went before, to safeguard and nurture our territory so that it may not remain unknown to its own offspring.
Source: Il Museo dei Santi Italo- Greci di Staiti – Preface by Prof. Giuseppe Bombino, President of the Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte – Collana del Parco Culturale della Greek Calabria – Rubbettino Editore.