For the next month, I will be posting about the custom Holy Family icon commission that I am currently writing. Part 2 is HERE. It began with board preparation earlier this year HERE. This is a contemporary icon meaning that is was completed today or in this current time period and not a century ago, for example.
Writing the Icon
The next step, after sanding, is the incising of the icon board and, after that, the selection of background material.
For this icon, the patron selected an oxidized metallic powder that I mixed with a binder to make paint. I posted about using gold for icons HERE and below are three, very short demonstrations of my sanding and painting technique:
Gold is essential [to icons]. It symbolizes the divine and uncreated light, and it illumines the background of icons, the halos of saints and certain objects. Its remarkable strength affects the colors of faces, clothes, buildings and natural elements. In effect, the colors have to hold up in front of its brightness. Sometimes gold leaf is replaced with gold paint, white or even red or green paint". an iconographer's guide
It is not unusual for iconographical innovations and new icon types to develop over time. A perusal of icon history will demonstrate that effectively.
The Holy Family icon, which developed in the 20th century, depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a single family unit. St Joseph's definite role is emphasized more in this depiction than what is presented in canonical icons where an older St Joseph is stationed in a lower position, sometimes smaller than Mary or at a distance.
Scholarly objections aside, you will find print versions of the Holy Family icon sold even in Eastern Orthodox stores. Why? Because there's a demand.
Will this icon, as presented here and recorded by many iconographers with variations, become the standard? Will it continue to transform and change? Or will it fade in popularity within a generation or two? It's anyone's guess.
Eastern style icons are showcased at public secular venues, on printed materials, online and in places where they might have been excluded or unknown in the past. Herbert Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian professor, philosopher, and public intellectual coined the term global village to refer to the way that, through he use of worldwide modern technology, we would be able to share culture. That was in 1964. The online world took on a more recognizable form in 1990 with the invention the World Wide Weband. The internet, as we know it today, has made McLuhan's prediction a firm but fragile reality.
More people, having been introduced to them, are "liking the look of" traditional icons, even if they don't completely understand them. There is an abstractness (vs realism) to icons that appeals to today's audience. You can find simple, straight forward icons and others that are layered with complicated imagery.
How can a family of today relate to the Holy Family Icon?
The popularity of the Holy Family icon type is remarkable and I believe that it is because families, in particular, are looking for new ways to relate to the holiest of all families and with meaning. They must find in icons, like this, attributes of prayer, calm, quiet, stability and more.
One might suggest that the Holy Family was way too irregular and perfect to be regarded as an appropriate role model for families today. After all, Jesus was God Incarnate and not my naughty little Johnny and Mary was a Virgin, Mystical Bride, and the Singular Mother of God however, she probably did the dishes. St Joseph was supernaturally selected and directed to protect Mary and Jesus in a chaste, guardian and defender role. Perhaps, one might consider here how these many unplanned events and circumstances caused St Joseph to grow in trust and love for God. Saint Joseph, Jesus' adoptive (and so very real) father, is the role model for all men, because God calls all men to serve as protective fathers for every child they encounter.
In fact, there are countless ways to meditate upon, emulate or imitate the holiest of all families or one of the individuals therein.
A description of Middle Eastern icons, like the Nursing Mother in the post, HERE
to be continued....
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Christi Marie (CM) Jentz
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Original artwork, as opposed to a print of any type, is quite wonderful and by far the most sumptuous and "tactile" of all.
I do accept and appreciate art commissions.
Featured: Holy Family Icon
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