St Luke and the Icon Writing Tradition
We know that St Luke the Evangelist, “painted” in words and there is an ancient tradition asserting that St Luke actually attached an image of Mary and Jesus to several of his writings in the pose now referred to in Hodegetria icons of Mary.
As a resident of Antioch, a city in modern-day Syria, St Luke would have been familiar with the ancient techniques of portraiture and figure painting and as a physician, he would have been interested in the human anatomy.
The images that St Luke shared were then copied, in turn, by others and this is how the tradition of writing Mother of God icons developed, was handed down from one generation to the next and continues to the present age.
And from one icon type, several varieties of Marian icons developed in slow progression.
A Brief Art History
The oldest recording of a Mother of God was painted by an anonymous artist and is located in the Catacombs of Priscilla (below).
Images of Mary and Jesus, based on the original renderings of St Luke, have been in active circulation since the 5th century (after Christians were free to worship publicly).
One early Hodegetria version and possibly one originally written by St Luke was given as a gift to the Byzantine Empress Pulcheria who, it is told, later donated it to a community of Monks in Constantinople who served as guides to the blind. It was only later that this particular icon became known as the Hodegetria which means “leader” or one who “shows the way.” Like so many early icons, the original works of St Luke have been lost (and presumably destroyed).
About My Icon of St Luke
St Luke, as shown, was written for a church with more contemporary architecture and I determined that a newer and brighter version of St Luke would compliment this particular church environment.
The reference for this icon is a mosaic from Greece and you will find many online. However, if you do locate my particular version, shown above on the left in the blue photo box, uncropped, please do not click on it as the website has a virus. I found that out!
For the 16x20 inch icon, I began with a birch panel and traveled through all of the traditional preparatory steps and writing process.
The Mother of God, God Bearer or Theotokos in Greek, abbreviated ΜΡ ΘΥ, always points the way of salvation, which is Jesus. This specific, codified, icon is always shown with Mary placed frontally and gazing at the onlooker. She always holds the Jesus with her left arm and points or directs to Him with her left; she is depicted in either half- or full-length, sitting or standing; there are countless variations. Mary’s majestic and “All-Knowing” Child (Anapeson, shown at bottom of page) is turned slightly toward His Mother; with one hand He holds a scroll, and with the other, He extends a blessing.
We see that a red veil is draped across the top of the scene. This is a reference to the human and the divine nature of Jesus Christ, abbreviated IX IC. Here we encounter a theological truth presented visually. The veil symbolically connects the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctuary where God dwelt in the Old Testament) with the Holy Place (Temple). Shown behind Mary is a (mystical) Temple and Mary herself became the living temple of God and Seat of Wisdom.
Most often you'll see in icons the Virgin depicted within the Annunciation scene holding a red yarn spool. I will live it up the reader to find the Old Testament account of Rahab and the Spies to discover how the red cord was used, where a "connection" was made, and how it fits in symbolically here where the Old is revealed in the New.
St Luke, for his part, is depicted “writing” the first image of this holy union between Mother and Son. His knee extends outside the frame reminding us that saints are never constricted to heaven, but have been ordained by God to enter into our daily human lives, at any given time, to both encourage us and guide us heavenwards.
Of course, much more could be said about this icon type and the St Luke Icon tradition. I will leave that up to you readers.
The church selected a beautiful, coordinating frame for the Icon.
Notes, Art, Photography CMJENTZ ©2013-2018
My website template has been updated. NOTES pages might have font and pictorial placement discrepancies.
All content ©LumenChristiArt.com,
Christine M. (CM) Jentz.
For comments or inquiries please
contact me. Commissions accepted.
“It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the most exquisitely beautiful pictures.” (St. André Bessette)