In the course of my travels, I encounter magnificent, historical churches that are often hidden between businesses, nestled in central city neighborhoods or located in small, seemingly insignificant towns. Presented here are windows from one such church, St Ita in Chicago.
Particularly striking is the way brilliant sun rays beamed through the main window about 5:30, late afternoon. Stained glass windows, as demonstrated here, can effectively depict the biblical imagery of the radiant, supernatural or "white light" that we find hard or even impossible to express in written word alone. For example, " When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with .... His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light" (Exodus 34:29) and as written in Matthew 17:2, the transfiguration made Jesus' "garments .... white as the light".
Question? Exactly how white is that?
You can see in some of my photographs how the light completely overwhelmed the scene with blinding brightness. Is this the best example of "white as the light" that we can visually demonstrate?
With the introduction of stained glass windows "medieval theologians found a perfect analogy in visible light, especially in the superabundant radiation of the sun, which fills the material world and gives life to the assembled [windows]'. (catholic.com).
Above the main altar at St Ita Church, the community regularly beholds a visual feast of stained glass windows that focus on Jesus' life story as told in the Gospels.The Crucifixion scene is appropriately located in the middle.
From left to right: the Nativity, Presentation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and one post-Resurrection appearance. Flanking these are six more stained glass panels: Assumption and Annunciation on the left end. Pentecost and Coronation of the Virgin in Heaven, on the right end (in shadow).
The Transfiguration of Christ* is depicted within a framework of equally masterful roundels showing additional scenes from the life of Christ and located on a side wall. The colors and style, although more contemporary, are reminiscent of Gothic, French designs.
*"This feast became widespread in the West in the 11th century and was introduced into the Roman calendar in 1457 to commemorate the victory over Islam in Belgrade. Before that, the Transfiguration of the Lord was celebrated in the Syrian, Byzantine, and Coptic rites. The Transfiguration foretells the glory of the Lord as God, and His Ascension into heaven. It anticipates the glory of heaven, where we shall see God face to face. Through grace, we already share in the divine promise of eternal life." catholic-culture.org
The Uncreated Light
Another and earlier, traditional way artists represent this luminosity is through the use of gleaming, real gold as presented in mosaic tile like tessare, 24kt gold leaf and paint application.
Others, notably Eastern style iconographers, employ white lines contrasted against a darker flesh tone to express this divine light (view Transfiguration below).
In the art of icon painting these are often called the “lights” and are not meant to create the illusion of depth because technically speaking, there are no shadows in the faces of an icon. The lines you see represent the transfiguring light of God and are reflected not only in images of God himself but in the faces of those who now behold His face.
Variety in depiction
The darkest skin tone varieties, sometimes mixed to look like the brownest clay, were developed at the leading iconographic centers in Middle Russia and became standard in Russian art.
Notes, Art, Photography CMJENTZ ©2013-2018
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Christine M. (CM) Jentz.
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