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THE MYSTICAL LANGUAGE OF ICONS

by
02 November 2006

iStock

Canterbury Press £14.99 (1-85311-657-2) Church Times Bookshop £13.50

THIS LAVISHLY illustrated guide to Eastern Christian iconography explains the historical development and theological significance of Christian icons as well as the traditional methods used by painters down the centuries to create these works of spirituality and art.

Trained in Russian Orthodox icon-painting in Finland, the author is an art historian and freelance speaker, whose iconography is displayed in such places as Ayles-ford Priory in England and St Paul’s Church in Bergen, Norway. The book has descriptions of both of these.

The book, originally published in 2004 by Eastern Christian Publications of Fairfax, Virginia, opens with observations and insights into the meaning and purpose of icons, including remarks on the relationship between beauty and truth, as well as the Church as microcosm, incarnation, and celebration of the divine image in the world.

Nevertheless, the strength of this book lies not in the theological dimensions, and even less in the historical perspectives of Orthodox iconography. Rather, it is found
in the discussion of the techniques of icon-painting, and in the exploration of the range of iconographic motifs, as well as the detailed presentation of more than 50 icons.

While not stated explicitly, the icons shown in this book are works produced over the past 20 years by the author herself, in a number of variants of significant Orthodox icons. The icons range in techniques and schools from Greece (Crete, Macedonia, and Cyprus) and Russia (particularly Novgorod) to Serbia (Studenica and Decani) and Bulgaria.

Aside from the more traditional examples of icons — Christ Pantokrator, the Deesis triptych, the Mandylion (or Holy Napkin), the Old Testament Trinity, the Mother of God Platytera, the Baptism and Transfiguration of Christ, and saints — the book treats certain uncommon iconographical types, such as the Sophiological icon of Christ of Silence, the Nursing Mother of God, the Mother of God Pelagonitissa with Playful Infant, and the Melkite variant of Joseph with the Child Jesus.

There is also a description of an Epitaphios and a processional cross, the latter having been prepared in 1990 for the Bergen Church for the Deaf.

The book ends with a list of exhibitions by the author-iconographer, a biographical note, and a select bibliography.

The Revd Dr John Chryssavgis is Professor of Theology at Hellenic College in Boston, Massachusetts.

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