Sacred Iconography

The aim of the exhibition is to celebrate the sacred art of the Orthodox Church in its many forms and demonstrates that iconography is still practiced today and, to some extent, experiencing a renaissance in countries like Egypt and Russia. Even in our own overwhelmingly materialistic society, interest is growing for this sacred art form, not only for its aesthetic and artistic qualities, but for its profound spirituality.

Iconography was traditionally passed on from master to disciple and involved years of dedicated apprenticeship in a workshop environment practising age old recipes and skills as well as learning the visual theology and symbolism that inform them. The art of the icon died in Western Europe with the coming of the Renaissance. There is a need today to reconnect with this sacred tradition, to return to the source, in order to fill a void in the contemporary sacred imagery of the Christian West, which over time has lost its vision. Thus a resurgence of the sacred art of the icon creates a need for its systematic tuition as demand steadily rises both from the church and the wider public.

H.R.H. the Prince of Wales took the lead on the subject by initiating a Summer School in iconography at Mount Athos, Greece, the first of which took place in June 2005. This unique opportunity was given to a handful of VITA students and tutor who spent 10 days at an Athonite monastery attending daily workshops with a master iconographer. The group experienced firsthand, and within its traditional context, the rigorous training which is required from aspirants.

As early as the 5-6th centuries, a fully developed Byzantine style had already emerged as seen in the famous group of encaustic icons from St Catherine’s monastery, Sinai. From the same period are the wall mosaics of the church of St. Apollinare Nuovo and St. Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, dating from the time of Justinian (c. 550), demonstrating that the Byzantine style of iconography was the norm in both Eastern and Western empires. This period, known as pre- iconoclastic, saw some of the greatest works of Christian art, of which, unfortunately, so few have survived. The same period saw the zenith of Coptic art in Egypt, exemplified in the wall paintings and icons from Bawit, Saqqara and the Kelias to which the Neo-Coptic School owes so much.

Throughout the history of iconography certain schools developed particular styles, such as the Novgorod School in 13th-15th century Russia or the Cretan School from a slightly later period. Around the same time thrived the Gondarene School (15th-17th c) in Ethiopia, with a style of great beauty and sophistication yet remaining highly symbolic, much akin to its Coptic neighbour.

The Contemporary or Neo-Coptic School of iconography was established under the patronage of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria, by Prof. Isaac Fanous Youssef, in the early 1960’s. The Coptic icon is the direct heir to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers who flourished during the Coptic Period (4th to 7th c.). The Neo-Coptic style derives much of its unique identity from its ancestral Pharaonic roots, with its hieratic style, uncluttered designs and profound symbolism.

EXHIBITORS

DR ALEXANDER GORMATIUK is Head of the Restoration Department of the Russian Institute of Egyptology in Cairo, Egypt. He was born in Russia where he received his B. Sc. Restorer from the Moscow State Art College (1984), his M. Sc. Historian of Art (2000) from Moscow St.Tichon Theological University and a Ph. D. (2004) from The Surikov Moscow State Art Institute, Russian Academy of Art. He was the winner of the 2005 State prize of Metropolitan Makarija for his contribution to the development of Russian historical science.

DR. STEPHANE RENE was born in Versailles, France. He is a London-based iconographer working in the Contemporary Coptic style and one of very few exponents of this sacred artistic tradition in the West. He trained at the Institute of Coptic Studies, Cairo, under Prof. Isaac Fanous, where he received his Master’s degree. He completed his PhD at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1990 and has since fulfilled several large commissions in the UK and abroad, notably the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangel Mikhail, Santa Ana, California, and St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in London. Dr René is a lecturer in Christian Art and is associated with the Prince’s School of the Traditional Arts and the Temenos Academy.

THE CONTEMPORARY OR NEO-COPTIC SCHOOL of iconography was established under the patronage of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria, by Prof. Isaac Fanous Youssef, in the early 1960’s. The Coptic icon is the direct heir to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers who flourished during the Coptic Period (4th to 7th c.). The Neo-Coptic style derives much of its unique identity from its ancestral Pharaonic roots, with its hieratic style, uncluttered designs and profound symbolism.

AIDAN HART, was born in England and has been a professional icon painter, carver and fresco painter for over 20 years. He obtained a degree in English literature in New Zealand where he grew up and later worked as a professional sculptor. On becoming a member of the Orthodox Church he returned to England and has studied the art of iconography in this country and for three years in Thessalonica and Mount Athos. He has had works commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales, the Cathedrals of Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle, Hexham Abbey, Iviron Monastery in Mount Athos Greece, and Saint John’s Abbey USA for The Saint John’s Bible, and has icons in the collections of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos and of other collections around the world. He is a visiting tutor at The Prince’s School of Traditional Art, London.

TATIANA KOLIBABA was born in Nijnyi Tagil, Russia. She studied at the Polytechnic University, St-Petersburg from 1980 – 1986. From 1989 to1997 she worked in the Mining Institute (Technique University), St-Petersburg. She has been studying and working in an icon painting studio since 1992 and in 2001 became a member of the Union of artists of Russia. Tatiana has exhibited internationally.