19 April – 12 May 2006
The Gallery, 19 -22 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3SG

Sacred Iconography: a Living Tradition opens at the Prince’s School of the Traditional Arts’ gallery on 19th April and continues until the 12th May 2006.

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A unique exhibition of sacred icons painted in the Russian, Greek, Coptic and Ethiopian styles of orthodox iconography will be shown at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, 19-22 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3SG from 19 April to 12 May 2006. This event will bring together artists from parts of the world where the art continues to be practiced as part of a living tradition.

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.


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.

GEBRE MERHE was born and raised in the ancient Holy City and former Imperial capital city of Aksum, Ethiopia. He now resides in Addis Ababa where he has a small studio. He learned iconography in the traditional manner as it has been passed down for generations in his family in Aksum. He still works in collaboration with his family who provide him with the wood for his paintings from the mountains surrounding Aksum where the trees are still felled by hand-ax.

Father Ilie Dantes is a monk at the Slanic Monastery in Arges, Romania, who serves as Icon Master in the community. He was born in Tagiu Jiu, Romania and educated at the Nicole Tonitza Art School in Bucharest. He then studied in the Department of Iconography at the Academy of Art in Bucharest.

Yordanos Tekle Tsion is an iconographer from Aksum, Ethiopia. She comes from a famous family of iconographers accredited with the iconography of the Cathedral of St Mary of Tsion in Aksum, one of the holiest places in Ethiopia. This holy site is reputed to be the keeper of the legendary Ark of the Covenant. Yordanos has no formal training but learned her craft directly from her family. She works in tempera on gesso.

Protoklis Nicola was born in London of Greek Cypriote parents. He obtained the BA and MA from London University and has been studying iconography for the past 6 years with Dr Stephane Rene. He is presently researching a PhD by project at the Prince’s School ofTraditional Arts, London.

To coincide with the exhibition, “SACRED ICONOGRAPHY: A LIVING TRADITION” to be held at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts’ Gallery on 19 April – 12 May 2006 courses in the Greek, Russian and Coptic traditions of Icon Painting will be offered to enrich the experience of those interested to do an in-depth study on the subject.

Two 5-day courses and a 3-day course will be given during the exhibition.

Master Class in Neo-Coptic Iconography with Dr Stephane Rene, Monday 24th – Friday 28th April 2006
This short course is a unique opportunity for participants to become acquainted with Coptic Art. Over this five day workshop, The Holy Face will be written according to the canons of the Neo-Coptic School. Subjects explored will include the use of geometry and symbolism in the icon as well as the technique of applying egg tempera on gesso. Students are expected to bring their own brushes (# 2, 5 and 8 pure sable) and palette.

Icon Painting in the Russian Tradition with Tatiana Kolibaba, Wednesday, 3 – Friday, 5 May 2006
Participants will be working on the icon of the Saviour Made without Hands (acheiropoitos) in this 3-day workshop on prepared panels, which will be provided with the painting materials. They will learn to do some gilding. Panels and painting materials will b eincluded in the workshop fee of £210. Brushes will be available on request at additional costs.

Icon Painting Course with Aidan Hart, Monday 8th- Friday 12th May 2006
In this five-day course the student will learn the stages of painting an icon with egg tempera and in the traditional style of the Orthodox Church. Following a model, the Head of Christ, the tutor will guide the student through the different stages of building up layers of paint on a previously prepared gesso panel. Participants will be able to observe previously prepared panels showing the icon in different stages of development.
Participants are requested to bring their own pigments and equipment. A list will be provided, along with instructions for some of the preparatory work including how to make a gesso panel. A print of the icon that will be painted will be provided so that participants can prepare their drawing of this before the workshop. The workshop itself will focus on particular skills for icon painting. The participant is expected to learn not only the essentials of painting with egg tempera, but more significantly the spiritual basis for the way the icon is painted.

Workshop fees are £350.00 per student for 5 day courses; £250.00 for 3 day course. Concessions are available.