The more I study icons, the more they draw me into the heart of God. Of course this is exactly the reason an iconographer prays and paints. He paints with, through and in the Holy Spirit so that everyone who gazes on his icon with an open heart will be touched by God.
Gateways to Prayer-Stephen Bonian
The enduring spiritual power of icons. Icons have been objects of faith, controversy and fascination for centuries. The popularity of icons, which are a rich resource for prayer, continues to this day as such artists as the Rev. William Hart McNichols and Robert Lentz, O.F.M., practice the art of modern iconography.
Praying with icons is an intuitive art gained with practice and experience. There is a freedom of engagement in the contemplation of art that varies from person to person and with time and place. Still, as one embarks on this journey of prayer, it is useful to keep in mind a few guiding principles and to reflect on the history of this holy art form.
Colour plays an important role as well. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the color of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ. If you look at icons of Jesus and Mary: Jesus wears red undergarment with a blue outer garment (God become Human) and Mary wears a blue undergarment with a red overgarment (human was granted gifts by God), thus the doctrine of deification is conveyed by icons. Letters are symbols too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted. Even this is often presented in a stylized manner.
In later Western depictions, much of the symbolism survives, though there is far less consistency. Artistic license allows the painter much more freedom over the depiction. Examples of this style abound. And yet, despite the imagination and brilliance of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it is still quite easy to identify the saint depicted because the traditional attribute and appearance of Peter is still present.
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