Nothing New Under the Sun…Yet

It is well known in the field of literature that the same few themes recur in the human drama of life regardless of the time in which the people live. Good versus evil, sibling rivalry, unrequited love, the hero’s journey and so on. It is only the task of writers of each new generation to bring these themes into the time and space of contemporaries, and make them their own in this way. And so it is with iconography, where we utilize a proscribed canon of images and techniques. When we study the work of particular iconographers, we are able to see how the classical images repeat, and yet become recognizable as that iconographer’s own. Somehow, we put ourselves into our work, as if that infinitesimal spark of God within us rises up to meet the image we work upon. This really is “putting yourself into your work” and happens not by any design, but of itself. Is it the prayer we offer as we work made visible? Is it our petition of God that He work through us and guides our hand? I am not wise enough nor learned enough to know. I am only aware that I respond to some icons and not others, and there is a method to the selection of the ones I choose to write.
Historically, most women have not been given an opportunity to become iconographers until most recently.    Many images of the female saints which have been painted  appear somewhat plain or harsh. With some exceptions, I find softer and more beautiful features in images painted by modern female iconographers. Males are apt to paint more masculine features into female facial expression in icons, as even Michaelangelo did with his paintings and sculptures in the Sistine Chapel. Generally speaking, our icons become a reflection, in small part, of who we are, or who we look like. It is no secret that Greek icons contain Greek features, British icons are recognizably British, and so on. With the exception of Ksenia Pokrevsky, I am not aware of any female iconographer who has achieved a status of a recognized master teacher here in the United States. I am hoping that the great increase of interest in iconography worldwide will result in more masters who are women and who can do justice to the sacred feminine portrayed in our iconographic canon.  It is time for women to take their rightful place in this art and make all of the contributions we are now capable of making.  This includes the writing of scholarly articles, presenting at conferences and opening of our own schools of iconographic arts.

About Olga Dytyniak

artist, librarian poet, byzantine icon painter, perennial student. Join me on
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