What’s a jabberwocky got to do with iconography, you might ask? Everything, if you are one of those quiet, docile types that believe everything you hear and begin to idolize any particular teacher or style. Pride go-eth before the fall, and there is oh so much pride in this field where teachers develop schools of style, and students very carefully follow paint by number instructions that dare not deviate from those outlined. And then, of course, there are those who feel qualified to pass judgement on particular iconographers and schools of iconography, giving their “papal blessing” (although there is no pope in orthodoxy, but we’ll get to that later, LOL) and decreeing certain iconographers “in” and other iconographers “out.” Such pomposity-grandiosity-any-osity from “followers of Christ. Emperor, I believe you have no clothes on! Does this not sound like grade school where the poplular kids form cliques?
The best artists have always gone their own ways, of course; inventing new rules and new ways of looking at things. They have an eye for spotting the absurd, and little patience for it. And it has been hundreds of years since the orthodox church began to fear that it was losing its claim on the style of byzantine art, and attempted to create guidelines which needed to be enforced in order to be claimed to be true icons. Devout and righteous Christians as the Orthodox are, they resented sharing their style of art, which was becoming popular, and being “watered down” and changed into the more realistic portraiture embraced by the Europeans. An so, the Orthodox decided to draw the line in the sand, and made rigid painting rubrics part of a canon, the same one that had not deviated in over a thousand years. Artists were required to dutifully re-copy images exactly as they had been re-copied for centuries before, and would be recopied into the future. Fast forward to the modern era.
As spoken about in a previous post, an artist’s icon tends to take on a resemblance to the artist herself, and this can clearly be seen when comparing icons from two cultures, say the English and the French. It becomes even more interesting when you know something about an individual iconographer. Generally speaking, angry people respond to and choose to paint images of an angry Christ, meek persons select or give him a sort of timid look. And, as you begin to reflect on the life’s work of a modern orthodox iconographer, you will see those that have, in actuality, really struck out on their own, as it were, re-creating facial images entirely so that there are none recognizable that came before. To that I say bravo!, but call a spade a spade. You cannot present yourself as a rigid practitioner of the orthodox lexicon and do your own thing all at once. Or do your own thing, but tell your students to stay between the lines. (metaphor, for those who are having difficulty following.)
There is an element of dishonesty that bristles here. Dishonesty proliferated by partial presentation of the truth. A kind of Bill Clinton parsing language. The whole truth is not disclosed. It stains the work.
Orthodoxy is a whole other partial representation of the truth. The Russian Orthodox Church, in particular, loves to claim rights to everything under the sun. Bah, humbug! I know whereof I speak. Christianity was first brought to the UKRAINE by St. Andrew, one of the 12 apostles. Iconography in the Balkan States first started in UKRAINE in the Kiev Caves and Perchersk Lavra. As Christianity spread and was practiced throughout the Balkan States, politics and wars led to land grabs by Russia, not unlike the one going on right now. So, for some periods of time and against their will, the Ukrainian people and their culture came to be claimed by Russia.
When the time came that “Russia” decided to split from Rome, the folks on the eastern border of Ukraine that abuts Russia followed Russia, and those people became Orthodox Christians. The people on the western half of the Ukraine who were closer to Greece/Constantinople/and the seat in Rome became Greek Byzantine Catholics.
To this very day, all of the rites and liturgies, etc. are virtually identical. (Except that we didn’t paint icons of Putin and hang them in our churches when he invaded Ukraine.) Within Ukraine, the Orthodox clergy have always hated the Catholic clergy and feel an intense rivalry. They also have a superiority complex, which is clearly visible to anyone spending 5 minutes reading any of their websites. They consider themselves to be the only true church because it is only they who have remained unchanged in almost 2000 years. But hold on…what about that thorn in your side, all those nasty Byzantine Greek Catholics…
to be continued…