The Smallest Things Make the Biggest Differences; Quantum Physics and Iconography

Pantocrator For some time, it has been quite a marvel to me that such a tiny amount of pigment is utilized in the creation of an icon painted with traditional egg tempera.  The pigment powders used in the icon above, for example, could not have exceeded 20 mg or so.  And, because of working with quantities which are so small, it occurred to me that the smallest of errors in mixing or diluting colors could easily ruin a day’s work. Beyond that, the issue of moving a line or shadow a millimeter or two into alignment and suddenly, an effect which had eluded one for days comes into focus.  And so the theories of quantum physics began to “wave” through my mind.  And a match was made in heaven, and the angels sang.  

The word quantum comes from Latin and means “how much.” This in itself would be a lovely thing were one able to pin down all teachers to this task. But teachers are like chefs.  They all have their own recipes, and some are more open than others to quantifying amounts for color mixtures. You may have to resort to some trial and error on your own.  There are other teachers, Gianluca Busi for example, who publish exact formulas which will make your life easier.  

Quantum Iconography depends on  probability: when you are a student, unless you purchase specific pigment powder from the same source as your instructor, your result may not be the same. Even if you do use the same pigment, unless you mix it according to the correct proportions of emulsion and water, it can still look different.  Throw in your student brush technique, argggh…have you given up yet? Cinnabar purchased in Russia will not have the same hue which cinnabar purchased from Finland has,  or 5 other sources in the U.S. will have–they will all have their own idiosyncratic cinnabar.  And your cinnabar is not the same as Cennini’s cinnabar was all those hundreds of years ago, get it? Figure out all the likely permutations, holy cow!  By the time you are done, in a very real way, your icon has ended up being just as unique in the universe as you are.  It behaves as a particle and a wave.  It is stationary and it draws you inside.  The pigments exhibit the forces of electromagnetism when they are being suspended into emulsions. Certain pigments may repel each other when being added into solution, and conversely, are “gobbled up” as it were.  Gravity is evident when heavier portions of a pigment sink to the bottom of the emulsion and we use only the lighter, more transparent color which remains in solution at the top.

Finally, as reflections of light particles and waves, icons do God’s holy work with the assistance of our hands, amen.  






About Olga Dytyniak

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