Voronet Sistine Chapel

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Tucked in the small village of Voroneț, Romania, you can find the great Romanian Orthodox Voroneț Monastery, one of a string of “painted monasteries” in Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine, built mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries. Voroneț Monastery specifically was built in 1488 over a period of 3 months and 3 weeks (!), and is dedicated to St. George. The monastery was abandoned around 1775 due to political instability, and a monastic community didn’t return until more than two hundred years later in 1991. The building is famous for its beautiful frescoes and icons, both inside and out, which is how it got its nickname as the “Sistine Chapel of the East.”

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The frescoes at Voroneț feature an intense shade of blue known in Romania as “Voroneț blue”. “The exterior walls — including a representation of the Last Judgment on the west wall — were painted in 1547 with a background of vivid cerulean blue. This blue is so vibrant that art historians refer to Voroneț blue the same way they do Titian red. Monastery of Voronet has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO.  Below are some great photos of the beautiful sacred building. Enjoy!

voronet-blue2Remus Pereni, Flickrglobetrotter_rodrigo, Flickrglobetrotter_rodrigo, FlickrJoergsam, Wikipediaglobetrotter_rodrigo, Flickrglobetrotter_rodrigo, FlickrAdam Jones Adam63, WikipediaIone.pomana, WikipediaGroundhopping Merseburg, FlickrSîmbotin, WikipediaGroundhopping Merseburg, Flickr

Watch “Monastery Voroneţ” documentary at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1buejr72eY

voronet-blue10Groundhopping Merseburg, FlickrGroundhopping Merseburg, Flickr

Source: “The Sistine Chapel of the East”: Romania’s Beautiful Voroneț Monastery http://www.churchpop.com/2015/10/06/the-sistine-chapel-of-the-east-romanias-monastery/

 

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The Colour of Love

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                                           Chagall’s wisdom

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love. All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.

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When I am finishing a picture I hold some God-made object up to it / a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand / as a kind of final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it is bad art.

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If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. Will God or someone else give me the strength to breathe the breath of prayer and mourning into my paintings, the breath of prayer for redemption and resurrection?

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The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation; but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against a continual tendency to sleep.

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Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love. 

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Marc Chagall (July 1887 – March 1985) was a Russian artist of a devout Jewish family, born in Vitebsk.

Source: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/05/07/character-of-the-week-marc-chagall/

Beauty Spirit Matter: The Theology of An Icon

richyoungruler In-Depth Insights Into The ‘Writing’ of An Icon

“… This spring, I received an email from an American client which left me both intrigued and slightly anxious. Would I like to paint a new icon depicting Christ’s interaction with the Rich Young Ruler described in each of the Synoptic Gospels? Yes, of course!

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… I had heard this story before of course – it is the moment when Christ says “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven”. Like many Christians I was both baffled by the imagery but also struck by a few words in the sentence before, when we hear “Christ looked at the young man and warmed to him”. Does this mean that before this moment, Christ had not felt warmth – or love – for this rich young person? What changed for Christ in that moment that it is marked in the gospel? My client was very clear that THIS was the moment to be shown in the icon – that second when we are told how Christ felt agape for this person who had approached him with such an important question.  In our correspondence, he said “The wealthy need a savior too, and they know it. Their spiritual position is precarious even if not their social and logistical position.”

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Initially I drew the figure of Jesus sitting – traditionally he would sit and the crowd would gather and sit around his feet. However, my client suggested both should be standing – this was a dynamic interaction between Christ and the Young Ruler, rather than a more simple ‘teaching’ scene. As we are told in the Gospel of St Mark:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

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And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

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Christ is ever so slightly taller, as He is mature in body and of course His Divine Nature. He is clothed traditionally, with the red robe of His human nature adorned by the blue outer garment of His Divinity. He is shown with a clear, compassionate expression – with His right hand He blesses and I chose that His left hand should be open, extending towards this young man who has come seeking His teaching on life and how to be saved. It is not a begging, not a pleading – it is an open, loving invitation to the young man (and all of us). “Here, take my hand, and I will lead you into Paradise”. He is shown not quite standing, not quite moving – Christ was about to leave at the end of a long time answering, telling parables, teaching. Yet He hesitates, having heard the direct question and honest response of this wealthy young man.

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The Young Ruler is, obviously, dressed very differently. My client and I discussed at length how we could show his material prosperity and how that should be illustrated. Garish colours? Gold and jewels? Furs even? It was very tempting to have some real ‘fun’ with this ensemble, to communicate just how extravagant his wealthy behaviour had become. And yet there is nothing intrinsically wrong with his wealth – it is a fact of his life, like brown hair or a straight nose. I felt that although he was rich, he was not intrinsically ‘bad’ or even tasteless  …

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I sat down and gazed at the form of the young man. I had spent hours drawing him, over and over, until I got the combination of supplication, enquiry and so on, combined with the transformed nature of the icon as right as I could. I knew that I wanted him to be bright. Yet as I sat there, I knew that, underneath the almost turquoise terre verte I wanted for his robe, there must also be a deep layer of azurite – the same as Christ’s robe. Here was a young man who wants to be saved, who wants to be with Christ – and yet he already is with Christ, and he already partakes of that Divinity in his person by virtue of being human and therefore already formed in God’s likeness and image. I had to find a way to show that all humanity, whether rich or poor, is a part of God’s likeness and that his wealth was no bar to this – if only he (and we) can recognise it.

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This led to a slightly different choice for his cloak – the inner red, which grabs our attention here, and on his delicately shod feet is a genuine (and poisonous) vermillion. This is the most intense colour I ever use and it certainly grabs attention. Who other than a very rich person would travel with such impractical, highly decorative garments? His shoes illustrate that he does not have to walk for miles; he rides a fine horse or is perhaps carried on a litter. His cloak is sewn with pearls and yet they would not help protect him from weather; this is all about displaying status, like designer labels in our day perhaps. His hem and crown are both gold, as is the decorative panel on his cloak. However, you might be wondering why I didn’t use real gold, as there is lots of gold leaf on the background of the panel.

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Gold, in an icon, is not used to depict the metal gold on this earth (or not solely that). In this instance, the gold in background is a 23 ½ carat gold leaf, double layered over a red clay base. As simply put as possible, the gold is the presence of the unseen God “in whom we live and move and have our being”. He is closer to us than our own breath and yet cannot be seen with eyes. This gold is a reminder of that presence and part of the ‘transfigured reality’ that icons show us.

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When gold is used on a garment, it is not to show itself but the light of divinity transforming material, fabric, garments, just as Christ’s robes were transfigured on Mt Tabor; the Light of God transforms the very matter around us as far as we are able to see it. So the lines of gold on the robe of the Virgin Mary, the lines of gold on the robe of an infant Christ etc., all are signs of the indwelling of God possible within His good creation when it is transmuted by His presence and in the fullness of its potential reality.

The crown, hem and cloak are therefore painted with a bright Italian yellow ochre to illustrate the decorative nature of his garments but not their essence. They are finely figured in the Byzantine style of the 12th-13th centuries and, I hope, communicate how wealthy this person would have been to wear such finery.

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…. Behind Christ, there is in the distance a waterfall – He is the life-giving water which not only quenches all who thirst but is so essential for life in the hot, desert country where this icon will live. Around Christ’s feet, there are a few native plants from the Colorado region as well – Columbine, blanket flower and a reference to Christ as the vine.

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There is also an element of ‘sacred geometry’ involved. Between the figures, one can see the shape of a chalice. There is a Communion taking place between Christ and this rich young ruler, similar to the Eucharist celebrated daily in churches throughout the world. A similar chalice shape exists in the Rublev Holy Trinity, which I was studying at the time.

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I was sad to complete this icon. I am always reluctant to let them go, having been blessed by spending so many hours in prayer with them and getting to know the Saints or the passage of the Gospel in this case. But I am more delighted than I can say to know that it is going to be shared with so many who wish to bring the Gospel and good news of Christ’s love to more in the community and that it will be so well cared for, and prayed with. I should perhaps say I feel sad, but also immensely blessed.”

For the complete article “A New Icon Composition: Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Katherine Sanders • October 9, 2015 • Orthodox Arts Journal go to http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/a-new-icon-composition-christ-and-the-rich-young-ruler/

A Spectral Array of Blues

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TROIS COULEURS: BLEU (1993) is a stunning film from one of the world’s preeminent directors, a rich, dark film with all the Kieslowski marks: death, silence, depression, and inner torment of the protagonist. Bleu is an impressive, inspired and inspiring anatomy of Loss, Death & Mourning with certain Christian overtones.

Desson Howe notes that “in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue,” the rehabilitation of a human spirit after painful tragedy is given stunning, aesthetic dimension. A story about a woman (Juliette Binoche) who loses her family (her composer-husband and 5-year-old daughter) in a car crash, this Polish-French production is also a spectral array of blues — cold, heart-chilling and beautiful.

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For the trauma of loss and persistence of memory, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osu3j7N1fGU

Emotionally, “Blue” is a grim ordeal, as Binoche (still in the hospital recovering from the accident) attempts suicide, then retreats into deep-freeze mourning. But Kieslowski, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, set designer Claude Lenoir and composer Zbigniew Preisner infuse the harrowing atmosphere with stylistic rhapsody.” (Washington Post, March 04, 1994 )

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More importantly, unlike Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, certain Christian themes throughout the movie offer the hope of redemption. Throughout Kieslowski implies a form of divine intervention or destiny at work, forcing Julie to come to terms with her past, others, and herself and serving as an agent of epiphanic inspiration.

There is also specifically love and forgiveness: Julie for example discovers that her late husband was having an affair. She tracks down Sandrine, Patrice’s mistress, and finds out that she is carrying his child; Julie arranges for her to have her husband’s house and recognition of his paternity for the child. What a ray of hope and redemption for such a “bleak” film, focusing on death and mourning, to end with the ultrasound of a baby, waiting to be born! Life conquers Death because Love is Life, and nothing, nobody can defeat Love, not even Death, the ultimate enemy.

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Then, there is humility, self-effacement and sacrifice. After the crash, in an attempt to blot out the trauma of loss, Julie destroys the score for her late husband’s last commissioned, though unfinished, work—a piece celebrating European unity, following the end of the Cold War. It is strongly suggested that she wrote, or at least co-wrote, her husband’s last work. Throughout there is an implication that she has hidden her own work behind the public face of her husband. In the final sequence she rewrites and completes the score and the Unity of Europe piece is played, while images are seen of all the people Julie has profoundly affected by her actions.

Significantly, this climactic piece which features chorus and a solo soprano is Saint Paul‘s 1 Corinthians 13 epistle in Greek, the hymn of love.

For a profound rendition of the Christian Hymn of Love (1 Cor, 13) , watch Trois Couleurs: ‘Bleu’ finale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmQ88PWzvR0

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13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 

13 And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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So, although there are some scenes, themes and plot developments in Bleu which conflict in my opinion with a Christian outlook, such as the typical French twist with Julie and her husband’s friend becoming lovers, still I find this film so much more comforting, uplifting and inspiring than The Sad Book* and its like, so plenty in modern art!

*See https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/17/heartbreaking-anatomies-of-loss-death-mourning-iexemption/

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Sculpting in Time

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This is Iconographer Andrei Rublev’s ( Андре́й Рублёв) famous work on the Trinity – Angels at Mamre ( Holy Trinity). For those of you familiar with his art, the colour explication that follows is superfluous. What I would really like to share with you is my (re)discovery of these colours yesterday through Tarkovsky‘s lens. These colours become so alive at the ending of his movie Andrei Rublev (1966) after three hours of black and white! Pay particular attention to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsEbrhv2jGY, esp. 4:50′ to  8:00′.

For those of you who are not familiar with this icon, Rublev gives each person of the Trinity different clothing. On the right, the Holy Spirit has a garment of the clear blue of the sky, wrapped over with a robe of a fragile green. So the Spirit of creation moves in sky and water, breathes in heaven and earth. All living things owe their freshness to his touch. The green mantle of the Spirit, scintillating with light, is clearly a Rublev achievement. Green belongs to the Spirit because the Spirit is the source of life.

The Son has the deepest colors; a thick heavy garment of the reddish-brown of earth and a cloak of the blue of heaven. In his person he unites heaven and earth, the two natures are present in him, i.e., human and divine, (and this is why on the table are placed two of his fingers) and over his right shoulder (the Government shall be upon his shoulder) there is a band of gold shot through the earthly garment, as his divinity suffuses and transfigures his earthly being. The red signifies his earthly passion, and the gold band, his royal status as Christ the King.

The Father seems to wear all the colors in a kind of fabric that changes with the light, that seems transparent, that cannot be described or confined in words. The Father’s ghostly outer garment hints at his inconceivable divine nature. And this is how it should be. No one has seen the Father, but the vision of him fills the universe. His robe is iridescent, shifting from glowing golden-red to azure blue, a triumph of the painter’s art. “You robe yourself in light as in a garment” (Ps 104:2).

The wings of the angels or persons are gold. Their seats are gold. The chalice in the center is gold, and the roof of the house. Whether they sit, whether they fly, all is perfect, precious, and worthy. In stasis, when there is no activity apparent on the part of God, his way is golden. When he flies, blazes with power and unstoppable strength, his way is golden. And in the Sacrifice at the center of all things, his way is golden.

The light that shines around their heads is white, pure light. Gold is not enough to express the glory of God. Only light will do, and that same white becomes the holy table, the place of offering. God is revealed and disclosed here, at the heart, in the whiteness of untouchable light, the Uncreated Light.

For more information, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6g-DkKDQ_5g

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOYFHbmmWZ0