Theology of Icon Sources and Types of Byzantine Hagiography

Sources and Types of Byzantine Hagiography

 

Η παρούσα ενότητα άρθρων αναδημοσιεύεται με την άδεια και ευλογία της Ιεράς Μονής Μελισσοχωρίου. Περιλαμβάνει σύντομη αναδρομή για την εξέλιξη της αγιογραφίας, τις πηγές και τα είδη της, καθώς και την θεολογία της εικόνας. http://www.impantokratoros.gr/agiografia.en.aspx

 

 

Hagiography (sacred icon painting) as sacred art.


Hagiography- Study - History.

        A certain contemporary hagiographer dedicated his book, "To the kind Wisdom of God that created beauty". Truly, God graced man with the capability to imprint on lifeless surfaces different compositions, faces, places, to express feelings, to create some sort of life. Who doesn't feel awe in front of unique masterpieces of great paint artists who served this art through the centuries? However, despite the artistic value and beauty of their works, they haven't ceased nor cease to be works that relate to man. For this the beneficial providence of the Triune God did not stop here.
        The All Holy Spirit inspired godly souls and endowed them with artistic and spiritual sensitivity so that they may present and finally succeed in rendering with colours and lines not just a type of life but life itself, our God-Man and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, "the beautiful beauty above all men".
        That the achievement of the Christian hagiographers is divinely inspired one can easily confirm having as a guide the Holy Bible. In the book of Exodus, the following is mentioned: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses saying: See I have called by name Bezaleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding and in knowledge and in all manner of workmanship. To devise cunning works, to work in gold and silver and in brass. And in cutting of the stones, to set them, and in carving timber to work in all manner of workmanship" (Ex 31:1-5). If therefore during the time of the Old Testament for the construction of the tent of Martyrdom, God gave to Bezaleel, "spirit of divine wisdom", how much wisdom and inspiration would He give to the masters of the New Testament that they may portray the archetype beauty of the Lord's appearance?
        This way therefore, Orthodox hagiography made its appearance and it evolved to what is also called Orthodox painting. In our time, a general wave of return to the sources of Orthodox tradition is observed. In this effort the revival in our days of the Byzantine hagiography is included. Many Greek and foreign theologians and various specialists in the area of art, Orthodox or non, have perceived that hagiography is not some type of art that has served only her time. They discovered in fact that what they believed was incomplete and lacking, has some secret, spiritual and theological depth. Here exactly is the key to understanding the Orthodox icon. Like a hidden treasure, its purpose is explored and the value of iconography is finally discovered.
        The icon doesn't simply help the memory to recreate early events or faces, but it creates a feeling of presence. It brings the faithful to a personal relationship and contact with the hypostasis of the drawn saint. Therefore, the icon is not a simple work of art or religious picture but as emphatically stressed by L. Uspenski and F. Kontoglou, it is a holy liturgical utensil that sanctifies man. It was appropriately named   Holy Bible for the simple and illiterate people and a visual theology for the scrutinizers and experts. The sacred icons "speak" to the hearts of men and every soul that gazes these divine forms and depictions succeeds in communicating with God and His saints.
        The Holy Hesychast wishing humbly to contribute to the spiritual ascent of God's people and to enlighten on the theology of the sacred icon, proceeds with this uncomplicated presentation, so that the faithful having the necessary knowledge to consciously worship and relate with their mind and heart to the prototype and as Great Basil preached that "the honour of the icon remains with the prototype" (namely the person depicted)

 

 

The course of the hagiographic art through time

 

Historical course of hagiography.

 

        Ecclesiastic tradition mentions that the first icon, with the essence of representation, was made by the Lord Himself and in fact without hands. The story of this icon briefly is as follows: The king of Edessa of Mesopotamia, Augarus, suffered from leprosy. He wrote therefore  to the Lord a letter, in which he implored Him to visit Edessa and heal him. His servant Ananias brought the letter to Palestine. He tried to draw the Lord but did not succeed. The Lord having noticed the effort of Ananias, asked for water to wash His face which He then dried with a handkerchief. The holy face of the Lord was miraculously imprinted on the handkerchief. This is known as the "Holy Mandelion" (handkerchief).
        Augarus, as mark of his gratitude for his healing which happened through the grace of the icon and completed later with his baptism, raised the icon of the Holy Mandelion at the entrance of the City's gate, having first written on a plank underneath it, the phrase: "Christ God, whoever hopes in You never fails". The icon of the Lord made with no hands, after quite a few centuries in Edessa, was brought in 994AD to Constantinople, during the empire of Romanus Lekapinus.
        Tradition also mentions as the first hagiographer, the Evangelist Luke. The Evangelist was the first to draw three icons- using wax, gum and colours - of the All Holy Theotokos, holding in her bosom our Lord Jesus Christ and offered them to her, wishing to know if they were pleasing to her. The Mother of the Lord accepted them saying, "The grace of the one who drew me goes through me to them". Of these three icons, one is in Peloponnesus, in the Monastery of the Great Cave which is made with wax and gum. The second it is said to be in little Russia, in a town called Vilina which was given as a gift by the byzantine emperors to the Russians, so that they may be their allies. The third icon according to the assurance of the golden sealed decree of John Gregory Giga Boeboda, ruler of Hungarovlachia, is in Cyprus at the Monastery of Kykku. Moreover according to tradition the Evangelist Luke drew some icons of the Holy Pre-eminent Apostles and some others and since then the art of drawing of the Holy Icons was passed on to good and pious people.

 

The history of the Byzantine Iconography was divided by historians to various periods.

 

  • 1. The first centuries until the Iconomachy. This period is subdivided

 

A) In the proto-Christianity (until the time of Great Constantine).

 

B) In the early Christianity during 320-720AD (From the period of Great Constantine to the iconomachy)

 

  • 2. The time of the Iconamachy (724-843AD).
  • 3. The time of the Macedonians and Comnenus (867-1204AD).
  • 4. The Paleologian Renaissance (1204-1453AD) or the final byzantine period.

 

        In the first centuries of Christianity, the proto-Christian period, was what was known as the archaic iconography, which had a symbolic characteristic also known as the art of the catacombs. The art structure of the catacomb depictions was liberal. It started with motifs received from idolatric art, such as Orpheus. The purpose of this art was plainly educational. Symbols such as a ship, fish, olive, anchor, vine etc, were used. The wall paintings of this period were basically non artistic. They had more religious than artistic significance.
        In the early Christian period, following the cessation of persecutions, they started to use drawing depictions of holy persons and situations from the Old and New Testament. In this period we have use of mosaics. There are some important wall paintings that were worked with the art of Fresco. Important art works of this period are: at the Basilica of Saint Demetrius in Thessaloniki (5th Century), of Saint Appolinarius in Ravenna (Italy), the fresco of Castelserpio near Milan (6th century) etc. Of the portable icons of this period (6th century) is the magnificent burning art of the Sinai Monastery.
        During the dark years of Iconomachy, the condemnation of the icons and in general the depictions of human forms, stopped temporarily the course of the byzantine paintings. The iconographic circle was replaced with decorative motifs especially from the animal and vegetable world. Iconomachy did not create a new art but it mainly brought back the proto-Christian ornamentation of the Churches. This period sees mainly the development of the theology of the icon with Saint John Damascene, the apologetic and champion of the iconophiles of the 1st phase of iconomachy (726-787AD) with the 7th Ecumenical Synod at Nicea (787AD) which condemned the iconomach heresy and with Saint Theodore the Studite, the other flag bearer of Orthodoxy, who defended the icons during the second phase of iconomachy (813-843AD)
        The commotion of iconomachy ended decisively with the endemic Synod of 843AD in Constantinople during the reign of Saint Theodora. The Synod decided to restore the holy icons and decreed the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
        In the period of the Macedonians and the Comnenus we have the renaissance of Orthodox Hagiography. The victory over the iconomachs brought about substantial change in painting as well as to the whole byzantine art. The decoration of churches is forbidden on liturgical and dogmatic reasons. A hierarchal order is decreed as a result on iconographic topics. This order is decreed by the Church which at present under the decision of the 7th Ecumenical Synod, has assumed the direction of hagiography. Thus are three iconographic groups formed: the dogmatic, the liturgical and the historic (festive). The topic relates to a dedicated place in the Church to which it will turn out into a canon of byzantine hagiography.
        During this period we have also features of the art. The type of the monk with dried up face, with almond shaped eyes due to strict fasting, enters into iconography etc. We then have a return to the Alexandrian tradition. Angelic features and saints in mosaic remind of forms in the Hellenistic world. The posing and movement of the depicted ones are done according to the prototypes of ancient Greek sculpture. The prophets have the raiment, the pose and expression of orators. Generally there is a blending of ancient and new features and the tradition is harmonized with the contemporary art. Charles Delvoye calls this period the classical age of Byzantium. Magnificent works of this period are: the Church of Saint Sophia at Ahrida (1040-1045AD), the Church of Saint Panteleimon at Nerezi in Skopia (1164AD), the magnificent mosaics of Saint Sophia of Constantinople (12ththcentury), of the Daphne Monastery (11th century) and many more. century), of the church of Saint Luke in Libadia (11
        The Paleologian period is considered the golden age of hagiography. Whatever the art of the previous centuries offered came back with renewed life. The renaissance of the Paleologus' should be considered as a consequent natural progression of the previous years and not as a phenomenon that appeared suddenly. It should be explained as a re-enlivening (by the ideas and the climate of the paleologian years) of the brilliant art of the Macedonians and of the Comnenus'. The 14th century is an anthropocentric century. The characteristic therefore of this renaissance is the deep humanism. There is a turn towards the humanistic, hagiography becoming more narrative, with the art intending to cause emotion, to touch the feelings. Mainly, the French specialist G. Millet divided the paleologian art into two "schools", the "Macedonian" and the "Cretan". Of course the term "schools" which have since held, is not correct. Rather it concerns two different currents, two different ways of approach of the paleologian hagiography.
        The "Macedonian School" was born in Constantinople and bloomed mainly in Macedonia, centered in Thessaloniki and passed on to Serbia. The School is characterized by its realism and freedom. It has intensity, movement and rich colours. The face and clothes are broadly illuminated, for this they call it "broad style". It was viewed - without being of course absolute - that this art was most inclined to the learned, the educated classes and the courtiers. Its main proponents were Manuel Panselinus (who drew the Chapel of Saint Euthymius of Thessaloniki and the church of the "Protatou") Michael Astrapas and his brother Eutyhius who practiced in Serbia, George Kalliergis etc. In the same period belongs the unrivalled in craftsmanship and beauty monument of the Monastery of the Country in Constantinople.
        From the reigning city (Constantinople) the art passed on to Mystra during the end of the 14th century. There it assumed a close character and produced the "Cretan School". This School remains more faithful to the byzantine idealism. It is a conservative art, with its characteristic conservative motions, the simplicity, the nobility of the faces and generally its attachment to the byzantine traditions. The light in the close style is scant and feels like it emanates from some depth, an element that brings the faithful to profound devoutness. It was considered as an art of monastic circles. The genuine Cretan School was first formed in Crete from which it derived its name- after the historically significant event of the fall of Byzantium in the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. The main representative was Theophan the Cretan, who was an hagiographer at Meteora and at the Holy Mountain. Well known for the drawing depictions on the Catholicon (nave) of the Monastery of Dionysius is also Zorzis (1547AD). During this period Francis Catelanus and his brother George were hagiographers who however began to accept foreign and western elements.
        Finally, in the 16th century and all of the 17th  a great peak is noted in the portable cretan style, represented mainly by : Michael Damascene, Ganee, Lambardo, Victor, Poulaki, Mosko etc, who however make use by a large degree of elements from the prevailing western art.
        On the 18th and 19th century the lay art bloomed, characterized by the expression of the spirit of the era, namely the desire of liberation from the Turkish yoke. The main contributors were Theophilus, George Markus, Zographus etc. The faces are expressed with simple forms, the colours are darker and generally the quality is inferior to the previous centuries. The byzantine art had to large extent disappeared and the western art took hold until the second half of the 20th century. Dionysius from Fourna tried during his time (around the 18th century AD) to bring back the byzantine art but his effort was not fruitful for the flow thus far led to the West. Even at the Holy Mountain they used Western art. Not until 1940-1950 the great Fotis Contoglou after superhuman struggles managed to bring back to light the art of byzantine hagiography and to cultivate a climate of revival of the painting tradition. During our times, the blooming of the byzantine studies, the researches for the byzantine art, the meeting sessions, all created a favourable atmosphere. Contemporary artists having finally gained the necessary knowledge, can and should as an obligation become guardians and undertake the creative continuation of the long tradition that is called the Orthodox hagiography.  

 

The Theology of the Icon

Theological approaches to the Hagiographic art

 

        The Church, being conscious of the spiritual value and importance of the holy icons as a means of sanctification and communion of the faithful with the depicted archtypes, had them always in high regard, piety and respect. They are regarded and are a significant visual means of teaching a conjectural language of the Church, as the Great Basil said, "the word of history is represented through hearing, while those graphically silent are shown through imitation. In fact the 7th Ecumenical Synod placed the holy icons in the same level as the Bible and the Holy Cross. The topic of the holy icons has occupied the theologians and researchers for centuries, especially in the twentieth century. Truly it is significant to show the importance of the icon and its value to man as a member of the Church. Within this framework let us feel with the tips of the fingers - since the present effort does not constitute a systematic search on the topic - the dogmatic teaching of the Church on the icon, as it is safeguarded in the writings of the Holy Fathers and in the practices of the 7th Ecumenical Synod.
        The word "icon" (εικονα) etymologically derives from the verb "ico" (εικω) or "eica" (εοικα) which means "likeness" (or image), namely an imprint of the characteristics of the prototype. This means that an icon does not have its own hypostasis (being) but its value exists in the likeness with the prototype. "For what is imprinted is different from that which is being imprinted" says Saint John Damascene. The icon therefore is the perceptible means between the faithful and the prototype which is invisible to them. Great Basil refers to a distinction between a "natural" and "artificial" icon. Both types of icons have a common known, the likeness of the prototype that they depict. They differ though in this: The likeness of the natural icon to the prototype refers to the essence of the depicted prototype, maintaining the difference in its hypostasis. A characteristic example of a natural icon is the Son and Word of God in relation to God the Father. The Apostle Paul says that "Christ is the icon of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). Namely, the Son is "the identical icon of the Being" as Saint John Damascene mentions, and referred to God the Father as being identical in essence. What makes the Son different to the Father is His hypostasis and specifically the characteristic of being born. On the other side, the artificial icon likens the depicted person in his appearance but differs as of his essence. Since the  artificial icon refers only to the appearance of the one depicted, therefore what is depicted is not his nature but the hypostasis of the prototype as mentioned by Saint Theodore Studite: "What is depicted on an icon is not its nature but its hypostasis". This likeness between the icon and the one depicted constitutes the condition of existence of the artificial picture. That is why the Orthodox icons are not a product of the fantasy of every artist but the prototypes (the Lord, the Theotokos, the Saints) are historic  personalities with their own individual characteristics. Clearly the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Synod observe, "Having seen the Lord, as they saw, so they depicted Him, and having seen James, the brother of the Lord, as they saw him, so they depicted him".
        At this point we can refer to how to differentiate an icon from an idol. Two basic points preclude the identity of icon-idol. The first one is the historical existence of the persons depicted and secondly the likeness of the icon with their archtypes. According to Saint Nicephore "the idol is a creation of things that do not exist and have no being". In other words the archtype of an idol is an imaginary being while that of an icon is an existing being. Whatever effort of rendering an icon of the Lord before His incarnation would have been false since there was no prototype. However, after the incarnation of the Word of God we do not speak of an idol since the Lord took on a recognizable human form.
        Here the iconomachs (icon resisters, 726- 843AD) erred because they maintained that the icon must be of the same nature as the prototype, otherwise it is an idol. That is why they believed only the Holy Bread and Wine of the Divine Eucharist was an icon of the Lord. For the Orthodox however as L. Uspensky characteristically says, "The Holy Gifts cannot be recognized as an icon of Christ exactly because they are at the same time with Him that is their Prototype". A great influence in the formation of the iconoclastic conscience was based on the creed of Judaism and Mohammedanism with their distinguishing iconless teaching. They even accused the Christians as idolaters and superstitious. Generally the problem of the iconomachs was that they could not understand the world salvific event of the Divine Economy. God became man "so that man become god". Since the icon is a spectacular proof of the Incarnation of the Word of God, therefore the denial of the icon by extension means rejection of the taking of human form through the Holy Spirit by the second member of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ put on flesh and blood for our salvation. He gives us the right to draw Him based on His actual human appearance without this meaning that we separate His flesh from His divinity. It follows that if we do not draw the Lord then it is like we deny His human appearance. As mentioned above, the holy Theodore Studite solved this theological problem that the icon depicts not the nature but the hypostasis (being) of the person drawn.
        A still significant point for the correct understanding of the Orthodox icon is also the significance provided by the Church to the prototypes of her icons. These prototypes can only be the same historical persons that are drawn and never other unrelated persons as happened in the Western iconography. For those painters who have no rules and boundaries, their work may look like an icon, but it could approach the boundary of blaspheme.
        The Great Basil declares that "the veneration of the icon goes to the prototype". Of course here the Saint refers to the relationship of the Son to God the Father, and this position was used also by the 7th Ecumenical Synod that the veneration of the icons is relative and honourable where as the worshipful submission is reserved only to God. Thus in conclusion we agree that the honour of the icon of a saint passes on to the prototype and through the depicted saint it passes on to God.
        At this point it is worth mentioning that a possible clumsiness of the hagiograph to accurately produce the characteristics of the depicted person, does not detract from the litugicality of the icon because the veneration of the icon does not refer to the existing imperfections but in the relationship to the depicted person. In other words we are interested with the connection the icon has with its prototype.
        A very significant parameter in the topic of the holy icons is the presence of the Holy Spirit in them. Saint John Damascene notes: "the saints and the living were full of the Holy Spirit to their end, the grace of the Holy Spirit undeniably in them in their souls and bodies in their graves and their character and in their holy depictions". Thanks therefore to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their depictions of the prototypes and the Church icons are "Full of the Holy Spirit". Therefore, we should note that the icons are not simple articles of art but they express a spiritual reality, they stress the purpose of a Christian life which is the possession of the Holy Spirit. Of course the existence of the Holy Spirit on the icons is not in essence but charismatic. However, the grace is partaken by the faithful and sanctifies them. When viewing the depicted persons "the sanctification that emanates from the icons happens unawares by the faithful but of course not in a mechanical way. Basic prerequisite for the fruition of sanctity is faith and inner purity with which the faithful approach the depicted saints. The 7th Ecumenical Synod declares: "As I accept and kiss and embrace the holy icons is like an engagement to my salvation". We note therefore that the icons constitute an engagement of the salvation of the faithful due to the participation of sanctification of the faithful through the veneration of the icons.
        For this the iconomachs due to their negative position against the icons become God fighters, thus depriving the faithful from a basic possibility for their spiritual perfection.
        Roman Catholicism rejecting the distinction between uncreated grace which is untouchable and unapproachable and the uncreated grace of God, which is approachable by the people, left in the sidelines the charismatic presence of God in the icons and consequently the sanctifying character of the icons. This is one of the reasons that the western painters use in their work prototypes unrelated to the depicted ones and in fact many times ethically corrupt ones. Professor D. Tselegidiscorrectly notes that the western art does not constitute the decline of the initiative of the artist but a decline of western theology which reflects the false expression of its ecclesiastic life.
        Finally let us also address the spiritual character of the holy icons of the Orthodox Hagiography. This topic becomes more understood if we turn our attention to the purpose of the Orthodox paintings. The Orthodox icon describes the existence of the depicted person eschatologically , expresses the blessedness of the restored in Christ person. When the ever memorable F. Kontoglou was asked why the Byzantine art is not natural, he answered thus: "it is not natural because its intention is not to describe just the natural but also the supernatural".
        The Church wishing therefore to bring us into the Kingdom of God, she set aside the physical reality from the holy icons, the depiction of the natural man and tried to teach us the reality and necessity of sanctity. Man is created in the likeness of God. The fallen man dimmed his knowledge of God. However, within the bosom of the Orthodox Church sinful man once again succeeds in his return to the world of blessedness of the restored man, in the restoration according to the icon. These, true flag bearers of the in Christ theosis are the Saints, who succeeded in sanctity to the highest level possible. Orthodox hagiography wishing therefore to render to the primordial beauty, transforms reality, depicts in icon form- as humanly possible- the restored one in the icon as if in a way depicting the Word of God, which is the physical depiction of God the Father. For the above reasons and means of expressing hagiography they followed the Holy Spirit. The physical proportions are not natural - usually the bodies are oblong- we visibly perceive the element of total formation process, the eyes are big, displaying a deep spirituality, being only two dimensional as a basic anti-natural element, use simplicity in the composition, in the forms, as a consequence of ascetic dispositions but also for the central topic to dominate the icon and many more elements which in its fullness expresses the state of its divine grace, the sanctity of the person.
        Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians have misunderstood the Orthodox icons as unnatural and ugly. Clearly influenced by the religious paintings of the West, they have difficulty in perceiving the spiritual meaning of the Orthodox art. They avoid the fact that the depicted persons now live in a heavenly and incorruptible place and not in this ephemeral and corrupt place, and they do not consider the word of our Lord who said "What is of the flesh is flesh" while "what is of the spirit is spirit".
        Let us conclude this topic by the well aimed theological observations of Fr. Basil Iberite: "The icon comes from far away and it guides us far, to the transcendence of the icon, in the condition beyond the visible and understood, beyond the symbols and depictions. If the icon closed us within the same icon, the scheme, the colour, the esthetic, the history, the created world, it would be an idol and not have been worth all the blood spilled for its restoration. This did not happen. The liturgical icon is the consequence and fruit of the incarnation of the Divine Word and a confession and  guide of man's theosis.    

  

 

Sources and Types of Byzantine Hagiography

 

History and archeological research have shown that the art of hagiography was influenced by:

• a)      The art of ancient Greece

• b)      The art of the East

• c)      The Hellenistic art (portraits at Fagium)

• d)      The Greekoroman art (wall paintings of Pompeii)        

In point of fact, the two large branches, the eastern and the Hellenistic are the main factors that acted as catalyst in the creation of this art. In greater detail, Great Alexander and his successors succeeded in the creative union of the ancient Greek art with the already existing eastern one. The fruit of the union is the Hellenistic art. The arrival of Christianity influenced the Hellenistic and in this way brought on the Orthodox painting. Of course the character of the art achieved its full potential in the Byzantium, when Constantinople became the centre of the Byzantine Empire. There happened the selection of the artistic elements of the two worlds (eastern and Hellenistic) and provided the final character to the painting art.        

Occasion where we can observe the influence which was incorporated by the byzantine art, are the following.

• - In the catacombs of Rome, the fish and the vine are eastern elements

• - Again in the catacombs the display of seasons, the different personifications (of the sun, sea ) etc are elements of the Hellenistic branch.

• - The Good Shepherd of Ravenna, the monastery of the Nation in Constantinople and a great number of monuments are characteristic examples of Hellenistic influence.

• - From ancient Greece we have the winged angels, the face of Christ in the early Christian period as a beardless youth and other occasions        

Of course we should mention that apart from the eastern influence much more intense was the influence of the Greek art, of the Greek spirit. Finally we should not omit to mention in a very significant finding in our century, the portraits in the Fagium area. They were discovered in Egypt, west of the Nile and samples exist in our Benakio Museum in Athens. It concerns family portraits and are dated from the 1st to 4rd century AD. They were drawn by Greek artists and has been proved that they formed the coupling link between the ancient Greek art and the byzantine. All these elements and the technical methods we mentioned, Orthodoxy took hold of them, improved them, modified them imparting them a spiritual characteristic so as to enable the expression of the lofty truths of our faith.

 

 

The art of byzantine hagiography is distinguished by:
A. Portable Icons
        These icons are usually drawn on wood and the colours are dissolved in egg yoke. Of course, an icon can be painted on some other surface, such as ceramic, old wood, textile, plaster etc, save the selection of materials be such as not be disdainful to the depicted persons. In the Christian icons we encounter the "burning technique" which was mainly developed in the 6th century AD. In this technique we have mixing of the colours with wax and heating of the surface with a hot iron. When the hot iron is not used but the coloured wax is spread on the wood we have what is called "wax - poured icons".
        The "enamel technique" was outstanding in Byzantium. The icon was made on a metallic substrate. With slim wires they drew the outline of the forms (faces etc) and between the wires they poured enamel colours. To this, so called enclosed enamels, are included icons, manuals, holy chalices, relic holders, and other items of fine and detailed work.
 
B. Wall paintings
 
        In this wall painting category we have two techniques. The first one is the damp drawing or "fresco". In this technique the hagiographer draws on a freshly plastered wall. Only as long as the plaster is still damp the work could succeed because once the plaster is dried no correction can be made. A second technique is the "xerography" (dry drawing). Here we have the mixing of the colours with a sticky substance and the drawing is on a dry wall.


C. Mosaics
 
        In the mosaics instead of colours, small pieces of marble, stones, ivory, stained glass shards are used. They are called mosaic because the walls of caves dedicated to the Muses were decorated with mosaics. While it is not possible to achieve a soft and gradual transition of colours that are used in painting with mosaics, yet the brightness and liveliness of the mosaics instill in the faithful the feeling of transcendence to a different, more spiritual dimension. The works at Saint Luke in Lebadia, in the New Monastery of Chios, in the Monastery of the Nation etc, are considered classics.
 
D. Micrography (Miniature drawing) 
        Micrography or miniature is used mainly for decoration of the manuscripts. The detail and perfection of the features in these works is impressive. The manuscript usually is made of parchment and is called illustrated manuscript.

 

 

 

 

Most Significant Hagiographers

 

The main representatives of hagiography

 

        Below we indicatively report the names of some of the main representatives of hagiography without naturally exhausting the list of the large number of masters who served the art with humility, anonymously or not, small and big, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

 

Evangelist Luke: Book title, "The course of hagiographic art through time".

 

Saint Lazaros the Confessor: He lived during the time of the iconomach king Theophilos. Because he was a hagiographer he was accused to the king and was subjected to severe tortures. The executioners placed on his palms red hot horseshoes and from the great torment he seemed as dead. The grace of God however protected him. Afterwards the queen asked Theophilus to free him, which was done. Saint Lazarus went secretly to the Church of the Holy Forerunner the Frightful and lived there. While he still suffered from his burn wounds he drew the icon of the Holy Forerunner which performed many miracles. We celebrate the memory of Saint Lazaros on the 17th November.

 

Saint Methodios the monk: He preached the Christian faith to the Bulgarians.

 

Saint Dionysios of Olympus: About his life the following is reported. While sitting with the rest of the monks he said, "Here come to us two monks", and taking a piece of paper he drew their faces, because he was very good at drawing, drawing one with beard while the other younger. Truly the next day came to the monastery two deacons. The first one who was bearded was called James, who remained and passed away at the monastery, while the second, younger, called Elijah, who became the abbot and later bishop of Platamon.

 

Eulalios: He lived during the time of Justinian 2nd. He painted the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

 

Heraclidis the Byzantine: He was born in Constantinople, of unknown date. The early historians eulogized him saying that he stood equal to the early famous painters Apelli and Agatharhos

 

Paul the mosaicist: He created a magnificent icon of Christ in the Church of Saint Sophia in Constantinople

 

Monk Steven: He was a painter and confessor. He suffered tortures during the time of king Constantine Capronymus for his support of the holy icons.

 

Andrew, son of Artavastos: He was the official hagiographer during the time of Constantine Porphyrogenetos. It is believed he was of Persian ancestry.

 

The Greek Hagiographers from Constantinople: They painted during the 11thcentury, following a miracle, the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos in the famous Monastery of the Cave in Kiev, where they became monks, after the completion of their hagiographic work.

 

Paul the hagiographer: It is not known when he lived. He painted Saint George on his horse and his icon proved miraculous. Historians praise this artist by writing : "Paul the magnificent painter".

 

Michael Astrapas and Eutyhius: Both excellent painters. They came from Thessaloniki and did many wall paintings in many Serbian Churches. Of special mention is the Church of Saint George at Staro Nagoritsino in Serbia (1313-1317).

 

George Kalliergis: Official hagiographer who painted the Church of the Saviour Christ at Veria of Macedonia in 1315 during the reign of Andronikos Paleologos.

 

Manuel Panselinos: Top hagiographer of the 14th century and one of the most important representatives of the Macedonian School. Unfortunately no source was found to inform us on his life. According to tradition he was from Thessaloniki. Only Dionysios from Fourna in his manuscript "The Interpretation of the Art of Painting" informs us, that the hagiographies of the Church of Protatus at the Holy Mountain were of Mr. Manuel Panselinos. Dionysios further informs on some portable icons of Panselinos, without however having any information on them. Finally, the hagiography of the Chapel of Saint Euthymius at Saint Demetrios in Thessaloniki is believed was made by Panselinos due to the striking resemblance of the technic in relation with that at Protato.

 

Nicholas Joannou and Kastrisios: They came from Kalambaka of Thessaly. They painted the catholicon of the Monastery of Saint Steven at Meteora in 1501.

 

Monk Theophan the Cretan: Top hagiographer of the 16th century and the most significant representative of the Cretan School. Monk Theophan Strelitzas known as Bathas, must have been born in Heraklio in the last fifteen years of the 15thcentury and followed the family profession of painting. At an appropriate age he got married and had two children, Symeon and Nifo-neophytos. Then for some reason- perhaps due to the death of his wife- he became a monk. The first mention of hagiographer Theophan is found in the inscription in the catholicon of the Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsa at Meteora in 1527. In 1535 he painted the catholicon of the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra at the Holy Mountain, where he settled with his two sons. In 1545, with co-worker his son Symeon, he wall painted the catholicon of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita. Having lived for quite a few years at the Holy Mountain, he returned to his country Crete where he reposed on the 24th February 1559, the day he prepared his testament. His two sons continued his work.

 

Anthony the Cretan: Austere and simple hagiographer. He painted the catholicon of the Monastery of Xenofondos at the Holy Mountain.    

 

Georgis the Cretan: Excellent hagiographer, student of Theophan the Cretan. He hagiographed the catholicon (nave) of the Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios in 1545.

 

Priest Euphrosynos: He hagiographed portable icons some of which are at the Monastery of Saint Dionysios of the Holy Mountain (Great Supplication etc). He lived in the 16th century. He was a very good artist of the Cretan School.

 

Frangos Catelanos: He came from Thebe. He is considered one of the best hagiographers of the 16th century. He hagiographed the chapel of Saint Nicholas in the Monastery of Great Lavra of the Holy Mountain, as well as the catholicon of the Varlaam Monastery at Meteora. He came from the Cretan school but was been strongly influenced by the West.

 

George, priest and sacristan of Thebes. Great wall painter who painted the nathrex of the catholicon of the Varlaam Monastery at Meteora in 1566.

 

Monk Daniel: He hagiographed the catholicon of the Monastery of Coronis at Pindus in 1587.

 

Andrew Ritsos: Iconographer who lived in the latter part of the 15th century. His works are found in Italy and in Patmos.

 

Michael Damascene the Cretan: He was born most probably in 1530-1535. There is little known of his life and activities and his dated icons are few. He was a magnificent artist and the greatest known part of his signed work is safely kept at Corfu. The existence of a large number of paintings by Italian artists in Crete influenced the Greek hagiographers. So even the above hagiographer used Italian elements in his hagiographies corresponding perhaps to the wishes of his customers. Damascene enjoyed great fame and his influence on his contemporaries and succeeding painters was great. Iconographic forms that look like they were introduced or crystallized by him, became greatly popular and were copied until the mid 18th century.

 

Emmanuel Lambardos: He lived in the beginning of the 17th century. He hagiographed only portable icons in which a conscious ignorance of the works of Damascene and of Klodja were noted and returned to the paleologian and early Cretan prototypes.

 

Angelos the Cretan: Great hagiographer who painted only portable icons and lived in the early 17th century.

 

Hieromonk Jeremiah Palladas: One of the most famous hagiographers of his time. He was a Sinaite hieromonk but lived at Handaka, from where he came. He enjoyed a great fame between his contemporaries, who considered him a great imitator of the "novices of early iconographers", he taught the art to student hagiographers. He was attached to the traditional style and rarely did he use Italian elements. He reposed before 1660.

 

Priest Emmanuel Djanes: He was born at Rethimno around 1610 and reposed in Venice on 28 March 1690. He was considered the most significant Cretan hagiographer of the latter mid 17th century. He lived at the time of the destructive Cretan war (1645-1669) and was forced to become a refugee. Crete was extinguished as a creative artistic centre and painters departed mainly to Zakynthos and Corfu, from where some went to Venice. Sometimes he followed the byzantine prototypes of the 14th and 15th century and other times he was inspired by western works following at specific times Flemish copperplate engravings. It is estimated that over one hundred works of Djanes have been saved.

 

Constantine Condarines: One of the most prolific hagiographers of the first three decades of the 18th century. He lived in Corfu and followed in most of his works the style of Fr. Emmanuel Djanes.

 

Hieromonk Dionysius of Fourna: He was born around 1670 in the village of Fourna of Halkis. He hagiographed portable icons but also wall paintings mainly in the cell of the Holy Forerunner at the Holy Mountain, where he lived. He admired the works of Panselenus which he tried to imitate. He is considered one of the most significant hagiographers of his time, leaving behind his worthy students. Having deep desire to bring back the byzantine tradition, which was declining due to the influence of the Western style he co-authored the " Interpretation of the art of painting". Due to his attachment to the traditional prototypes, he suffered persecutions by his colleagues and was forced to leave the Holy Mountain. The precise date of his repose is not known.          

 

George Markou: His place of birth was Argos. He was a prolific wall painter. He worked in the area of Athens. He painted the catholicon of the Monastery of the Bodyless at Petraki in 1719. His last and most important work due to the plethora of the iconized Saints, was the wall painting of the Monastery of the Revealed at Salamis in 1735. His students and the students of his students reached almost the end of the 18th century.

 

Demetrius Zoukis: He came from the town of Kalarrytes. One of his works is the painting of the nathrex of the Monastery of the Entrance at Meteora in 1784.

 

John Anagnostis: He painted the catholicon of the Monastery of Spiliotissa near the village of Artsista Zogariu in 1810.

 

Athanasius Pagonis Vrahiotis: He painted the catholicon of the Monastery of the Appearance at Calliphoniou in the area of Karditsa in 1840.

 

Vasiliοs Grevenitis: He hagiographed the Church of Saint Nicholas in the village Varyboby at Trikala in 1863.

 

Fotis Kondoglou: He was born at Kydonies (Aivali) in Asia Minor in 1895. After the death of his father, his uncle, hieromonk Fr Stephan Kondoglou, abbot of the monastery of Saint Paraskevi, assumed his custody. He completed his school at Aivali and was a member of a team of students who were publishing the journal "Melissa" which Kondoglou used to illustrate with his drawings. He registered at the School of Fine Arts in Athens and then went to Paris in 1814 where he studied the various schools of painting. After many wanderings and journeys he finally settled in Athens. In 1923 he traveled to the Holy Mountain where he discovered the byzantine hagiography and since then struggled for the revival of the art. During the decade of 1950-1060 he reached the apex of his hagiographic effectiveness. He presented various exhibitions of painting, he worked as maintainer of icons in museums and he was honoured with the Academy of Athens Award for his book "The expression of the Orthodox Iconography" and generally he had a rich contribution in the area of art. He hagiographed many portable icons and painted the churches of Zoodohou Pigis (Life giving spring) at Peanias, the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Rhodes, Capricareas in Athens and many more. He is considered the restorer of the Orthodox Hagiography and was a faithful child of the Orthodox Tradition. The contemporary hagiographers owe him greatly. His students were even distinguished painters, such as John Tsarouhis, Nicos Engonopoulos etc. He reposed on July 13, 1965 due to complications sustained in a car accident in the area of Faliron.      

 

 

Prayer and Hagiography


Prayers

Photis Kondoglou, faithful child of the Orthodox Church, accomplished hagiographer himself, cause for the rebirth and father of contemporary hagiography, with the following reasons, on one hand, he demonstrates the sanctity of hagiography and on the other he instigates a pious approach to this liturgical art.
"The agiographer is not simply an artist that creates a picture depicting some religious themes, but has a spiritual worthiness and spiritual diaconate which he performs in the church as does the priest and the preacher".
"These early hagiographers would fast while working ....... and while working they would chant, so that their work be done with devout concentration and their mind not wander in the worldly".
"When you decide to start an icon, at first, pray to the Lord to enlighten you in your work, doing the sign of the cross".
In turn we suggest certain prayers we found in some books, to help the contemporary angiographers, through prayer to receive from God the divine enlightenment which is so necessary in their sacred work.

Blessing to an Hagiographer.

The priest blessing after the "Heavenly King" etc, the Megalynarion (glorification chant) of the Theotokos, the "Alala the lips" and the troparion of the Transfiguration, sealing his head, he says loudly "We supplicate the Lord". And immediately follows with the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ our God, the indescribable being of Divine nature and for the salvation of man from Your recent inexpressible incarnation from the Virgin and Mother of God Mary, enabling the description of the holy nature of Your immaculate face be imprinted on a handkerchief and with it You healed the disease of the area ruler Augarus and enlightened his soul to the knowledge of our true God and through Your Holy Spirit You described to Your holy Apostle and evangelist Luke the appearance of Your immaculate Mother who carried You as a baby in her bosom and the "The grace granted me was given to them through me" was said. Him, Despota, God of all, enlighten, imbue the soul, the heart, the intellect of Your servant and his hands direct to the irreproachable and perfect outline, the type of Your manifestation and of Your immaculate Mother and all of Your Saints, to Your glory and cheerfulness and beautification of your holy Church and the forgiveness of sins, of those worshiping them and with piety kiss them, attributing the honour to the prototype. Set him free from all diabolical experience and make him diligent to all Your commandments, through the intercessions of Your Immaculate Mother, of the glorious holy apostle and evangelist Luke and of all the Saints. Amen.

Extended and released.

Hieromonk Athanasios from Simonopertra Monastery.

Prayer cited by an Hagiograph intending to create an icon.

Despota, Lord Jesus Christ, only Son and Word of God, identical icon of the invisible Father, who created us according to Your image, and for our salvation, philanthropically became incarnate of Your Immaculate Mother and our Lady Theotokos, the most beautiful of all sons of man, and the source of all beauty, both visible and invisible, deigned to make us temples of the Holy Spirit, You who sanctified matter through Your divine economy, who gave to Your immaculate bride, the Church the chromaturgical theology (use of colours in divinity), for the remembrance of Your inexplicable condescension the shoring and sanctifying of Your faithful people, prostrating I pray to You and I beg You to grant me the sinner and unworthy servant, the grace of iconographic diaconate, cleanse my heart of all sinful pollution and write untouchably in her Your All Holy Will, strengthen me from every sickness of the will of my mind and enlighten with the power of Your All Holy Spirit, leading my weak and vile hands in God pleasing completion of the illustration of this Your sacred icon (or of the saint......), so that those who worship and kiss it, do so to You, the prototype beauty, lifting their hearts and minds, gracing and sanctifying them completely, and in joy succeed in the likeness and glorify with all Your pleasing Saints from old, You, the Incarnate Son and Word with Your without beginning Father and the worshipful Spirit, of one essence, indivisible and life giving Trinity. Amen.

Another Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, our God ...... enlighten , make the soul, heart and mind of Your servant and direct his hands to perfectly draw the irreproachable type of your countenance and Your All Immaculate Mother and all Your Saints, to Your glory and to the cheerfulness and beautification of Your Holy Church and the forgiveness of sins of the one who worships them with piety and attributes honour to the prototype shown, set him free of all diabolical experience, and make him diligent in all Your commandments through the intercessions of Your Immaculate Mother, of the Holy glorious evangelist Luke and of all the Saints. Amen.