Icon Painting



Whilst in Moscow, you can try your hand at icon painting, but to do that you have to make the effort to respect at least the philosophy of the Russian Orthodox Church that is so clearly behind such art. I was invited to join a group of students at the studio of Vladimir Antonov in Moscow one Wednesday morning in June. Vladimir teaches icon painting according to the canons of the Prosopon School, which strives to continue and develop ancient traditions of Byzantine-Russian icon painting of the 14-16th centuries. The Students were busy finalising their icons, which many have already taken back home with them to their respective countries. I asked Vladimir, who has been teaching icon painting for 8 years to explain the basics.

“Icon Painting is directly connected with the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some of our students attend Orthodox services, others don’t. We have students from many different countries here and I don’t expect them to suddenly adopt our faith – although several students did – however I do expect them to understand and respect the basic principles of the relationship between what they are doing and the Church’s teaching, and I think that they do.

“The basic idea of this art form is based on ‘canons’, which can be translated from ancient Greek as rules or decrees. Icon painting is a structured activity; there is a lot to learn. For us, the canons are somewhere between laws and freedom; once you have mastered the canons, you experience freedom. One of the canons concerns painting materials. We use tempera because we find it more suitable for portraying spirituality, we paint on wood, and in general we use natural materials, which is why oil paints, for example, are simply not suitable for this purpose. Icon painting is to do with painting eternal images. Egyptian or Babylonian painters painted onto rock, because that is the hardest and longest lasting format. Icons are painted onto wood, which are painted with a special primer, which hardens it.


“All students studying at our school start with the Archangel Michael. He is our friend, and when we ask for his help, he helps us. After a while, when students have gathered some experience, they are allowed to move on to painting the face of Christ, which is not something you should take on as a novice. Painting the Archangel Michael to begin with is perfect for progressing though all the various preliminary stages. There are 22 such stages in our school of icon painting, which is about learning how to paint God in the form of man. The last stage ‘contemplation’ concludes all previous stages. Particular attention is paid to the mystical connection between light and colour in the creation of icons. Icons are more than just painting; they can be read, like the Bible. This is an open ended course.”

Contact the IWC if you wish to join the icon-painting group.

Web site of the Prosopon School of Icon Painting:  http://www.prosoponschool.org/index.html