Cover picture: The enthroned Christ. Detail from the central motif in Majestas Domini, altar
piece painted by Lars Gerdmar 2000-2001. St. Thomas Aquinas church, Lund, Sweden. Photo:
Letter of Recommendation
From Dr Per Beskow, Th.D., M.A., University of Lund, Sweden.
History of Religions and Church History.
Re: Lars Gerdmar, Ansikte mot ansikte: Om de heliga ikonerna. Sekel Bokförlag 2007.
(Face to Face: on the Holy Icons)
LARS GERDMAR is regarded by his contemporaries as one of the foremost among the Scandinavian icon painters. He has been active for the past thirty years with assignments from private clients as well as commissions for various churches which have included among other things several large altar triptychs. ^
Lars Gerdmar started his education and training under the guidance of a Swedish icon painter. In 1981 he was accepted as a private pupil by Leonid Ouspensky in Paris. However Ouspensky´s failing eye sight meant that Lars Gerdmar had to change his plans and his international training began under the guidance of Helena Nikkanen, Chief Curator at the Centre for the Restoral of Icons at the NewValamo Monastery in Finland, herself a one-time pupil of Ouspensky.
There are currently many painters who paint in the Byzantine style, but Lars Gerdmar stands apart. For he has not only captured and adopted the language and symbolism of the form and colour inherent in this tradition but he has even imbibed the theological and spiritual content of the Byzantine tradition.
Face to Face: on the Holy Icons is a unique production not only within the Swedish literary context but even within an international context where it deserves to be presented.
Gerdmar conveys a message to the reader where his own insights into the history of art and the spiritual content of the icons is made available for those wishing to delve into the mystery of the world of icons. He combines his own artistic empathy with expert knowledge and acts as an intermediary between the beholder and the liturgical and theological context of the icons.
The Swedish Research Council, a government body which scrutinizes all scientific research in Sweden rewarded Lars Gerdmar with a maximum publication grant for his work with this book.
Lars Gerdmar begins his work with a thorough and explicit presentation of the emergence of icon painting during the first centuries AD, and the further development of the Byzantine icon tradition from the fourth century onwards to the present day. Murals, egg tempera painting on wooden panels, book illuminations and mosaics are all dealt with expertise.
The author continues by teaching the reader the language of icons, their form, their symbolic realism, their way of expressing theology in a world of pictures and the place of those pictures in the liturgy.
Gerdmar’s strength lies in the reverence he shows for the core material he deals with. A Roman Catholic himself, Gerdmar is well versed in Orthodox theology and his approach to icon painting is in full concordance with Orthodox spirituality.
As a true master, Lars Gerdmar proceeds with a pedagogical presentation drawn from his own personal experiences of the creative process of the art of painting. He illustrates his teaching with examples of his own work. For the initiated beholder it is apparent that Gerdmar is a true representative of the classical Russian-Byzantine tradition. But more than that he has developed his own style and colour scale that in some respects takes inspiration from and touchs upon the maniera Greca tradition of early Italian painting. It is this combination of the traditional and personal that creates the strength and magnetism of his icons.
The final chapter is devoted to a series of meditations upon the themes of some of Lars Gerdmar’s own icons:
Saint John the Theologian – a portrait of the Apostle of love
The Annunciation – the Birth of God in the Human Person
The Mother of God of the Sign – Mariology and the Cosmic Christ
The Baptism of Christ – the Human Person and the Holy Trinity
The Transfiguration – the Encounter of the Uncreated with the Creature
This book is a homage to the holy icons, which on wood, parchment and wall makes one of the oldest, most composite and still living pictorial cultures. “This is really great art” says Matisse at his visit to Moscow 1911, meet with the radiance of the Russian icons. “In these […] the soul of the artist appear as a mystical flower.” And it is as inspired art and “windows towards heaven” the icon, even far outside its given context: the Greco-Orthodox Chrysostomos liturgy, today witness a renaissance within both cultural life and ecumenical movement, as personal image of dialogue and cultic object, mediator of beauty, depth and spiritual experience.
In seven chapters, illustrated by over 100 beautifully rendered coulor reproductions, we here meet the art from as well it’s historical and religious as it’s aesthetical and painting technical perspective. In the book Ansikte mot ansikte – Om de heliga ikonerna (Face to Face – On the holy icons), we may so not just acquainting ourself with a pictorial culture soon 2000 years old, inspired by Egyptian mummy portraits and sublime Grecien-Roman art, but to the same high degree with the way in which the icons as art regarded are built up, their spiritual message and function, how they are interpreted in relation to tradition and present time and how an icon step by step be done.
LARS GERDMAR IS AN ICON PAINTER and finished his education 1985. Since that time he has adorned a long row of churches, monasteries and private places of devotion. He paints in the classical Russian style as this came to expression during the 15th century, but has in his personal way of working with line, coulor and form also been inspired of Greco icon painting and the medieaval Italian art. Gerdmar is today regarded as one of the foremost representatives for the art of icons in the Nordic countries and stands internationally in its frontline. As exercising icon painter as well as iconology he has, during the course of the years acquired knowledge about he history, theology and technique of the icon painting, which is extensive and deep going.
Ansikte mot Ansikte. Om de heliga ikonerna
Lars Gerdmar: Sekel Bokförlag 2007, 311 pages
(Face to Face. On the Holy Icons)
C O N T E N T S
ARCHETYPE AND IMAGE 19
Definition of the concept of icon
ST. LUKE THE PAINTER 23
The icon’s birth, history and expansion
WINDOWS TOWARDS HEAVEN 151
The symbolic realism and the visual language of the icons
BECAUSE GOD BECAME MAN 173
Theology of the icon
THE DOUBLE ASPECT OF THE DIVINE REVELATION 193
The icon and the liturgy
THE ICON PAINTER A CO-CREATOR 215
The creative process and the painting technique
I Saint John the Theologian – Portrait of the Apostle of love 241
II The Annunciation – The birth of God in the human Person 242
III The Mother of God of the Sign – Mariology and the Cosmic Christ 244
IV The baptism of Christ – Man and the Trinity 248
V The Transfiguration – The encounter of the uncreated with the creature 250
VI The Crucifixion – God’s mystery of Salvation 255
VII The Deposition – the grief and the struggle 256
VIII Anastasis – The descent to the kingdom of the dead and the resurrection 258
IX The spice-bearing women at the Sepulchre – The dawn and the victory 268
X Majestas Domini: Deesis – The happy unravelling 270
XI Saint George and the dragon – The spiritual fight 278
XII The Righteous Rut with the son Obed – The beauty and the motherhood 281
XIII The Ladder of Jacob – The angelic and the human 283
XIV Saint Francis of Assisi – Portrait of the priest of creation 285
XV Saint Augustine of Hippo - Portrait of the philosopher saint 287
XVI Saint Bridget – Compatrona Europae 291
XVII The Mother of God of the Tenderness – The mystery of Divine love 292
XVIII Acheiropoietos – The circle, the linen cloth and the face 294
God’s look 297
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 302
INDEX OF PERSONS 311
D R A F T
THIS BOOK GIVES a thorough presentation of the history, theology and aesthetics of the icon as well as of the place of the icon in the liturgical context and the creative process lying behind the work.
The ambition is to, in one volume, give the reader an understanding of the diverse aspects of an image-culture so rich that it is impossible to do full justice to it in an exhaustive way. The book is mainly directed to Christians of different confessions, but written in a way so that it may very well also be read by a person without religious experience. In this respect the fairly extensive glossary increases the understanding. The rich amount of illustrations are analysed from art historical and spiritual point of view, and consists of a representative choice with regard to the different epochs and styles of the art-genre as well as its diverse technical medium. The book has been well received on the Swedish book market from the whole body of confessions and fortunately enough also among the secularized general public interested in art and religion.
The different parts of the book complement and refer to each other and are preceded by a preface (p. 9-11) and an introduction (p. 11-18).
IN CHAPTER I (p. 19-22), on archetype and image, the concept of the icon is defined and questions are answered about what gives the icon its identity from the theological point of view and what is meant as an icon in the technical respect. Here the icon is also presented as portrait painting and history painting and the icons as liturgical art as well as the richness of motifs that this image-culture comprises.
IN CHAPTER II (p. 23-149), on the history and extension of the form of art, the emergence of the icon in relation to other art in the region of the Mediterranean during the first centuries A.D. is described. In a comparative study between the icon and frescoes in the Roman catacombs (p. 33-35), sarcophagus reliefs (p. 35-36) and the Egyptian mummy portraits (p. 36-38), as well as by help of the oldest “preserved” Christian portrait (p. 29) and early Christian bronze medallions (p. 36), a reconstruction of the birth of the icon is presented. In this study (p. 23-40) early written proof, which in different ways put light on the subject, are quoted (26-29).
Then a close exposé of the Byzantine history of the icon follows, from 330 and the foundation of Constantinople (p. 41-42), via the Justinian era (p.71-76) and the “Sinaitic” icons (76-78), the Macedonian (p. 88-92), Comnenian (95-98) and Paleologian ((98-103) renaissances, until 1453 and the fall of Byzantium (p. 63-128). This is done with the background of the thought-world of Antiquity, with summaries of inter alia the worldview by Plato, Philon and Plotinus (p. 45-48), the Late Hellenistic Roman religiousness, with short presentations of the emperor cult (p. 48-49) and the mystery religions (p. 49-50), but in particular of the prosperity of the Christian culture by the church architecture, the theology and the liturgy (53-54) (p. 44-54). Important conditions for the development and the expansion of the icon was the monasticism, which with the beginning by the desert fathers and St. Anthony the Great also are presented (p. 50-53) as well as the disposition of the Byzantine church building and the iconostasis (p. 54-55).
Thereafter the icon’s development from historic to symbolic realism (which include the former) is described (p. 56-60), as well as the icon’s dependence of Grecian-Roman art, as the frescoes in Pompeii and Herculaneum, with reference Plinius the elder’s Naturalis History
(p. 60-63). In this context it is showed how the icon painters in forms inherited from the classical antiquity infuse a totally new spirit, beauty, expressiveness and interpretation of reality determined by the new conception of the world which is made manifest by the Incarnation and man’s Deification.
Parallel with this exposé and history, there are also descriptions of how mosaics (p. 65-67), manuscript illuminations (p. 92-93) and frescoes (p. 111-113) were created technically.
A considerable part of this chapter (p. 79-87) is devoted to the iconoclasm (p. 79-83) and the Seventh Ecumenical Council, where the different steps in the conflict, as well as the theological arguing for the icons: St. John Damascenes, St. Theodoros of the Studite and others, and against them: Constantine V Copronymos and others, and the decisions of the councils of 787 and 843 are quoted and reported (p. 83-87). Another longer part is devoted to The Monastery of Our Saviour and Mother of God in Chora (Kariye Djami, Istanbul, p.103-128), which, through close aesthetical and spiritual reading of thirteen of the mosaics and the frescoes there, shows how rich of motifs, artistically high levelled and theologically composite a Byzantine image-program during the 14th century could be (p. 108-128).
After this follows the history of the Russian icon (p. 128-149) beginning in the 11th century, via its golden ages (p. 129-141), until the 17th- and 18th centuries, the so-called decay period (p. 141-143). The chapter ends with the 20th century renaissance of the classical icon painting, with reference to prominent figures as Ouspensky, Krug and Kontoglou, and its continuation into our own age (p. 143-147).
IN CHAPTER III (p.151-172), on the visual language of the icon, the aesthetics of this form of art is explained, how the concept of “icon” is meant to be understood in theological meaning and how the concept of “beauty” in philosophical/spiritual meaning become determinative (p.153-154). Then follows a deeply delving introduction to the realism and symbolism of the icon and how this is made visible through lines, colours, forms and light, composition, body language and the art of stylization (p.165-170).
IN CHAPTER IV (p. 173-192), on the theology of icon, the classical theology of image with starting point in the iconology of St. John Damascenes ((p. 175, 177, 183) and St. Theodoros the Studite (p.186) and other important texts from the patristic tradition concerning this subject are explained (p. 175-177). Since they are of fundamental importance for the understanding of how image and theology co-operate, short introductions (182-191) to the Trinitarian theology (p. 182-183), the dogma on the Divine and Human nature of Christ (p. 184-186), the Mariology (p. 187-189) and the concept of Deification (p.189-191) are given. A detailed commentary to St. Andrej Rublevs icon of the Holy Trinity (p. 178-182) serves as an example of how theology in complex meaning is woven together with the visual language of the icons and is communicated through the diverse means of expression.
IN CHAPTER V (p. 193-214), on the icon and the liturgy, explains how word and image refer to and explain each other (Nicaea II). Here the icon as liturgical art and personal image of dialogue are described, it’s inter-action with the praying congregation within the framework of the Chrysostomos liturgy (p. 195-198), which is reported in its different parts step by step (p. 201-205). Besides the introduction of composition and function of the classical iconostasis within the liturgy of the Eastern Church (198-201) the newborn interest for the icon within Catholic piety after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) is presented. So the new texts in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which explicitly connect to the theology of image from Nicaea II, are quoted and reported (p. 205-207). The renaissance for the icon in this context is exemplified by the presentation of the liturgies of Saint Gervais in Paris (Fraternité monastique de Jerusalem) and Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome (Comunità di Sant’ Egidio) (p. 207-212).
IN CHAPTER VI (p. 215-238), on the creative process and the technique of icon painting, the artistic conditions of the icon painter are described, together with the creative process behind the work and the painting technique. So the clean egg tempera on wooden panel (p. 218-220), the freedom of the icon painter within the framework of given means of expression (p. 220-222) and, in separate parts, how an icon is created step by step, from drawing, applications of gold foil, via basic colours, painting of lines and light, drawing of the features and portrait painting in different colours of the skin, background colours and calligraphy, to the complete work are presented (p. 222-231).
IN CHAPTER VII (p. 239-244), on a central choice of motifs, 18 representative motifs in the art-genre are commented. This gives an opportunity to see how the aestheticism, theology and Christian anthropology, which in earlier chapter have been presented, are woven together with the composition and the visual language of the icons. Then the basic pictorial contents are commented and how this is expressed, and reflections are given around the complex spiritual and symbolic content, which is hidden behind the directly obvious.
The book ends with a long quotation from De Visione Dei, a beautiful and deeply theological meditation on the face of God, written by Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), cardinal, mathematician and philosopher, one of the great bridge-builders of the Christian history and a true representative of ecumenism (p. 297-298). In his deeply Orthodox text, which has the meditation on “Gods icon” as its starting-point, he guides the reader on the cataphatic and apophatic way to the meeting with the ultimate Mystery of God where all kinds of words and images are no longer necessary.
THE ART OF ICONS is a natural but neglected part of our common European Cultural Heritage. In Sweden and internationally there is however a strongly growing interest in this form of art from Christianity and people interested in culture, as well as from the general public. Still lacking is a more thoroughgoing introduction to its different aspects. This book: Face to Face. On the Holy Icons, deals with the history, theology and aesthetics of the icon, its place in the liturgical context, as well as the creative process behind the work. It concludes with 18 commentaries to representative icon motives. In chapter I, a definition of the concept of icon is presented. Chapter II describes the birth of the icon in relation to other art in the region of the Mediteranean during the first centuries, the origin of the Byzantine icon in the fourth century and its golden ages, the history of the Russian icon, the icon painting of the twentieth century and its continuation into modern time. In chapter III, I explain the aesthetics of the icon: realism, symbolism, lines, colours, forms and light, composition body-language and the art of stylization. In chapter IV the theology of the image is presented with starting point in John Damascenes iconology. In chapter V the relationship between the written word and the icon is discussed, the place of the icon in the liturgical context and the new justification in wester part of Christianity. In chapter VI the artistic conditions for the icon painter are described, together with the creative process behind the work and the painting technique. In chapter VII I comment on a range of important motives.