Friday, July 09, 2010


In a recent radio programme [1], Bill Viola quoted from a medieval text, Rules for the Icon Painters:
Work with care on every detail of your icon, as if you were working in front of the Lord, himself.
During work, pray in order to strengthen yourself physically and spiritually; avoid, above all, useless words and keep silence...
...Never forget the joy of spreading icons in the world, the joy of the work or icon-painting, the joy of being in union with the saint whose face you are painting. [2]
Set in a colder climate, Douglas Dunn's Instructions to a Saintly Poet begins:
Write by fire,
By a single taper,
By candlelight
By a fireside
Burning turf, or logs
If wood is plentiful.
Writing by burning light
Banishes pride.
Ink is holy.
Colours are holy,
Keep a dog, or dogs,
To sleep at your feet.
Invest in a warm blanket.
Spend hours outdoors
In all weathers
Alert to your thoughts
And moods of the sea,
All birds and creatures,
All living things
The shapes of the visible
And vernacular
Moods of the sky.

Image: 'Heaven and Earth' (1992)


[1] Episode 67 of A History of the World in 100 Objects: An Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

[2] The injunctions between the dots are:
...Pray in particular to the saint whose face you are painting. Keep your mind from distractions and the saint will be close to you.
When you have to choose a color, stretch out your hand interiorly to the Lord and ask His counsel.
Do not be jealous of your neighbor’s work. His success is your success too.
When your icon is finished, thank God that His mercy has granted you the grace to paint the holy images.
Have your icon blessed by putting it on the altar. Be the first to pray before it, before giving it to others...

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