A visit to the Vatopedi icon-workshop
During a recent visit to the Vatopedi monastery, I had the chance to visit the icon workshop. There, the icon-writers are specializing in the iconographic style of the Komnenos dynasty of the 12th century, the Paleologean dynasty style, as well as painting icons in the Macedonian and Cretan styles, that is, all styles between the 12th up to the 16th century. The fathers have also perfected the art of producing exact replicas of original icons and holy relics.
The Vatopedi icons are carefully painted and the golden leaf used is especially brushed to a gleaming shine. The colors are also meticulously blended to complement each other beautifully. The monks are working hard to provide something uniquely beautiful but foremost spiritual.
The Byzantine art is a difficult style which requires patience, perseverance and personal discipline. The icon-writers’ devotion and piety becomes obvious in the icons since they are not painted with indifference or even with some superficial religiousness but are constructed in the context of incessant praying and adoration offered to the living God. The monks practice this art in silence and humility, with simplicity and prayer, without having any worldly intentions or aspirations to be honored as ‘artists’. The icons are not worldly artifacts but they express and reflect the state of mind of the hagiographers: pleasant, humble, obliging.
It is important to note that no icon bears the signature of the painter-monk. Of course, the fact that an artifact bears the signature of its artist is not something blameworthy in itself. But the mere fact that these works of art remain anonymous these days where selfishness and egocentricity are reigning, speaks volumes in itself.
The monastery icons preserve tradition and reflect God’s grace. They are full of skill and spiritual richness. They exhibit the supernatural and the truly spiritual, enabling one to approach the divine in order to incite him to prayer. Let us quote what the blessed icon-writer and mystic of true orthodox tradition, Fotis Kontoglou said about iconography in the Orthodox Church:
“… Iconography is a divine and functional art, like all ecclesiastic arts which have a spiritual goal. They do not aspire to adorn the church with paintings to please the eye of the church goers, or touch their ears with music, but to lift them to the secret world of faith through the spiritual path, which has as goal posts: hymn writing, chanting, iconography etc. All together, they shape the secret Paradise with its spiritual fragrance in the hearts of the people … That’s why Eastern art becomes a memorandum to divine word…”
“Iconography in the Eastern Church depicts holy people and holy affairs… The icon-writer has a spiritual office and performs a service like the priest…The icon has a theological meaning… it is painted in such a way as to lift one towards the fragrant new life of the Kingdom of God…In such icons the faces are depicted in immortality…”
For more information or to order icons, please write to the icon-workshop at firstname.lastname@example.org.