Delighted yesterday to receive a complimentary copy of a new devotional book from the USA which features my icons! The main author, Dr Carla Sunberg is the president of the Church of the Nazarene's seminary in Kansas, and this little volume has grown out of her PhD researches into the doctrine of theosis, the Cappadocian Mothers, seven extraordinary women from one extraordinary Christian family who lived in Cappadocia (modern Turkey) in the fourth century. The males of the family, who include Basil the Great, are more known these days, so Dr Sunberg is redressing an imbalance in producing this volume of vitae and reflective exercises on these wives, sisters and mothers: all of them saints and spiritual warriors in their own right, some of them powerful land-owning matrons and society ladies, and some who renounced the world for Christ and took up the hermit's life. The author's husband commissioned a whole set of icons honouring the family while the research was in progress, which was a few years ago now. A nice surprise to have them revisited.
More than seven years on, and mindful of the old adage about the cobbler's children going unshod, I decided it was time I made a crucifix for our own home. Most things I paint are commissions or are for sale elsewhere, so no sooner do we get used to something being on the wall than it disappears. I'm glad of that really, it gives me the chance to try again. Though I shan't be trying again with a crucifix unless I can buy a ready-made blank. I had forgotten how difficult a shape it is to cut without specialist equipment. Casting around the internet for my inspiration, I ran across some wonderful images from the Franciscan museum in Zadar, Croatia. Another one for the bucket list.... If you make it there before I do, please abandon the beach one day in favour of this place and report back. Croatia is a bit of a hybrid East-meets-West place, iconographically speaking. A largely Catholic country, but with many influences from the East. The 11th century cross which I took as my chief model shows Christ standing rather than hanging, calm and strong. He is not twisted and emaciated or smothered in gore. Instead of a loin cloth he sports a rather fetching sort of brocade kilt which I lifted wholesale. But what I really wanted - and failed - to recreate was the magnificent face of Christ in my second, black and white image below. Also from Zadar, from a nunnery destroyed by Allied bombing during the second world war, tragically this partial photo seems to be all that remains of this most haunting icon.
My Nativity icon for this year is a miniature on vellum, only six inches square. It will be framed and is for sale, should the spirit move anyone to own it! I have arranged the design as a quincunx, four circles around one, a geometrical arrangement with many resonances in Christian symbolism. I broke out a new precious pigment from Attila at Master Pigments for the dark blue used in this design, a rare mineral called vivianite, also known as blue ochre. It is very finely ground and a easier to apply than lapis lauzuli. Unlike lapis, it mixes with white without being overwhelmed. Also from Master Pigments were the vermilion, purple earth, and my favourite green volksonkoite - another rare mineral, this one from Russia. The florid decorative treatment is inspired by a margin I spied on the Abbey Bible, an Italian manuscript of the mid-1200s owned by the Getty Museum. By the way, the Getty is really wonderful at making digital images of its collection available on the internet for private study.
Have a blessed Advent and a joyful Christmas all!
This painting was finished and sent for reproduction way back in May or June, but I have had to be very patient about putting it on my boasting page, not wanting to blow the client's cover before they sent out their Christmas cards. Carpenters' Company is one of the ancient trade Guilds of the City of London, though nowadays I think their activity is confined more to charitable sponsorship and promotion rather than actual woodworking. Their guild Hall is a little too grand for woodshavings. Their brief was to include the Company arms and motto, the oak and pine leaves of their crest, something to do with carpentry and some seasonal motifs. I didn't have much notion what the medieval man at work in his woodshed might look like, but I took my inspiration from an amazing Spanish cathedral ceiling painting which immortalises the carpenters who built it. There they are in their stripey aprons and hose, hard at it with axes, chisels, saws and hammers. Working to the theme of 'Make Ready the Stable', a stray line I recollected from a Christmas carol, I wove them in with the heraldic elements, adding in a star and robin in my usual cod-medieval style (more than a nod to the Luttrell Psalter in this case). Delighted with the colour reproduction job the printers have done - colour conversion is never straightforward. The original painting, only about eight inches square, is framed and hanging somewhere in Carpenters' Hall for the rest of time.
The view from my desk
Current work, places and events, art travel, and interesting snippets about Christian icons, medieval art, manuscript illumination, egg tempera , gilding, technique and materials.