St. Raphael and Tobias

An icon (from Greek εἰκών image) is typically a painting depicting Christ, Mary, saints and/or angels, which is venerated among Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and in certain Catholic Churches. Though especially associated with portraitstyle images concentrating on one or two main figures, the term is also used for most religious images in a variety of artistic media produced by Eastern Christianity, including narrative scenes.

Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, painted on wood, done in mosaic or fresco work or printed on paper or metal. From Bulgaria we’ve seen them painted on wooden eggs and from Kreta on pebbles. Icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick. (Beeswax and olive oil are preferred, because they burn cleanly.) The illumination of religious images with lamps or candles is a practice pre-dating Christianity.

In translated works from Greek or Russian, the English term iconography is explained as the art of icon painting, and ‘iconographer’ as an artist of icons, painted or carved,  but γραφíα means writing  in those languages, so it means iconwriter.  Images from Western Christianity are generally not described as ‘icons’, although iconic  may be used to describe a static style of devotional image.


There are many ideas about when it started and the suggestions differ from the second to the seventh century A.D. Some say it was earlier, others say much later. It is a certain style and the tradition is that the iconwriter always uses an example, so it is pure copywriting. Some stick very strictly to the example, but Jeannette doesn’t.

If there is a part she doesn’t like she changes it. She chooses icons on the feeling they give her, like the Maria Magdalena on the homepage. What she loved in the example was that Maria had the body of a woman, like Rembrandt or Rubens could have paint her. But her face had some unpleasent wrinkles, so she changed that part. In her first Maria Magdalena she changed the vessel in her hands. It was a metal one and Jeannette wanted to paint a ceramic pot. ‘That’s my freedom’ she says, ‘although my teacher was surprised when I gave my first Eleousa and Christ blue eyes.’

Through the ages there are many stories and legends about icons and about their meaning. There have been rumours about what is going on in the skies and heavens, painted on the old icons. What is flying around and what is shining the lights from above.