Monday, March 22, 2010

If you listen to NPR on Saturdays you might hear the word puzzle show called Says You!. On it, panelists are asked to guess the definitions of obscure words. Saturday, one of the words was "ophthamolophilia" -one panelist guessed it meant being in love with your eye doctor, but in fact it means love of being stared at. I'll be on the lookout for chances to drop this in conversation.

The panelists would have had fun with some of the terms I've learned reading about icons. Virgin Glykophilousa? It's a term applied to certain icons classified as Virgin Elousa in which Mary bends tenderly to touch her cheek to the cheek of the infant Christ. Glykophilousa is from the Greek and means "sweetly kissing." There are seven different descriptors, all of Mary icons, each referring to a special way she is posed. This is Virgin Hodegetria - image of Mary holding the infant Christ on her left arm with Christ grasping a scroll with one hand and make a gesture of blessing with the other. This dates from the 13th century and is actually tempera and silver leaf on panel with pigmented glazes over gesso and parchment on panel. Scholars think this was made as a personal devotional piece and brought to Sinai during a pilgrimage, and then offered as a gift to the monastery. (Icons from Sinai, Robert Nelson and Kirsten Collins, J. Paul Getty, p. 141)

How about this one, below? The inspiration for Led Zeppelin perhaps? This dates from the late twelfth century and is based on St. John's Climacus' writings, "The Heavenly Ladder." As you can see, climbing those thirty rungs isn't that easy, with devils tempting you and causing some to fall along the way. As you can see, in the lower right a group of intercessors send up prayers to help the strugglers. And the guy second from the top in the fancy clothes? Evidently, it's the archbishop Holy Antonios who might have been either the donor or the recipient of this icon. (Didn't quite get the message about not being concerned with worldly things, I guess.)

One more thing - while it's obviously made to inspire, not entertain, you have to get a kick out of the devil giving this poor guy a rap on the head with his mallet.

I'll get back to more recent artworks later in the week, but I couldn't help but spend a little more time enjoying these creations. The time, the patience to make these amazes me. What do you think?


  1. Of course, time moves differently in a monastery - assuming that's where the icon was painted - and the artist's daily routine might have made it easier to be patient, or made patience beside the point.

    Hate to admit it, but those devils are sort of cute.

  2. I think you are right about patience being beside the point. The hair seems to make those devils a little rakish looking. . .