ICON SCREENS

A brief history of the iconscreen:

The iconscreen (also called iconostases or templon) is a form of partition between a church’s sanctuary area and the nave. It distinguishes the altar (representing heaven) from the nave (representing paradise), but also unites them, showing that through the Incarnation the Father has “united all things in Christ”.

It seems that all churches had some such partition from the early centuries of Christianity, both in the East and in the West. These began as a low wall, perhaps just two or three feet high (60 to 90 cm).

In the early Byzantine period until about the ninth century the partition generally took the form of columns carrying a carved epistyle, with carved panels in between the columns except for where the central and side entrances were. These screens could be in a straight line or rectagular, stepped out into the nave.

Screens in the West could sometimes be like this, but more commonly remained as low chancel walls, without columns, as can still be seen in some of the older churches in Rome.

Soon after the fall of iconoclasm in 843, in Byzantium icons began to be added along the top of the epistyle, and were also often painted on the church pillars either end of the screen.

In the late Byzantine church (1261-1453) we see icons of the Saviour, the Virgin and saints being placed in the spaces between the columns of the screen itself. This is really the birth of the iconscreen as we know it, as distinct from the purely architectural sanctuary-nave partition.

In Russia, iconscreens – which tended to be of wood – reached great heights from around the 1400’s onwards, having up to five tiers of icons.

There are infinite variations in design and material. In the Coptic Church, for example, the screen traditionally is of wooden lattice work. In medieval times western European churches developed the rood screen (“rood” referring to the cross which surmounted these screens), although this could be situated not only in front of the altar, but also further west to enclose the choir or chancel.

From the twentieth century there has been a trend in the Orthodox Church towards the lower screen design, but one can still find all types and heights still being made.

BEAUTY AND THE GOSPEL by Aidan Hart

This article has been published both in “Epiphany Journal” (USA) and “Second Spring” (U.K.). It attempts to describe a theological understanding of beauty, based on the five unions effected by Christ as described by St Maximus the Confessor. The inspiration is to find a new way of communicating the love of God to a secular culture through using divine beauty as the dominant image, rather than legal or moralistic terminology.
Click here to download article in Adobe reader PDF format

CELTIC, ANGLO-SAXON AND ROMANESQUE ICONOGRAPHY by Aidan Hart

This is a talk given in 1997 to an Orthodox arts group. Its premise is that the icon tradition is a living rather than a copyist’s one, and as such it responds to the culture from which it arises. As a basis for the natural development of iconography in the west this article traces the main influences which produced three of the main iconographic traditions of western Europe, namely the Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Romanesque.
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TRANSFIGURING MATTER – ICONS AS A PARADIGM OF CHRISTIAN ECOLOGY by Aidan Hart

A talk given in Oxford in 1998. It discusses how the making and use of icons reveals the Orthodox Church’s understanding of how we were intended to relate to the material world. The talk considers this using “the classical images of prophet, king and priest. Another way of expressing these roles is to say that we were created to be the poets, artists and musical conductors of the cosmos.”
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ICONOGRAPHY OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY by Aidan Hart

Two consecutive talks given in 2005 at Cambridge. The first briefly discusses the spiritual and practical challenges facing iconography (and church architecture) in the 21st century e.g. we have unprecedented access to icons through books and travel, but how do we digest this plethora of information? The second states: “If the Orthodox Church is to fulfil its calling in the twenty-first century it must gain prophetical, intelligent, sympathetic insight into the art and culture of the West.” It suggests ways certain non-liturgical art can reflect spiritual truth.
Click here to download article in Adobe reader PDF format

Bronze Cross

 

Bronze Cross

Photo is of the original wood carving

Size:830 x 540 x 46mm

Price: £3,500 (ex. VAT)

PRINCIPLES OF ORTHODOX CHURCH ARCHITECTURE by Aidan Hart

This article aims to identify the timeless principles that underly traditional Orthodox churches, in the hope that these will help develop an indigenous Orthodox architecture in non-Orthodox countries. This is a paper given in 2003 at the foundation of the contemporary Orthodox Church Architecture Group, and has also been published in the online journal of Hexaemeron (http://www.hexaemeron.org/htms/newsletter_ss07_hart.htm).
Click here to download article in Adobe reader PDF format

Consultancy & Design

The ideas that guide our consultation and design services are based on the following time-proven principles:

  • If the designs are for an existing building, materials are chosen that harmonize with those existing and with the building’s architecture.
  • Good quality materials and craftsmanship are always a worthwhile investment. If the budget is limited, there are ways of simplifying without compromising aesthetics and retaining quality of materials and craftsmanship.
  • Wherever appropriate, for churches in the West we draw for inspiration on the riches of early western iconography and design, for example Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Carolingian, early Roman, and Romanesque.
  • As much as possible, the cultural riches of the community are reflected in the designs. For example, the carved or painted panels under icons on an icon screen might reflect the numerous cultures represented in a multi-ethnic parish.
  • Liturgical art is not an end in itself, but a means of communion with God and the saints in heaven. So the beauty of the designs need to be such a nature as to lead people through the works to the holy persons depicted.

 

THE SACRED IN ART AND ARCHITECTURE: TIMELESS PRINCIPLES AND CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES by Aidan Hart

This talk given in Cambridge in 2005 outlines some of the fundamental principles of sacred art and architecture; without understanding these sacred art descends into mere copying. The article then goes on to discuss ways in which non-liturgical art – “gallery art” – can, at its best, overlap with many of the aims of overtly sacred art. It then outlines some of the challenges that face contemporary art, both sacred and secular.
Click here to download article in Adobe reader PDF format

Consultancy & Design

Below is a selection of some of the churches and chapels for which Aidan Hart Icons has acted as consultant and designer, and usually also maker of works:

  • The Parish of St Ephraim, Cambridge, 2017 (design folding ironwork icon screen)
  • St Chad’s Oratory, Manchester 2017 (advise on decoration of the church, design fresco scheme for the north chapel)
  • Private chapel, London, 2015-2016 (advise on iconography, interior design and lighting, design and make three mosaics)
  • The Russian Cathedral of the Dormition, London, 2016 (advise on lighting and furnishings for a major renovation, design and have made: a choros for the altar; eight icon cases; brass panels; radiator cover)
  • The Russian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, Amsterdam, 2010
    (create an overall design, design and make stone icon screen, advise on marbling columns and lighting, design icon thrones)
  • St Urban’s Catholic Church, Leeds, 2010, ongoing
    (design and create secco wall paintings, large crucifix, panel icons for side chapels)
  • Chapel of Shrewsbury Schools, Shrewsbury, U.K., 2007
    (make icons, paint six frescoes in niches)
  • Roman Catholic priest’s private chapel, Leeds, 2005
    (icon screen and its icons, tabernacle for reserved sacrament, brass bejewelled seven lamped cross)
  • The chapel of The Protecting Veil, Evia, Greece, 2003 (frescoes, stone icon stands, wrought iron icon stands)
  • Private chapel for HRH The Prince of Wales, 2004
    (fresco apse, numerous panel icons, secco vine border designs)
  • The Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Fathers, Shrewsbury, U.K., 1996, 1997
    (design and make oak icon screen and all its icons, carve stone altar table, design balustrades, restore medieval door)
  • The chapel of The Monastery of Saints Anthony and Cuthbert, Shropshire, U.K., 1996
    (conversion from a barn into chapel, frescoes painted, wooden mosaic floor designed and made, oak icon screen and icons, wooden ceiling)
  • The Holy Monastery of Iviron, Mount Athos, Greece, 1993-1994
    (design and carve casing for the Portaitissa icon, design and make silver lamps, censer boats, reliquaries, design large embroidery surround for the Portaitissa icon)
  • The Orthodox Church of the Ascension, Rugby, U.K., 1992
    (design and make wooden icon screen, design and make nave/narthex screen, design and make two revolving choir stands)
  • St John of Kronstadt Church, Bath, U.K 1984-6, 1992
    (icon screen, wooden crosses, furniture, candle stands, reliquaries).

Carving

Although most people think of icons as painted, there is also a very strong tradition of icons in relief carving. The oldest known icons are carved sarcophagi (e.g. that in St. Maria Antiqua, Rome, dating from around 270). The carved wooden doors of St. Sabina’s in Rome were made in 432. The wood I carve from depends in part on the size and use. Boxwood is good for very small items. Other woods I use for larger works are cherry (a rich brownish red), lime (light coloured and little distinctive grain) and oak. I have also used bone and ivory (old and recycled!). Some people like the carving to be painted and gilded. Common uses for carved icons are pendants, grave crosses and tombstones, reliquaries, travelling diptychs or triptychs, icon screens, the cross as support for the seven lamps often found on the altar, and portable icons hung up and venerated exactly as portable painted icons.

FRESCO

Fresco Technique

True fresco (an Italian word meaning fresh) is the process whereby paint is applied to wet lime plaster and is bound to the wall by the lime as it sets. Secco is when paint bound with some glue (usually casein or egg) is applied to already dry walls. Fresco is undoubtedly the more permanent of these two methods and, if done well, produces the more beautiful colours. 

A summary of this ancient technique that I use is as follows. The preliminary designs are made in conjunction with the client, and when finalized, are made into full-scale drawings.

The walls and ceilings to be painted are inspected to ensure that there is no ingression of dampness and are sound. The wall is first cleaned and well wetted, and the first layer of plaster applied, about 2 cm thick. This is usually a mix of one part lime putty to three parts of graded coarse to finer sands. Sometimes some of the sand is replaced by straw or fibre such as hair or flax. The surface is left rough. The second layer is then applied, a mixture of one part lime to two parts of a finer graded sand, and is about 1 cm thick. This is finished with a wooden float and left averagely rough. The third and final layer (“intonaco” in Italian) onto which one paints consists of one part of lime to one part (sometimes less) of fine white sand or marble powder. This is only about 2 mm thick and is highly polished with a metal float prior to the day’s painting. After the surface has begun to become absorbent (a few hours) the designs on paper are applied to the wall and the basic lines inscribed. Then the painting begins.

There are variations in the timing and details of this plastering and painting process, allowing from one to up to three days painting on an area of intonaco. But the essential thing is that paint must not be applied to plaster which has begun to set (the reaction called carbonisation). This is usually eight to ten hours after painting has begun. After the area of intonaco has been painted, the unused areas are then removed, and the next day the next area of intonaco is applied.

The paints are simply a mixture of finely ground pigment and water (or sometimes water with a little lime, called lime water). There is a limited range of pigments suitable, since lime is caustic and reacts with some. The earth colours are all useable, and are by far the most commonly utilized.

As the water moves towards the surface of the plaster through evaporation it carries with it lime in solution. This lime [Ca(OH)2] gathers around the particles of pigment and as the water evaporates the carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed, causing the lime to become calcium carbonate [CaCO3], which is its original form. It is this carbonisation that locks the pigments into the wall.

Aidan’s commissions include: the chapel of the Monastery of St. Antony and St. Cuthbert, Shropshire, England (view on this website and on www.orthodoxmonastery.co.uk); the chapel of the Protecting Veil in Limni in Evia, Greece; HRH The Prince of Wales.

“Icons as prayer without ceasing”: a lecture given at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies, University of Cambridge.

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