Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent Traditions - The Nativity Fast of the Orthodox Christian Churches

Some people fast (don't eat anything) during advent to help them concentrate on preparing to celebrate Jesus's coming. In many Orthodox & Eastern Catholics Churches, Advent lasts for 40 days and starts on November 15th & is also called the Nativity Fast.The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, & Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, (December 25). The corresponding Western season of preparation for Christmas, which also has been called the Nativity Fast & St. Martin's Lent, has taken the name of Advent. The Eastern fast runs for 40 days instead of four (Roman rite) or six weeks (Ambrosian rite) & thematically focuses on proclamation & glorification of the Incarnation of God, whereas the Western Advent focuses on the two comings (or advents) of Jesus Christ: his birth & his Second Coming or Parousia.


Celebrated during the Nativity Fast.  Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace, celebrated during the Nativity Fast as a reminder of the grace acquired through fasting (15C icon of the Novgorod school). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are the 3 pious Jewish youths thrown into a "fiery furnace" by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

The Byzantine fast is observed from November 15 to December 24, inclusively. These dates apply to those Orthodox Churches which use the Revised Julian calendar, which currently matches the Gregorian calendar. For those Eastern Orthodox Churches which still follow the Julian calendar (Churches of Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Mount Athos & Jerusalem), the Winter Lent does not begin until November 28 (Gregorian) which coincides with November 15 on the Julian calendar. The Ancient Church of the East fasts dawn til dusk from the 1st December until the 25th of December on the Gregorian calendar.

Sometimes the fast is called Philip's Fast (or the Philippian Fast), as it traditionally begins on the day following the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle (November 14). Some churches, such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, have abbreviated the fast to start on December 10, following the Feast of the Conception by Saint Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Through the discipline of fasting, practiced with humility & repentance, it is believed that by learning to temper the body's primary desire for food, that other worldly desires can be more easily tempered as well. Through this practice one is better enabled to draw closer to God in the hope of becoming more Christ-like. While the fast influences the body, it is important to note that emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than mere physical deprivation. Orthodox theology sees a synthesis between the body & the soul, so what happens to one affects the other. The church teaches that it is not enough to fast from food; one must also fast from anger, greed & covetousness. In addition to fasting, almsgiving is also emphasized.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the fast traditionally entails fasting from red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, & wine. Fish, wine & oil are allowed on Saturdays & Sundays, & oil & wine are allowed on Tuesdays & Thursdays, except in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

The fasting rules permit fish, &/or wine & oil on certain feast days that occur during the course of the fast: Evangelist Matthew (November 16), Apostle Andrew (November 30), Great-martyr Barbara (December 4), St. Nicholas (December 6), St. Spiridon & St. Herman (December 12), St. Ignatius (December 20), etc. 

Orthodox persons who are ill, the very young or elderly, & nursing mothers are exempt from fasting. Each individual is expected to confer with their confessor regarding any exemptions from the fasting rules, but should never place themselves in physical danger.

There has been some ambiguity about the restriction of fish, whether it means the allowance of invertebrate fish or all fish. Often, even on days when fish is not allowed, shellfish may be consumed. More detailed guidelines vary by jurisdiction, but the rules strictly state that from the December 20 to December 24 (inclusively), no fish may be eaten.

The Eve of Nativity (December 24) is a strict fast day, called Paramony (lit. "preparation"), on which no solid food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the evening sky (or at the very least, until after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy that day). If Paramony falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the day is not observed as a strict fast, but a meal with wine & oil is allowed after the Divine Liturgy, which would be celebrated in the morning.

In some places, the services on weekdays during the fast are similar to the services during Great Lent (with some variations). Many churches & monasteries in the Russian tradition will perform the Lenten services on at least the first day of the Nativity Fast. Often the hangings in the church will be changed to a somber, Lenten color.


The Entry of the Virgin Mary into the Temple, the Great Feast which falls during the course of the Nativity Fast (16C Russian icon).

During the course of the fast, a number of feast days celebrate those Old Testament prophets who prophesied the Incarnation; for instance: Obadiah (November 19), Nahum (December 1), Habbakuk (December 2), Zephaniah (December 3), Haggai (December 16), Daniel & the Three Holy Youths (December 17). These last are significant not only because of their perseverance in fasting, but also because their preservation unharmed in the midst of the fiery furnace is interpreted as being symbolic of the Incarnation—the Virgin Mary conceived God the Word in her womb without being consumed by the fire of the Godhead.

As is true of all of the four Orthodox fasts, a Great Feast falls during the course of the fast; in this case, the Entry of the Theotokos (November 21). After the apodosis (leave-taking) of that feast, hymns of the Nativity are chanted on Sundays & higher-ranking feast days.

The liturgical Forefeast of the Nativity begins on December 20, & concludes with the Paramony on December 24. During this time hymns of the Nativity are chanted every day. In the Russian usage, the hangings in the church are changed to the festive color (usually white) at the beginning of the Forefeast.

Two Sundays before Nativity, the Church calls to remembrance the ancestors of the church, both before the giving of the Law of Moses & after. The Menaion contains a full set of hymns for this day which are chanted in conjunction with the regular Sunday hymns from the Octoechos. These hymns commemorate various biblical persons, as well as the prophet Daniel & the Three Young Men. There are also a special Epistle (Colossians 3:4-11) & Gospel (Luke 14:16-24) readings appointed for the Divine Liturgy on this day.

The Sunday before Nativity is even broader in its scope of commemoration than the previous Sunday, in that it commemorates all of the righteous men & women who pleased God from the creation of the world up to Saint Joseph. The Menaion provides an even fuller service for this day than the previous Sunday. At the Vespers portion of the All-Night Vigil three Old Testament "parables" (paroemia) are read: Genesis 14:14-20, Deuteronomy 1:8-17 & Deuteronomy 10:14-21. The Epistle which is read at the Divine Liturgy is a selection from Hebrews 11:9-40; the Gospel is the Genealogy of Christ from the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-25)

Christmas Eve is traditionally called Paramony (Greek: παραμονή, Slavonic: navechérie). Paramony is observed as a strict fast day, on which those faithful who are physically able to, refrain from food until the first star is observed in the evening or after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy, when a meal with wine & oil may be taken. On this day the Royal Hours are celebrated in the morning. Some of the hymns are similar to those of Theophany (Epiphany) & Great & Holy Friday, thus tying the symbolism of Christ's Nativity to his death on the Cross. The Royal Hours are followed by the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil which combines Vespers with the Divine Liturgy.

During the Vespers, 8 Old Testament lections ("parables") which prefigure or prophesy the Incarnation of Christ are read, & special antiphons are chanted. If the Feast of the Nativity falls on a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are chanted on the previous Friday, & on the Paramony the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated in the morning, with its readings & antiphons, & the fasting is lessened to some degree—a meal with wine & oil being served after the Liturgy.

The All-Night Vigil on the night of December 24 consists of Great Compline, Matins & the First Hour. One of the highlights of Great Compline is the exultant chanting of "God is with us!" interspersed between selected verses from the prophesy of Isaiah 8:9-18, foretelling the triumph of the Kingdom of God, & 9:2-7, foretelling the birth of the Messiah ("For unto us a child is born...& he shall be called...the Mighty God....").

The Orthodox do not normally serve a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; rather, the Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ is celebrated the next morning. However, in those monasteries which continue to celebrate the All-Night Vigil in its long form—where it literally lasts throughout the night—the conclusion of the Vigil at dawn on Christmas morning will often lead directly into the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. When the Vigil is separate from the Divine Liturgy, the Lenten fast continues even after the Vigil, until the end of the Liturgy the next morning.

On December 25, the Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ begins. From that day to January 4 (the day before Theophany Eve) is a fast-free Period. The Eve of the Theophany (January 5) is another strict fast day (paramony).

Morning Madonna

Pedro García de Benabarre (Spanish artist, flourished 1445-85) Virgin & Child with Angels.  Central portion of an altarpiece from the parish Church of the Assumption in Bellcaire d'Urgell. 


In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent Traditions - Children in Normandy setting fields on fire


At Advent in Normandy, when the final harvest was complete, farmers used to pick a night to send their children to run through the fields & orchards carrying flaming torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, to drive out pests likely to damage the crops.  If a farmer had no children of his own, his neighbors lend him theirs, for none but young & innocent children could command destructive animals to withdraw from his lands. After 12 years of age children were believed unfit to perform the office of mammal exorcists. 



The children would sing

Taupes,cherrilles, et mulots,
Sortez, sortez, de mon clas,
Ouje vous brule la barbe et los os. 
Arbres, arbrisseaux,
Donnez-moi des pomes a miriot.

Mice, caterpillars, & moles get out of my field!
I will burn your beard and bones!
Trees and shrubs, give me bushels of apples!

The children were like the coming Christ child who would drive all evil from the earth.  "As the Christ Child drove away sin, so do these children drive away vermin."



Many worried about the possibility of accidents which could arise from this assembly of juvenile torch-beares, scattering "their flames around them on every side; but there is a remedy for all dangers; this fire never burns or injures anything but the vermin against which it is directed: — such, at least, is the belief of the simple folks who inhabit the department of the Eure-et-Loire." (Time's Telescope, 1828)

See William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. December 5.

Morning Madonna

Taddeo di Bartolo (c. 1363 – 1422), also known as Taddeo Bartoli, Madonna and Child - Taddeo di Bartolo abt 1390s-1400

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Traditions - Italy


Christmas time begins on the 1st Sunday of Advent in Italy, which comes 4 weekends before Christmas. This period is called "Novena." Children during this time go out singing Christmas carols & verses for sweets & coins.  The Novena is a religious ritual linked to the rosary. While there are many times of the year where this devotional activity takes place, one of the most observed is Christmas.  In the 9 days leading up to Christmas day, the rosary is said as a preparation to welcoming Christ.  This religious tradition was extended with children going from house to house just as the time of prayer was over to sing traditional Christmas songs. The children would in turn receive small gifts of sweets or cakes.



Families set up manger scenes on the 1st day of "Novena."  Every morning they gather around the nativity scene, pray & light candles.  Children write letters to their parents wishing then a merry Christmas & promise good behavior.  They also prepare a wish list of the gifts they want from their parents. These letters of appreciation are read out loud at dinnertime by the parents. 



While Christmas decorations in Italy are beginning to include Christmas trees, the main emphasis is still on Nativity scenes.  Many families place huge, life-size images of Mary & Joseph on their property.  Nativity scenes are inevitable in almost every household in all churches.  They are also found in many public areas as well. 



In the last days of Advent, before the shrines of Mary in Rome & surrounding areas, bagpipers & flute players, Zampognari & Pifferaiin, in traditional colorful costumes of sheepskin vests, knee-high breeches, white stockings & long dark cloaks, travel from their homes in the Abruzzi mountains to entertain crowds of people at religious shrines.  



Tradition holds that the shepherds played these pipes, when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.



During Advent in Italy the ceppo appears.  The ceppo is a wooden frame several feet high designed in a pyramid shape. This frame supports several tiers of shelves, often with a manger scene on the bottom followed by small gifts of fruit, candy, & presents on the shelves above. The "Tree of Light," as it is also known, is entirely decorated with colored paper, gilt pinecones, & miniature colored pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides & a star or small doll is hung at the apex.



An old tradition in Italy is the Urn of Fate which calls for each member of the family to take turns drawing a wrapped gift out of a large ornamental bowl until all the presents are distributed.

Morning Madonna


Andrea Brescianino or Gods Piccinelli (c 1487-1525) Madonna with Infant, John the Baptist, and Hieronymus

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Advent Traditions - The Advent Wreath


The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that marks the passage of the four weeks of Advent leading to Christmas in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. 

The origin of the Advent wreath is uncertain.  It is believed that Advent wreaths have their origins in the folk traditions of northern Europe; where in the deep of winter, people lit candles on wheel-shaped bundles of evergreen.  It is believed that pagan Mid-Winter rituals sometimes featured a wreath of evergreen with four candles. The candles were placed in each of the four directions to represent the elements of earth, wind, water and fire.  Rites were solemnly performed in order to ensure the continuance of the circle of life symbolized by the evergreen wreath. 

Like many Church traditions, the use of candles in the late fall and winter was originally a pagan tradition. Rev. William Saunders wrote that “pre-Germanic peoples used wreaths with lit candles during the dark and cold December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended sunlight days of spring.” In the middle ages, the Germanic peoples began incorporating a lighted wreath into the Christian season of Advent. It didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1800s, and it wasn’t until the 1900s, that German immigrants brought the tradition to America.There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold & dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm & extended-sunlight days of Spring.  

In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, & prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days & restore warmth.  Both the evergreen & the circular shape symbolized ongoing life.  The candlelight gave comfort at this darkest time of the year, as people looked forward to the longer days of spring.  

By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition & used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. By 1600, both Catholics & Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.

The wreath is made of various evergreens which are green yeear round.  The Advent Wreath is endlessly symbolic. The evergreens in the wreath itself are a reminder of continuous life. The shaping of them into a circle reinforces that meaning. The circle is also a sign of the eternity of God.The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, & the everlasting life found in Christ. 

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.  In some Christian churches, one purple or blue candle is lit each week, but the Catholic church uses a rose candle on the 3rd Sunday.  Purple dyes were once so rare & costly that they were associated with royalty; the Roman Catholic Church has long used this color around Christmas & Easter to honor Jesus. The candles symbolize the prayer, penance, & preparatory sacrifices & goods works undertaken at this time.  The light signifies Christ, the Light of the world.  Some modern day wreaths include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ & is lit on Christmas Eve. 

Morning Madonna

Unknown Master, Italian (late 15th century in Valsesia). Madonna del Parto

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Traditions - The Advent Calendar


An advent calendar is usually a poster with 24 small doors, one to be opened each day from December 1 until Christmas Eve. Each door conceals a picture. This popular tradition arose in Germany in the late 1800s & soon spread throughout Europe & North America. Originally, the images in Advent calendars were derived from the Hebrew Bible.



The Advent calendar windows open to reveal an image, poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus) or a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. Some calendars are strictly religious, whereas others are secular in content.



During the 19C in Germany, the days preceding Christmas were marked off from December 1 with chalk on "believers" doors. Then in the late 19C the German mother of a child named Gerhard Lang made her son an Advent Calendar comprised of 24 tiny sweets stuck onto cardboard. Lang never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his Advent calendar at the beginning of each December, & how it reminded him every day that the greatest celebration of the whole year was approaching ever nearer. 



As an adult, Lang went into partnership with his friend Reichhold opening a printing office. In 1908, they produced what is thought to be the 1st  printed Advent Calendar with a small colored picture for each day in Advent.  Around the same time, a German newspaper included an Advent calendar insert as a gift to its readers. Lang’s calendar was inspired by one that his mother had made for him and featured 24 colored pictures that attached to a piece of cardboard. Lang modified his calendars to include the little doors that are a staple of most Advent.



The idea of the Advent Calendar caught on with other printing firms as the demand swiftly increased, and many versions were produced, some of which would have printed on them Bible verses appropriate to the Advent period.  By the time that the Advent Calendar had gained international popularity, the custom came to an end with the beginning of the WWI, when cardboard was strictly rationed to be used for purposes necessary to the war effort. 


President Eisenhower's grandchildren with an Advent Calendar

However, in 1946, when rationing began to ease following the end of the WWII, a printer named Richard Sellmer once again introduced the colorful little Advent Calendar, and once again it was an immediate success.  After the war, the production of calendars resumed in 1946, by Selmer. Selmer credits President Eisenhower with helping the tradition grow in the United States during his term of office. A newspaper article at the time showed the Eisenhower grandchildren with The Little Town Advent calendar. 

Some European countries such as Germany, where the 1st Advent poster originated, also use a wreath of fir with 24 bags or boxes hanging from it. In each box or bag there is a little present for each day.


Madonnas attributed to Italian artist Simone Martini (c 1280-85-1344)

Attributed to Simone Martini (Italian artist, 1280-85-1344)  Maestà (detail) 1315

Attributed to Simone Martini (Italian artist, 1280-85-1344) Madonna and Child

Attributed to Simone Martini (Italian artist, 1280-85-1344) Madonna and Child (from Castiglione d'Orcia) 1320-25


Attributed to Simone Martini (Italian artist, 1280-85-1344)  Madonna and Child, c 1310-1315


Attributed to Simone Martini (Italian artist, 1280-85-1344)  Maestà


Attributed to Simone Martini (Italian artist, 1280-85-1344) Madonna and Child from Lucignano d'Arbia

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent in Britain Today - Candles

Today, Advent is not widely celebrated in England, although in the Anglican church calendar Advent remains the official start of the Christmas season. One tradition that remains in England is the the Advent candle. To many Christains, the 4 candles of Advent represent the 4,000 years between Adam & Eve - the birth of Christ during which mankind waited for the arrival of Jesus. In the homes of many Christains, a candle is lit each Sunday during the season of Advent to signify the entrance of Christ, the light, into the world.



One type of Advent candle has 25 marks on it, & the candle is burned down by one mark each day. In some homes, 24 candles are kept, one for each night from December 1 through Christmas eve. One candle is lit for a while on December 1, then a new candle is added each day for the 24 day period. Advent candles are lit in many homes, schools and churches, in England, with a final central candle lit on Christmas Day.  

Madonnas attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna c 1255-1319

 Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Madonna and Child

Duccio (c 1255-1319) was one of the most influential Italian artists of His time. Born in Siena, Tuscany, he worked mostly with pigment and egg tempera and like most of His contemporaries painted religious subjects.

Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Madonna and Child


Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Madonna with Angels and Saints. Detail 1308-11


Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Madonna and Child


Duccio, Madonna and Child also called Stoclet Madonna or Stroganoff Madonna, c. 1300


Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Madonna and Child


Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Gualino Madonna


Duccio (Italian, Sienese, 1255-1319). Madonna and Child

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent Traditions - England Medieval "Dolls" or perhaps puppets as Baby Jesus & Mary

Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise, France 1344.

In medieval & pre-medieval times, in parts of England, there were early forms of Nativity scenes called "advent images" or "vessel cups."  They were a box, often with a glass lid that was covered with a white napkin, that contained 2 dolls representing Mary & the baby Jesus. The box usually was decorated with ribbons & flowers (and sometimes apples).  They were carried around from door to door.  It was thought to be very unlucky, if the family did not see the dolls before Christmas Eve!   Bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest. People paid the box carriers a halfpenny coin to see the dolls in the box.


Roman du bon roi Alexandre illuminated manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"In the Middle Ages, the doll was not confined to the young.  Operated as marionettes, they were often used to make money.  Adults could buy votive objects to offer at shrines, as well as statuettes of Christ or saints to keep in their houses.  Margery Kemp, the mystic of King's Lynn, when visiting Italy in 1414, met a woman who traveled abut with an image of the baby Jesus.  Other women dressed this image with clothes as an act of reverence, and Margery, seeing this happen, fell into tears for the love of infant Jesus.  Similar dolls of Christ and Mary are said to have been carried about by women during Advent in the north of England." (See Nicholas Orme. Medieval Children. Yale University Press, 2003) 


Ms. 251 from Brugge, 13C Puppet show

Icons of Madonna & Child

Chiliandari Icon of the Mother of God of the Akathistos Holy Mount Athos

Icons of Mary holding her son Jesus have been popular, since the 431 AD Council of Ephesus declared Mary to be the Mother of God.


Icon Kazan of the Most Holy Mother of God

The word "icon" derives from the Greek "eikon" meaning any image or representation, but the word usually is restricted to a religious image. Although the word "icon" applies to all kinds of religious images -- those painted on wooden panels (icons proper), on walls (frescoes), those fashioned from small glass tesserae (mosaics) or carved in stone, metal or ivory -- the term is it most often with paintings on wood.


Icon of the Mother of God of St Peter of Moscow c 1306

Early Christian images appeared around the 3rd century. That may indicate that for the first 200 years of its existence, Christianity was probably influenced by the Old Testament 2nd Commandment, "Thou shall not make unto thee any graven images" (Exodus 20:4).


Mother of God of Kiev & Arapetsk, Arabic Russian

"When Christians turned to promote their religion, they found many examples in the earlier art of religions in the art of the Roman Empire. For their images, they incorporated various elements from a number of sources: from Hellenic art they borrowed gracefulness & clarity of composition; from the Roman art they took the hierarchical placement of figures & symmetry of design; from Syrian art they took dynamic movements & energy of the represented characters; and from Egyptian funeral portraits they borrowed large almond-shaped eyes, long, thin noses, & small mouths. By the time Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire (313), the iconography was developing vigorously & the basic compositional schemes were well established." (From Alexander Boguslawski)


The Otokos of Passion

Some speculate that the earliest icon painters in Russia were Greeks or Byzantinized South Slavs. They are thought to have become teachers of the 1st Russian icon painters instructing them in the traditional Byzantine style. Their compositions were monumental, uncluttered, & simple. Some early icons exhibit close affinities with the art of classical antiquity. However, the Russians quickly abandoned the Byzantine tradition of portraying a severe religious images & developed more "humane" depictions.


Icon Russian Icon, The Vladimir Mother of God, 12C


Icon of Theophanes the Greek (c 1330-c 1410) The Virgin of the Don 1392



Icon Russian Icon, The Virgin Hodegetria of Tikhvin (mid-16C from the Moscow School)



Icon Ukranian Icon The Virgin Eleusa From the Church of St. Luke in the village of Dorosyni, Volhynia region, 15C

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.