Icon of St Clare of Carlow
By Luis Alvarez (Lucho)
In the process of writing an Icon, (we talk about writing more than painting!!), one of the most important stages is in-depth research done on the person who is going to be depicted on it. Then, as we begin working more closely with the new, original Icon, we have to fathom the message that this “Saint Clare of Carlow” Icon will bring to the church.
Next, the composition should centre on the message, which is always simple and effective. The colours, gestures, and all the individual elements in the icon, soon come together, to emphasise the essence of the INSPIRATION, the iconographer has received, for the formation of the icon.
The prayer factor is vital, as the message comes from Heaven above, and should transcend the ordinary, or the human level, to unveil the Invisible, and the kingdom of God, Creator of everything.
In the Icon of Saint Clare we can see the importance of good research and prayer, because the saint wants to help the ones who are gazing on the icon, to pray in Adoration, and to rediscover the values of our Christian life, especially in the Eucharist, in which Jesus becomes our Banquet, and the salvation of all. The Icon is about Celebration. Thus the two banquets are combined together, and the invitation is there for all to participate.
The Icon of Saint Clare was a work of a few distinct crafts, like: preparing the board, gessoing, gilding, and of course painting. Many long and tiring hours were spent, in the process!! And of course sometimes there were moments full of frustration and disappointment. When everything goes wrong!!! And you feel like crying, screaming with total discouragement! Yet at the end all efforts are rewarded!!
The final touch, which is given to the icon, is always the Blessing of the church, in which the Icon receives the anointing, with the Chrism oil. Then it becomes a “Sacramental” object, more than a simple picture, or a nice portrait.
Of Course the Icon is done in a non-naturalistic way: all elements in an icon are symbols!!
The sense of the depicted people is changed, as they become more meaningful. The gesture calling attention to what the saint wants to share, the ornaments, and the landscape, are all part of the message. This is why icons are not only perceived with our minds. They also make us transcend to a higher spiritual level, where we experience a new understanding and awareness in our hearts and souls.
Yes, the function of icons is to help us on our journey from the visible to the invisible, from the natural level to the supernatural dimension, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and from this human level to the Spiritual level of God.
At this stage we can begin to understand the Aim of Icons. The first Aim of Icons is Evangelisation. Then comes the Proclaiming of the Message, which is accompanied by Signs and wonders. Next, The Kingdom of Jesus is revealed, wherein Healing and Miracles take place. Finally, the fourth aim of Icons, the Veneration or Worship, is experienced by all.
The Icon is a sacramental object that reminds us of God’s presence. This is the theology behind Icons. As Jesus said: “Who sees me sees the One who sent me!” This is the theology of the Presence.
Gessoing: 15 Coast of gesso, mixed with rabbit skin glue, then blended into a smooth liquid, which in turn becomes a milky-creamy substance, is applied to the board, which was previously covered with pure linen material, already glued onto the board.
Sanding: After a few days the gessoed board is sanded, with two types of sand paper, until the surface becomes very smooth and very even.
Composition or theme: After a few day’s of meditation and solitude, in which the knowledge of Saint Clare came to me through many good friends, who know the Saint, I started to gather all this information, and in long hours of prayer the message duly CAME. It was CLEAR!!! Like CLARE. Which means luminosity.
I understood it should be: Simple and Clear. Not too charged, and suitable for the life of TODAY. Suitable too for all the Sisters of saint Clare (Wherever they are!!)
On a very small piece of paper, one day after prayer, I found myself Drawing the first design of the Icon, which soon developed into the complete Icon of Saint Clare.
The arrangement of the composition took a short time!! And Frankie, a friend of mine gave to me good ideas, and little by little the Icon message began to appear.
Tracing and Incising; was the next step.
Then Gilding; which normally takes a little time, and I do it very well. But something went wrong!!! The Saint, it seemed to me, did not like gold, because from the beginning she had vowed herself to poverty!! It took 11 attempts to gild the halo, and much prayer, asking the saint to accept the gold, and to give glory to the Lord with this Icon. It looks like she has accepted!!!! After much frustration I finally received the Joy of a nice gilding!!!
Painting: As I started to paint it appeared that the colours were given to me by the Spirit of the Lord, and I encountered no problems whatsoever! Using Egg Tempera and Natural Pigments, the painting process of writing this icon took place. I spent Part of Christmas, and all of Lent, working tirelessly, in order to finish by the last week of Easter, (nearly Pentecost!!!) And Praise be to God it’s finished!!
The last part was Varnishing, and Waxing the Icon to protect the gold and the colours.
In the design of a new Icon it is very important to take into consideration a few elements that make an icon.
One Element is Tradition. In this Icon it is important to see the symbolism that made the icon different to a mere picture.
The senses are changed, and nothing is realistic or naturalistic. Icons are not Emotional Representations. This means that in the dimension in which the Saint is located today, (Heaven!!) there is always a fulfilment of all our Emotional Plenitude. “Eyes did not see, or ears did not listen, to what God has prepared for those who love him”.
And one of the elements of this Icon is just that: To give a sense of Mystery and Attraction to the one observing it.
We now talk about reading It!!! In iconography the language focus is on “reading” Icons and praying with them!!
The Elements of Sacred Geometry are in the rectangular shape of the Econ, symbolising the four corners of the universe. The Shape of the saint is in a triangular form, letting us know that she is standing at the Gate of Heaven, and that she is totally immersed in the amalgamation with the Trinity.
The Inverse Perspective, shows through the icon, the HERE AND NOW, of the message! There is no background, only a clear frontal view. There is no depth in the Icon. No more is to be revealed. In Christ we have all the Revelation!! There is nothing more to be revealed!!
Saint Clare, standing at the Gate of Heaven, is like an invitation to “COME AND SEE”, it’s Jesus himself inviting us to ascend, to climb the holy Mountain! To arrive at the place of the Lord.
That is why Saint Clare, who is this life never wanted to be called Abbess, is giving a blessing as Jesus did, in exactly the same way as the disciples gave us a symbol of Christ’s blessing. Here she is depicted in a posture of blessing, for all those who view her. Her blessing is to assist us on our journey to knowing the Lord Jesus.
Listening Ear: St Clare is also depicted with a listening ear. This is also our vocation as he r daughters to have a listening ear in confidence for the sorrows of all in need and to bring them to the Lord in prayer.
She is holding a book: This is to be interpreted as the Scriptures, and the Office of hours. It’s like a Treasure that we hold deer: for Prayer and Spiritual reading.
She is Bare-Footed, as she is standing on Holy Ground. If you pay close attention you’ll observe that the habit is kept close to the book and held firm too!!
Our IDENTITY! In this rapidly changing world, who we are is so important, after all!!
The Arch; in a shape of three semi-circular forms, encompassing everything, is like the Trinity, totally outside of time and space!!
The angel on the left hand side is carrying a Basket of Bread and grapes.” The fruit of the Earth, and the work of human hands” They are going to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. These Elements are vitally important for the celebration of the Eucharist.
The angel on the right bears the symbols of Calvary and the Passion.
There is no celebration without death! This is the Devotion of Saint Clare, who understood the Passion, and the Resurrection, of our Lord Jesus very well.
Again the theme of celebration is presented to us in the closeness of the book and the bread (Host), representing Jesus, as being truly present in the Eucharist.
Adoration: Is represented by the window. As we enter in adoration we are on holy ground, and like Moses, we too are told, “ I AM WHO I AM”!!
The Burning Bush: visible in three different colours, with the letters “O W N” inscribed inside, are talking to you and to me today, of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. It also reminds us of Mary, Mother of the Lord, (Teothokos).
The Challenge; at the very end, in writing, at the base of the Altar, is “Look at this mirror, CHRIST, daily and see your own reflection in HIM!
Now it’s up to you to do the home work!!!!