Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Icons Look Back

I had the privilege of seeing the marvelous exhibit at the Getty Museum just before it closes, "Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai". One icon of St. Peter comes down from the 500s, one of the few pieces that survived the Iconclast destruction of the 8th century Byzantine empire, was on display. The 13th century icon of St. Theodosia as adopted as the exhibit's logo.

The exhibit describes the beauty of these holy images:
Icons look back. Their frontal faces, large eyes, symmetrical design, and brilliant gold grounds command our attention. They are places where the divine enters the beholder's space.
The Monastery of St. Catherine, deep in the Sinai desert, was a particularly good place to keep a continuous praying community and to save precious Christian art from war and controversy. It has long been a place of pilgrimage. The Spanish nun Egeria took three years for her round trip journey. There is a tradition that Mohammed visited the monastery and having received its hospitality, also offered it protection.

The Theotokos Hodegetria Dexiokratousa is a particularly beautiful icon and can be seen at the Getty exhibit page. In it a sweet Virgin holding her child indicates Him to us: "Hodegetria" is she "who points the way". By tradition the original was painted by St. Luke, and the copy shares in this sacred distinction. Another image of Mary shown with St. Catherine from the 13th century incorporates the theme of the burning bush which is never consumed, a reference to her Immaculate Conception.

See also the Artcyclopedia article on the exhibit and The Icons of St. Catherine's Monastery.

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