Thirty-three years ago the author of this book promised her tutor, Father Sophrony, that she would publish an account of her creative apprenticeship under his tuition at an Orthodox monastery in Essex. Here is that publication, full of first-hand experience wonderfully recorded and preserved in a journal of projects, working with ancient techniques and reviving recipes used for icon painting, murals and mosaics.
In these collective workshops, innovations and competition were put aside by painters who were content with anonymity. Their spectacular achievements now fill the monastery and continue to make a daily contribution that deepens its communal life.
Orthodox monasteries often have icons, murals and mosaics, but this monastery is relatively new. It was founded by Father Sophrony as late as 1959. As a Russian painter called Sergei Semionovich Sakharov (1896-1993) he had studied art at the Moscow College of Painting. After fleeing to Italy, Germany, France and Greece, he eventually founded the monastic community in Essex.
Here the making and painting of icons, murals and mosaics became prolific, emerging from modest workshops to become essential features of the community, its life and its beliefs.
This intensely interesting, well-illustrated, and informative book reveals a devotion to traditional means and orthodox imagery, which in turn produces a beautiful art with no signatures. But this new art is also ancient, and its vitality remains far removed from the frenetic competition of modern art. Instead it illuminates and accompanies every stage of the monastic life.
John Milner Honorary Professor in Russian Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Table of Contents
Introducing Father Sophrony
Timeline of works described in this book
THE ICON WORKSHOP
My first attempt
I continue to paint icons
My first large icon
The icon of the Holy Trinity
The first icon of Moses
Moses and the Burning Bush
The icon of St Silouan for the iconostasis
Icon of Christ for the iconostasis
The second icon of St Silouan and the icon of St Sophronius of Jerusalem.
Introduction to the chapel of St Silouan
The first beginning, work on the ceiling
Again, medallion saints
Painting of the East wall – The Mystical Supper
The rest of the murals
The Entry into Jerusalem
Ascension and Pentecost
The west wall, the saints on the balcony
The scenes from the life of the Mother of God
The ceiling – again
General colour recipes
Entry into Jerusalem
Row of ascetics on balcony
The transfer of drawings
Levkas (or gesso) on canvas
Egg tempera and icon painting
The preparation of olifa
The application of olifa
Mixing of oil paints and their application on plaster walls
VARIOUS MURAL TRIALS
Rabbit skin glue, honey and egg tempera
Egg tempera murals
The frescoes of the new Refectory
The crypt chapel, sgraffito and fresco
The murals in ‘St Silouan’s room’
Appendix I: Example of notes from one day
Appendix II: Iconographic advice
About the author
Sister Gabriela studied iconography on the recommendation of St Sophrony before joining the monastery. She later assisted him in several artistic projects during the last years of his life. Her books are about what she learned while working with him on icons, church murals, and mosaics.