Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Angels Male or Female or Neither?

For many centuries the question has exercised the imagination of theologians, artists, and many individuals from vastly varied sectors and cultures world-wide.

How you think seems to depend upon your source.

I am in no way qualified to engage in the argument so would simply offer up this, for consideration.

Last autumn I joined the beginners' class of Iconography at St. Mary's, with no artistic experience or skills to offer.

Carefully following the formula week by week, copying as best I was able the dexterous and gifted tutor's instructions, I found that my puny efforts were producing an odd result.

The picture above is the template of our 'subject', the Angel Gabriel.  (Not sure whose work the original is).

The picture on the left is my (finished) effort, albeit short of a week's work.

Below this one is a photo of three other student's work with mine alongside.

The startling fact, regardless of the expertise, or in my case lack of expertise, of the individuals, is that we were all following precisely the same set of instructions, using the same materials and processes, yet every face is different.

Some of those who had greater skills than others, produced a much better likeness of the original, while others had either more, or less, or totally different expressions in the eyes of their/our versions.

Each of us had 'traced' the original and produced our own version, yet every finished Icon looks like a different person.

Mine as I said, was not very exact.  The work was hurried and slapdash, yet the face is highly individual.

Strangest of all, for me, is the fact that from the original A-sexual Gabriel has emerged a distinctly female.

More Gabrielle than Gabriel.


  1. It's fascinating to get the chance to see the same thing through others' eyes.

  2. So interesting to see the individuality of each portrayal and yes, definitely female, Ray. :-)

  3. Yes fascinating indeed Broad. I haven't signed up for this Spring term as the evenings are very cold and dark and I don't much like going out at this time of year, but I may tackle the Summer term. Even if just to see what else may manifest itself from my attempts to conform.

  4. I find the fact that my version is unquestionably female really strange. It certainly was not my intention Perpetua.

  5. What a fascinating idea to have the opportunity to try out some iconography. As far as I understand, icons were "taught" to pupils with strict conventions and regard to copying. Just like you were doing. Amazing results. Freda from Dalamory.

  6. It is a truly fascinating process Freda. Very involved and complicated and time-consuming but quite unlike any other form of 'painting'.
    Apparently it is quite common for very different faces to emerge from a common starting point.
    It is prayer led and has a meditative content too.

  7. Sounds very interesting....I'd come if I lived closer. I really like your face....looks familiar.

  8. Funnily enough Jean, I like the face too. Didn't at first because it was so very far from the original, but our Iconographer says a bit of ourselves goes into each Icon so maybe my interpretation is not as bad as I thought.
    One thing I do know for sure is that following formulae is really not my forte.

  9. LOL a chink Ray! A glimmer of positivity!- "so maybe my interpretation is not as bad as I thought."
    Just wait till I see you in summer term. I think your angel has a serene, contemplative look.
    Re 'copying' comment, Freda. This is correct, however it is not strictly copying as in the expected sense. Rather it is like listening to the Word of God and repeating it. It is a living process and it grows within, slowly but definitely. It is a task of humility to let the ego go and allow yourself to be guided by each line until something starts to become rewritten within the self. That is the beauty of being an iconographer.

  10. Must be Gabrielle then. Men don't do serene!
    I hope Freda will pick up your reply to her comment, it is so much clearer than what I said.

    Am (dreading), so looking forward, to the Summer term!