Ants in Icons and the 15th Century Holy Family

One of the wedding presents my husband and I received was a contribution towards the commission of an icon for our home, our family (even if it was still just two!)

Suffice to say, life gets away on us and we’ve been married 18 months already (wow!) and we still haven’t gotten around to commissioning something. I guess it’s one of those things that you can’t rush, and in a sense, what’s the hurry?

One of our new year resolutions was to put aside some time here and there to mull on it all…and to help us along I caught up with my dear friend who happens to be an iconographer for real, Jenny from St John the Baptist Studio in Auckland.

One of the things that struck me most about our conversation, something I realized as I was talking to her was this…

I tend to think of choices as something that you have to get it ‘right’ (and that it’s possible to get it ‘wrong’). Subsequently, one can be found to agonise over whether something is the ‘right’ choice. In choosing an icon, as perhaps sometimes in choosing certain directions and life paths, the critical element is to get on with one choice and grow into it, let it grow on you, in you and to grow through it. Basically, just get the hek on and grow!! And enjoy, too.

Jenny agreed with me very much, sharing with me that sometimes when people commission icons, they don’t even realize at the time what the icon will really come to mean in their family, how much the Image of the Unseen God dwelling in their home will affect their family life and their interior being. Sometimes, even, people would commission an icon just because they want some nice religious art, and they get a whole lot more than they bargained for.

Jenny also mentioned a couple of great books to help guide us on the journey of choosing an icon and appreciating it in our home…in particular, Henri Nouwen’s Behold the Beauty of God: Praying with Icons.

With that in mind, I was drawn in by the beauty of the cover art for the January 2013 Magnificat, a great daily Catholic prayer and scripture resource that I have mentioned a few times I think.

The January cover features an icon of the Holy Family, from a Spanish Book of the Hours (the Divine Office), written after 1461 sometime. I was struck by the many tiny details – something that I always loved about studying art history in school. How cool that even ants get to play a role in this icon! Indeed, the commentator, Pierre-Marie Dumont’s closing paragraph says it much better than I could:

“We admire the faith that informed our forebears in the fifteenth century, inspiring them to recognize the symbolic presence of the Lord within the most humble objects of their daily life. May Christian spouses also share in this faith of the humble of heart, living out their everyday family lives, in the crucible of its demands and challenges, as a liturgy of communion in the Charity of Christ. Doesn’t everything in family life come down to giving your life for love?”

That’s the kind of thing I need to hear now and then…

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    Comments: 2

    1. Werahiko February 3, 2013 at 6:37 pm

      I enjoyed this post and he interesting tour of internet icons it sent me on.

      But to me it raises the question: what is the link between spirituality and aesthetic preference?

    2. JimmyG February 5, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Only just read this post. Thanks for sharing Tuppence.

      The answer to your question Werahiko, is perhaps in reflecting upon how you know something and how you begin love.