Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Getty Icon Experience

Although an exhibition tour was available (Tuesdays through Sunday's at 3 p.m.), I chose to avoid the mass of sheep and go solo. This usually provided me an unspoilt view of each and every artifact.

The exhibit began with an introduction to St. Catherine's Monastery at Sinai. Then, suddenly, I was staring a 1500-year-old, hot wax icon of Saint Peter in the face. From there, I wandered back and forth, learning about the Greek word behind “icon” and the 8th Century persecution called the Iconoclasm.

Hopefully, you enjoy gold... The icons used a background of gold not only to illuminate and give the subjects or scenes an aura of holiness, but to create a kind of negative space that seemed to separate the images from their canvas and bring them into the worshiper's reality. Many employed an illusion of light in the gold backdrop so that golden halos and golden shafts of light (usually impregnating Mariam) stood out as you moved around in front of the icon. Some icons featured portraits of saints and angels. Others featured scenes in sequence to create a visual narrative of biblical events. There were even quite a few whose purpose was calendrical. They came in single panes, diptych, triptych, some were encapsulated in elaborate forms like a cathedral, others were painted on the doors leading from the “holy place” to the “most holy place” in the Orthodox sanctuary. There were several icons so stunning, I was suspended in front of them and could easily understand how they drew people into worship as a kind of mediator, linking the viewer with the divine.

There was a brief documentary on St. Catherine's Monastery and its icons, which I had already seen. Interested parties—until recently—had the opportunity to request a free DVD which presented the documentary and a video on the exhibition accompanied by Greek Orthodox chant.

When it ended, I couldn't leave without purchasing a few Orthodox chant CDs and two postcards with some of my favorite icons on them. Although it was difficult, I gave the books a pass. They were quite pricey.

Although I rushed myself through the last part, the entire exhibit took about an hour and a half. Speedier observers could get through in an hour or less. Don't forget to swing by the Illuminated Gospel Manuscripts.

Overall, it was a great experience and I highly recommend it to both iconoclasts and iconophiles.


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