I have just finished a very large icon: it is a 20 x 25 inches and painting without an easel has been an exercise in patience and ingenuity. However, since the Transfiguration is a particularly beloved Feast, I count each day I had the chance to work on it as a blessing.
What I wanted to talk about briefly here is the difference in portrayal of light. A quick google image search of ‘Transfiguration‘ tends to show Romantic paintings of Christ floating in a cloud of white robes and gazing down at the Disciples. There is a great sense of movement, disturbance.
In stark contrast, although the icon of the transfiguration shows the disciples in various states of disturbance – falling backwards, hiding their faces, reaching out towards Christ, the overall sensation is one of peace, serenity: almost stillness. The light which is emanating from Christ is shown through the luminosity of His garments, the rays of the Mandorla but most of all the gilding.
There are a few posts on my blog about gilding and I think I’ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating: the gold isn’t there to make it look pretty or impressive or flicker nicely in candlelight. Gold is the symbolism of the presence of God, His very being in the whole of Creation at all times and in all places. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Although light is shown in the way that drapery, landscape and faces are modelled with both colour and tone, there is no ‘highlight’ in the eye, which is traditionally used in western painting to give life to the subject. Likewise, sometimes the modelling of garments suggests there are two light sources and they are harder to ‘read’. This is deliberate (usually) and is another reminder that what we are looking at is life transfigured by the Divine presence.