30 December 2013

Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury

St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury (+988). Acrylic and gold leaf on panel, 8"x10," private commission.

I love Saint Dunstan and consider him an unofficial patron of my life. I was born on his feast day, May 19 and have really felt his influence in my life.  I feel very close to him in many ways; we are both English by blood and ecclesiastical artists and musicians. He lived from 909 to 988 and was the definition of a polymath: he was a talented artist, musician, clergyman, and statesman.  
I did quite extensive research for this icon. He is wearing X century English archepiscopal vestments. English bishops did not wear mitres until XII century. He wears the pallium (as an archbishop), as well as chasuble, dalmatic, alb, maniple and amice. As a bishop, he holds his crosier facing outward, shepherding his flock, as well as holding the Holy Gospel as a teacher. As an artist, he is holding smithing tongs and hammer, a quill and brush, and a harp. There is a story that St. Dunstan pinched the devil's nose with red-hot tongs when he tried to tempt the saint as he was smithing a chalice.
St. Dunstan was from Glastonbury (home of the Glastonbury Thorn, which grew from the staff of St. Joseph of Arimathea when he planted staff in the ground when he evangelized England after the Resurrection of Christ).   He was a monk, abbot, and bishop, eventually becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury.  St. Dunstan led a cultural and monastic revival in tenth century England, which had been ravaged by the vikings.  He established many monasteries.  He encouraged the arts; Glastonbury became a center of culture.  St. Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury, and advised kings (of whom was St. Edward the King-Martyr). 
As a visual artist, St. Dunstan was an icon painter, he illuminated manuscripts, designed vestments, cast bells, was a goldsmith and made holy vessels from precious metals (such as chalices and censers). Below is a manuscript which St. Dunstan illuminated, and contains a self portrait of the humble Dunstan prostrate at the feet of the mighty Christ.
In one of his manuscripts, Saint Dunstan left perhaps the earliest self-portrait in history. Source
As a musician, St. Dunstan composed hymns for the Church.  He played on a harp to accompany the nuns of his abbey as they worked.  His dying words were sung from the Psalms of David. One surviving hymn is "Kyrie Rex Splendens," which Saint Dunstan, in a vision during Mass, heard the angels in heaven  singing.  He quickly wrote it down to preserve it.  It is sung below.

Troparion, Tone 8:
By thee, O Dunstan, hath the whole land of England been wondrously adorned, for thou didst labor unceasingly to restore all the monastic houses laid waste by the heathen, to people them again with zealous monks and nuns, and to provide them with strict rules of pious order wherewith to govern their lives. Wherefore, the Church of Christ doth ever praise thine all-honorable name, O holy bishop.

Kontakion, Tone 3:
Like a master helmsman, O Dunstan, thou didst ably pilot the ship of Church and state in England, skillfully avoiding the treacherous rocks and reefs hidden beneath the tides of thy times, and bringing it safely to the calm harbour of heaven, fully laden with its freight of men's souls, which thou didst deliver, rejoicing, to Christ thy Master.

Daniels, R. W. (1987). Dunstan, jewel of the English. Tulsa, OK: St. Dunstan's Press.
Lambertson, I. (n.d.). Service to St. Dunstan. Retrieved from: http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/servduns.htm

Norris, Herbert (2002). Church Vestments: Their Origin and Development. Dover Publications.

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21 December 2013

The Holy Trinity, or The Hospitality of Abraham

The Holy Trinity, or The Hospitality of Abraham, acrylic and gold leaf on panel, 8"x10," private commission. 
St. Andre Rublev (c. AD 1425) was my primary inspiration, of course, but I also referenced an icon from Patmos (c. AD 1176), as well as the 20th century work of Leonid Ousspensky and Gregory Krug. 

In this icon, the three angels represent the three persons of the Trinity presiding at the feast around Abraham's table (Genesis 18). This is also the altar table, and they are blessing the Eucharistic chalice. From left to right are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sits at the head; the Son and Spirit look to Him. The Son wears the same garments as Christ. The Spirit wears green to signify his life-creating energy. Above them are Abraham's house, the Oak of Mamre, and the mountain. The house represents the Father's house (John 14:2) and the tree is next to the Son, representing His life-giving death on the Cross, the tree of life.

In the original icons, the angels are holding crosiers (in the Eastern Orthodox style); I took the liberty in making them western-style crosiers given the icon's destination to a parish in the Western Christian tradition.

Please see more of my work at www.brianwhirledge.com.

18 December 2013

Holy Prophet Elijah

I recently completed this icon of the Holy Prophet Elijah, 9"x12" acrylic and gold leaf on panel. 

This icon recalls a story of God's providence from the life of the holy prophet Elijah the Tishbite, I Kings (III Kings) 17:1-7. St. Elijah told King Ahab that it will not rain for 3 years, and he fled to the wilderness, where he lived by the Brook of Cherith. The ravens brought him bread and meat for sustenance (cf. Matthew 6:25-34). After the brook dried up, he went to the widow of Zarepath, where he miraculously extended her meager supply of flour (cf. John 6:1-15, 35-40) and raised her son from the dead, foreshadowing Christ's raising Lazarus (John 11).

Please see more of my work at www.brianwhirledge.com.