HOW DO Painting students of the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD) of the Catholic University of the Philippines interpret Eastern Orthodox sacred art? Interestingly, it seems.

More than 40 images of the evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures and episodes were highlighted in Icons, A Sacred Art, an exhibit by Painting sophomores opened last Oct. 12 at the Beato Angelico Gallery.

CFAD professor Fr. Alex Bautista organized the exhibit as a requirement for his Liturgical Arts class.

“There are a thousand ways to express one’s faith,” Bautista told the Varsitarian. “Icons convey more than just an expression of faith since they also carry with them a piece of history and a breath of artistry.”

An icon is usually a panel painting portraying religious figures such as Jesus, Mary, the saints, the angels, and the cross. Icons are recognized for worshipping after a process of blessing and veneration. These images are not exclusively seen on canvases as they can be embroidered on cloth, printed on paper, cast in metal, or carved in stone.

According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, iconographers are given distinction over painters since their works serve as liturgical services to their church in a unique, artistic way.

The earliest written records about Christian images treated as icons are in a pagan or Gnostic context under the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Orthodox icons received general ecclesiastical acceptance during the 6th century as they started attracting direct veneration. Stories of miracles such as the healing of the sick and bountiful harvests were attributed to the figures the icons represent. However, the religious legitimacy of these images were contested and maligned as idolatry under Emperor Leo III during the Iconoclastic Period, wherein relics of saints were destroyed and icon worshippers were persecuted. The veneration of icons was fully restored during the reign of Byzantine Empress Regent Theodora at the end of the 9th century.

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The exhibit’s centerpiece, “Cross,” by Kevin John Areopagita, Roman Angelo Cruz, Clarisse Guardiano, and Maritoni Amor Pizarro, features a 103-inch version of the San Damiano Cross rendered with gold and warm acrylic colors on separate canvas boards. This cross, cherished by the Franciscans as their mission’s symbol, was given a local touch by the students as shown by the Filipiniana-wearing figures in the cross’ extended spaces.

Highlighted among the collection of illustrations are the Marian icons, which all portrayed Mary as the Mother of God. “Theotokos,” Maria Erika Gana’s version of the Russian icon “Theotokos of Vladimir,” shows the Virgin Mary embracing her infant Jesus with her cheek almost touching her baby’s. According to tradition, this icon demonstrates the Virgin Mary’s universal love and anxiety over her newborn.

Meanwhile, an Orthodox-inspired icon, Therese Lorraine Jose’s “Dormition,” commemorates the Virgin Mary’s dormition or “falling asleep” as her son Jesus Christ accompanies her body and soul to heaven.

Angels and evangelists were also featured in the paintings of the students. Joe Marc Bulquerin chose the Angel Gabriel for his entry’s subject, which shows the archangel with bold, black wings, burnt amber skin, and wide, circular eyes.

In acrylic on a 24×34-inch canvas, Franchesca Anne Yupano’s “St. John the Evangelist” looks archaic with the artist’s employment of monochromatic shades on the background, geometric lightings on the corners, and minimal usage of tonal values.

Two icons of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, one from Greece owned by Bautista and the other, a Russian icon, “Theotokos of Vladimir,” borrowed from the Diocese of Tarlac, Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, were present in the exhibit. A tray for candles where the painters and the guests can pray was placed right below the Russian icon. Orthodox Bishop Basil Sergievo’s “Prayer Before an Icon” was also posted along the walls of the gallery. This religious ambience distinguished the exhibit from others previously held in the Beato Angelico Gallery. Andrew Isiah P. Bonifacio and Michelle Angelique E. Canoy

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