The Significance of Egg in the Tradition
In medieval Russia, icon painters mixed pigment with egg emulsion by rubbing them together between their fingers into a uniform mass. The prepared pigment was stored in ceramic jars, each color in a separate cup. If the pigment could not be used immediately, then it was covered with water and left for the following day. Prepared pigments were usually not stored in this manner for more than three days.
The egg emulsion was prepared in the following manner: Separate the egg yolk from the white by cracking open the egg shell and catching the yolk in your hand while allowing as much egg white to flow through your fingers. Then gently pass the yolk sack back and forth between your hands, drying your hand each time before it receives the yolk. Puncture the yolk sack and let the yellow flow into a dish containing distilled or boiled water — one part yolk to two parts water. Add one or two drops of vinegar to this emulsion and stir vigorously. A good emulsion is also obtained, if instead you replace the water with flat beer. It is best to use beer without any preservatives. In this emulsion you do not need to add vinegar since the beer has natural preservatives.
When an iconographer prepares an egg emulsion for painting, he remembers that the Church uses water to sanctify mundane objects for use in the liturgy and other sacred purposes. Vinegar reminds one of the Son of Man’s sufferings on the cross in behalf of all mankind. Yolk is also a symbol of the dove that "is characterized by cleanliness, gentleness and will not be opposed by its enemies" — the prototype of the innocent victim of Jesus Christ.
Roskrysh or Underpainting
Now, when a figure is drawn on the icon board and the parts that are to be gilded are completed, then the base colors are ready to be arranged onto the icon. In Russian iconography this is called raskolerovat (расколеровать) that is, "to reveal." Hence the term roskrysh (роскришь) came into use since the 19th century. For this Russian painters use squirrel brushes of different sizes. So that the pigment lies well on top of the levkas (левкас) or grounds, it must be well dispersed in the egg emulsion and thinned with diluted water. There are two types of roskrysh techniques in Russian icon painting. One method is to load the brush with color and place it in a small pool on top of the levkas. Then with the tip of the brush the edges of color is expanded to fill in the areas of the form. This method is also known as petite lac. The second technique is to apply the tempera paint in many transparent layers or glazes, known in Russian as lessirovochnogo (лессировочного). Each transparent layer of pigment on an icon must be very thin. In these techniques, when considerable attention is paid to the figure and the roskrysh, emphasis is given to the body color of the pigments and the effects of sedimentation of pigment particles. To unify the coloring of icons some iconographers add into each pigment a small amount of ochre, burnt umber and carbon black. If an icon painter lacks the skills to lay on pigments precisely with the brush, he can paint the lower layers of the forms in pigments with whiting and upper layers in pure color.
Russian Tradition of Mineral Pigments in Icon Painting
It is written in the Bible that God created man "from the dust of the earth." Adam, which is the Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew word for ground (adamah), was formed from the clay of the ground. In nature there is a great variety of clays or ochres. From them the iconographer prepared pigments of various colors and tones from gold to red and light to dark. In medieval Russia, the names of different ochres were designated according to their color and place of occurrence. So there is a Kaluga ochre, Kolomna ochre, etc. This same practice was also followed in Europe, so that we have today names derived from medieval Italian name places, such as sienna and umber. The color range of the icon was largely based upon these earth colors.
[FONT=tahoma]Fig. 1. Many of the natural minerals and pigments used in Old Russian icon painting are still used today by contemporary iconographers.[/FONT]
Traditionally, the background of the icon was painted first in yellow or gold ochre, which many times substituted for the gold leaf that symbolized heavenly light. The border was painted with natural sienna; burnt sienna was sometimes used for the mafori (Russian for maphorian or cloak) of the Mother of God; and the himation of the Savior in pink or red ochre (hematite).
To obtain pigments from mineral earths, icon painters wash the earth to remove impurities by placing it in a bowl of water, vigorously mixing the water with the earth, and pouring off the impurities that appear as scum on the surface. This process is repeated several times until the water that pours off is clear. The resulting pigment is allowed to dry and afterwards ground in a ceramic mortar with a pestle. Next, it is finely milled to the desired granularity on a stone or glass slab with a muller.
Russian artists learned the language of icon painting from Byzantine masters who excelled in mosaic murals. These mosaics were assembled from colored pieces of smalt that scintillated as light played across their surface or as viewers shifted the point of view, making the faithful visible participants in Biblical events. Russian iconographers added mineral pigments to their palettes, because their crystal structure reminded them of the smalt tesserae of Byzantine murals.
The Foremost Color in Russian Icon Painting
Highly saturated colors are cherished in Russian iconography and of these red is regarded with the highest esteem. In fact, the word for red in the Russian language is krasniy (красный), which also means "beautiful". The mineral pigment cinnabar is perhaps the most beautiful red in the palette of Old Russian painting.
Minerals — many which are semiprecious stones — represent the heavenly rewards given by God to the saints for their holy deeds. For example, cinnabar was used to make clothing a fiery red color as a banner of the saints’ victory over death. The color red also signifies the new covenant God made with man. For this reason Jesus Christ’s mandorla is surrounded in red supported at the corners by the four Gospels. Red is also the color of royalty: In Byzantium only the emperor wore red slippers in the imperial court. Emphasizing her Godly image in icons, the Mother of God also wears royal slippers. Red is used to depict Seraphim whose love for God is like an eternal flame of fire. The hue of cinnabar is deep yet bright. It is not possible to imitate its fiery light with artificial pigments. Although today there are non-toxic pigments such as cadmium red, yet until now, most iconographers in Russia prefer to use natural vermilion.
Another important red pigment is the mineral hematite, and depending on its properties it is sometimes called "bloodstone." Hematite is iron oxide that exhibits a dark red color when it is ground to a powder. The root of the word hematite comes from the Greek word for blood. This color is used on icons to paint the mafori of the Mother of God in memory of her flesh that gave birth to the Christ.
White—the Light of God
Although red is perhaps the most desirable color on the Old Russian palette, white is the most widely used pigment in iconography. White is the color that directly represents the divine world. It is the closest to light itself. White is the color of those who are penetrated by the light of God. The angels seated near the Lord’s tomb, the angels accompanying Christ in his Ascension, and the elders in the book of Revelation are dressed in white clothing.
Belila (белила) the Russian word for whiting was used in mixtures with other pigments to model subjects, and in its pure form to make white hatching lines on the face and clothing. Lead white was the principal white used by ancient iconographers in Russia, but chalk (calcium carbonate) and gypsum (calcium sulfate) were also frequently used, especially in mixtures with other pigments. Lead white was sometimes derived from the mineral cerussite, but mostly it was made using the "stack" process in the Kachin and Yaroslavl regions.
Golubiets (Blue Colors) in Russian Icon Painting
Blue pigments described in Russian icon painting manuals are called golubsami (голубцами). Golubiets includes the pigments azurite, lazurite and vivianite.
The dark blue mineral vivianite is an iron phosphate, sometimes called blue ochre. This deep pigment is similar to the color of the night sky, which enshrouds it in mystery and is a symbol of the incomprehensibility of God. This color is used to depict the mandorla — the unapproachable radiance of the glory of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God. But why do they paint a bright radiance with a dark pigment? In order to understand this recall the time when Christ appeared in resplendent glory to Saul before the days of his Apostleship as Paul. Jesus’ appearance as an intense light blinded Saul so that he was left in darkness for three days. When Moses talked with God on Mount Sinai he could not look at His radiant glory without first shielding his eyes in darkness. Humans cannot enter into the presence of the super-bright Being and get to know His divine essence, so it remains shrouded in mystery as in darkness. Icon painters paint the cloak that conceals the flesh of Jesus Christ with this pigment. It is also used sometimes to paint the underside of Mary’s garment.
Azurite is basic copper carbonate that is found in ore deposits, especially in Kazakhstan and the Urals. Azurite varies in masstone color from deep blue to pale blue with a greenish undertone depending on the purity of the mineral and the particle size of the ground pigment.
Lazurite, an amply soft and brittle mineral, is easily processed as a pigment, which is called ultramarine. It is a popular but expensive mineral commonly found combined with other minerals in a rock called lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli or lapis for short is mostly lazurite but commonly contains pyrite, calcite and other minerals. The name lazurite means "blue rock" and is always a brilliant blue with violet or greenish tints. Blue pigments, such as azurite and lazurite were very costly; therefore they were sometimes substituted in an icon with green so that it acquired the same semantic burden in icon painting.
Prazelen (Green Colors)
Green pigments were called prazelen (празелень) in Old Russia. Verdigris, a synthesized copper acetate was known in early Russia. When verdigris is thickly applied in the upper layers of an icon painting it can become darkened in the course of time from contact with drying oil of the olipha. This pigment has fallen out of favor today with most contemporary icon painters. Another green pigment is obtained from the mineral malachite — a basic copper carbonate typically associated with azurite. Grinding the mineral volkonskoite, it is possible to obtain a permanent green pigment — a natural chromium oxide. Although the mineral was classified and christened volkonskoite in the 19th century, it has been identified on Old Russian icon paintings before the 17th century. The artificial pigment sold under the name chromium oxide is familiar to artists today, but is inferior in tinting strength to the natural pigment. Another beautiful green is derived from the mineral glauconite. This pigment is weak in hiding power, so it is sometimes necessary to add a little whiting to it.
Green is traditionally used on icons in the cloak of John the Baptist. He preached a baptism of repentance and turning away from sins to life eternal. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near," he said. As water gives life to green plants, so also baptism leads humans in the way to eternal life.
Roskrysh for the icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvinskaya
|[FONT=tahoma]PART OF ICON[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]PIGMENT/MATERIAL[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Haloes and wings[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Gold leaf[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Border[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Natural or raw Sienna[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Cloak of the Mother of God[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Hematite[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Headscarf of Mother of God, chiton of left angel, himation of right angel [/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Cinnabar or vermilion[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Cap of the Mother of God, underside of the cloak of Mother of God, chiton of the child Jesus, himation of left angel, chiton of right angel
|[FONT=tahoma]Glauconite or green earth[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Himation of the child Jesus, highlights on clothing[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Yellow ochre[/FONT]|
Orpiment and realgar were used extensively in Old Russian icons to model human flesh. In contrast to Western European painting where the artist models human body to show its volume and form in natural light, the icon painter delineates the human body using ever brighter highlights over a dark underpaint. In icons there are no shadows, because human flesh is illuminated by divine light that models its form. Orpiment possesses a strong glow that was used effectively to model the faces of saints.
The underpaint in the faces and exposed parts of the human body is called sankir (санкирь), and is a dark earth color. Byzantine icon painters used to make their sankir olive green, while in Russia warm browns were favored. Contemporary icon painters in Russia, frequently make sankir by mixing gold ochre with burnt umber, and sometimes adding a small amount of carbon black. Dionysius gives the following recipe for sankir in his Painter’s Manual or Hermeneia of the 18th century: "On the preparation of the flesh underpaint of Panselinos. Put ? drams of white, drams of ochre, ? drams of green such as used on a wall and ? denks of black on to some marble and grind them up together; collect this up in a bowl and use it as underpaint if you want to paint flesh."
Roskrysh of the icon of John the Baptist as Angel of the Desert
|[FONT=tahoma]PART OF ICON[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]PIGMENT/MATERIAL[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Background[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Pale yellow ochre[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Border[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Natural or raw Sienna[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Cloak[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Glauconite or green earth[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Camel hide coat[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Yellow ochre[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Ground[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Natural or raw umber[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Scroll[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Lead white, yellow ochre and bone black[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Sankir[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Natural or raw umber, yellow ochre, lead white[/FONT]|
|[FONT=tahoma]Halo, wings, cup[/FONT]||[FONT=tahoma]Gold leaf[/FONT]|
If an icon painter uses high-quality contemporary pigments, always remember the fact that when an iconographer gathers the minerals necessary for his work and grinds it to make his paint, he puts labor and prayer in this process that precedes all future icons. This cannot be duplicated in any other way as part of the spiritual tradition of the icon.
In contrast to secular painting where the artist paints subjects as he sees them with his natural eyes and in the process of the work sometimes changes his ideas, the iconographer immediately reveals his subjects as he sees them with his spiritual eyes or discernment using its local coloring. The iconographer writes subjects not as they are in the world of ideas – but in reality that is not sensory dependent or transitory. Therefore local colors are composed on the icon. Color gives the true sense of subject. There are no levkas showing when all colors on an icon are laid out. The painting of clothing, hills, buildings, the faces of the saints, inscriptions and so forth reveals their form through color. The bright pigments of natural minerals and earths of Russian icons attract the eye and gladden the heart, as they preach the good news about eternal life.
1 Genesis 2:7, New International Version (NIV-IBS): "the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."
2 Matthew 3:1-3, New International Version (NIV-IBS): "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. "
3 Dionysius of Foruna, Paul Hetherington, trans., The Painters Manual of Dionysius of Foruna (Torrance, California: Oakwood Publications, 1996), p. 8.
4 Ibid., Manuel Panselinos was a painter from Thessalonica of great renown. It is not known for certain when he lived.
5 Ibid., Probably green earth or glauconite. The white is probably gypsum or calcium sulfate.
6 Ibid., A denk is a Turkish measure of very variable size and usage; here it is probably the smallest quantity used in the recipe. There are gaps in the original manuscript that are denoted with a question mark (?) in this quotation.