I finished the icon of the Mother of God of the Sign. After completing the painting it was time to gild, the gold leaf being the final touch; after working from dark to light the gold represents the final stage of transforming light. Some iconography schools begin with the gold, and they have their symbolic reasons for doing so, but laying down gold first means a high risk of dripping paint or water on it, or scratching the soft surface, all of which are hard to repair. This, again leads me to think that the practical preceeds the symbolic. After applying the gold leaf, the halo lines are drawn, using a compass and a ruling pen. Then the Greek inscriptions are made, the abbreviations of MP OY on either side of Mary, standing for Theotokos, “God-bearer” or “Mother of God”. On Christ’s halo are the Greek letters WON, representing the words “I AM”, the name of God in the Old Testament. On either side of his figure are the Greek abbreviations IC XC, “Jesus Christ”. The inscriptions are always the last steps to completing an icon; it can now be said to have been “written”
As often happens, I ran into a lot problems in the very final steps, the gilding and varnishing. I fixed it all, not to my satisfaction, but from experience I know when further fussing is going to just make things worse. Part of being an iconographer is learning the humility of knowing that your work will never be perfect. And no, I am not going to point out what is wrong. Again, from experience I know that most people will not notice what I see as mistakes, unless I point it out. Why ruin it for them?
About the Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign:
This icon represents the mystery of the Incarnation. The Virgin is seen with hands uplifted in prayer, and in the place of her womb is Christ. Another name of this icon is “More Spacious than the Heavens”, which denotes the mystery of a created being holding within her womb the Uncreated One, the Maker of the Universe. He is shown within a mandorla, a series of three- sometimes four- concentric circles. These represent the Trinity, or when there is a fourth, the Trinity plus the godhead beyond all understanding. The circle in the center is the darkest, and the ones surrounding it grow lighter. This represents the unknowable Mystery of God, and reflects the apophatic way, the emphasis on what we cannot know about God. This is typical of Eastern Christian mystical thought, but it is well known in the West as well, in writings of St John of the Cross, in Dominican mysticism, in the anonymous work The Cloud of Unknowing, and elsewhere.