A Coptic Icon of Stella Maris

21 01 2011

Dr Stephane Rene, who painted this icon, is a contemporary artist trained in the Coptic tradition. He is based in London and teaches at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Many Coptic icons I have seen have a rough folksy feel to them. Stephane Rene’s however have a flow, grace and polish that goes beyond that and he describes his style as ‘neo Coptic’.

This particular icon has been blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. I especially like the monochrome designs in the decorative border (for those who are surprised that this should be on an icon, I refer you to a previous article ‘Why Frame a Picture?’.

I could not get hold of a large image to paste into this article. But readers can see one here as well as an article about the commission from the Apostleship of the Sea, which presented it to the Pope in Rome to be blessed.


Coptic icon of Christ and St Mena, 6th century



9 responses

22 01 2011
Matthew James Collins

Maybe it is my personal impression, but the Church seems to be currently embracing the iconographic/gothic tradition much more than the ‘Baroque.’

22 01 2011

I think this true. I can suggest a number of possible reasons for this. In the re-establishment of sacred art traditions the iconographic was introduced first, because of the work of Eastern Christians 60+ years ago in the 20th century. Also, some traditionalists are inclined to accept the Eastern Orthodox propoganda that says that iconography is the only genuine sacred art form because it was the earliest (this is a strain of what is sometimes ‘archeologism’ which says that the oldest is the purest and times degrades it. It doesn’t allow for the possibility input of grace after an initial revelation). It is only really with the current Pope who has made a clear statement about the baroque being a genuine liturgical tradition within the various naturalistic art traditions. As yet, there is a dearth of people painting baroque style art (as opposed to 19th century-style over sentimental stuff). In that FSA exhibition, your submission was the only one that seemed to reflect an understanding of the difference between the baroque and for example the 19th century style of naturalism. So, there is education of artists and patrons to be done, I think.

23 01 2011
Matthew James Collins

I completely agree with you. It is reactionary, but unfortunately naturalism is often mistaken for and confused with the photographic image. The iconographic tradition may also be seen as the counterbalance to the influx of photographic images(TV, film, print) that we must confront everyday. But a rejection of the physical manifestation of our inner selves is not healthy.

I would however disagree(naturally) with the Eastern Orthodox’s claim that their form is the purest because it was the earliest. The Christ-apollo image or Christ as good shepherd appear in late Roman art.

Could another reason for iconography’s renewed popularity is that in its simplicity and flatness it could be misconstrued as being modern?

23 01 2011

I think there are a couple of things going on. First there it is part of the reaction against the sort of 19th century ‘realism’ that was sterile and cold and a mistakenly confusing that with all naturalistic art, even the baroque. As part of this reaction, there has been an overreaction and, I agree, that in some cases this has manifested itself in a mistrust of the physical world. Interestingly, many Orthodox iconographers that I speak to are open to modern art – especially Matisse who went to Russia and looked at icons, and tend to see this as the natural extension of iconography into non-sacred art. They also love the Roumanian sculptor of the time Brancusi. I think that this is a huge misunderstanding of what modern art is about and they are so keen to be anti-Catholic, they are accepting what is bad. Sometimes it strikes me as a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. They are so keen to reject the Western traditions in art, and especially what they see as the Catholic traditions, that they will happily put themselves in the same camp as the anti-Christian modernists.

23 01 2011
Matthew James Collins

The Baroque in its true sense is misunderstood and we definitely need to re-educate the public of what it really consists of. Bombastic architecture, fat ladies and the dynamic diagonal is what art history teaches. Shame on them.

23 01 2011

Yes – see my reply to your last comment. I couldn’t agree more.

23 01 2011
Matthew James Collins

Sorry, I was off-line for a bit and posted my comment before refreshing the browser.

Are the contemporary Orthodox iconographers anti-Catholic? Didn’t know that. I can definitely see the influence of modern design in the work of the above Coptic artist. It is ironic the rejection of the Roman Catholic tradition considering the earliest icons have their formal roots in late Roman(pagan) tomb painting, coptic tradition included.

The Pantokrator of Mount Sinai is a powerful image and pretty naturalistic actually. It is interesting how iconography became more stylized in its evolution. However the there are plenty of early images of Christ in Rome, without beard though.

16 02 2011
Yoli Redero

I am looking for a copy of the above image of Our Lady Stella Maris. Do you know where I can buy a print? Thank you.

17 02 2011

Dear Yoli
No I don’t, I’m afraid. You could try contacting the artist, Stephan Rene at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London, or you could go to the church itself in London, maybe, which is at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bunhill Row, in London. If you google those you will get websites and contact emails.
Good luck

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