Iconographer Matthia Langone shows a finished icon in her Vancouver studio.

BC CATHOLIC PHOTO | LAUREEN MCMAHON

Iconographer Matthia Langone shows a finished icon in her Vancouver studio.

July 11, 2011
LAUREEN MCMAHON
THE B.C. CATHOLIC

Embracing the Christian life is a sacred mystery; icons possess a mysterious power to draw the spiritual seeker to Christ, says iconographer Matthia Langone.

Icons are artistic "written" images of Jesus, Mary, the saints, or angels which offer a living theology and experience of prayer. Iconographers not only offer their creative charism to God, they offer their whole heart, mind, and soul.

"It is a transformational experience, a vocation," said Langone. She should know.

When she encountered Russia's most prized icons while attending an ordination in Moscow about 15 years ago, she was so struck with the stunning images, the course of her life was changed.

"It was the first Latin rite ordination since the fall of the communist regime," she said. "It was very hot, and the seminarian's family arranged several tours, which included a grand tour of the Kremlin.

"After three hours, I had no intention of seeing any icons, but when I went into the churches in the square I had a huge experience which I can only compare to receiving Communion.

"So much power! Each icon affected me, one after the other; I didn't know what had hit me. I even felt kind of afraid."

"I knew that I had to try to understand the power of the icon to affect so many through the centuries."

When she returned home she began to research icons, determined to learn all she could. Eventually she embarked on a course of studies at the Prosopon School of Iconology under Russian master iconographer Vladislav Andrejev to learn his "liturgical method." The master's teachings include the practice and theory of the ancient Christian art of icon-writing in the Russian Byzantine tradition which considers icons the "Gospel in light and colour."

A SPIRITUAL WAY

"I began to see that icons are a spiritual way," said Langone.

A glimpse of the incricate prepatory work that goes into creating an icon.

BC CATHOLIC PHOTO | LAUREEN MCMAHON

A glimpse of the incricate prepatory work that goes into creating an icon.

The iconographic method of the school is characterized by a multi-step process that is concrete and definite, similar to the liturgical services of the Church. Only natural materials are used: wood panels, gold leaf, egg tempera with ground pigments and linseed oil finish.

The icon writer, while focusing on the image to be created, is also intent on personal spiritual growth and discipline within the guidelines of Church teachings.

Originally from Boston, Langone's early artistic ambitions had been frustrated, so it was only later, after her encounter with the icons in Russia, that she allowed her talent to fully flourish. After beginning to paint her icons, often focused on the face of Christ and John the Baptist, she travelled to Europe, including Florence, and to pilgrimage sites.

She earned a baccalaureate in liberal arts from St. Thomas Aquinas College in California and studied at the Gregorianum Pontifical University in Rome and at Niagara University in New York.

During the 2000 jubilee year, she went to Rome for an artists' jubilee celebration, having become somewhat discouraged about the progress of her work.

"I asked God for a sign whether I should continue. I decided that, if I could be in a photo with the pope, that would be my answer. So I was amazed when I was not only photographed with the pope, but he blessed my icon and the photo was on the front page of L'Osservatore Romano. I was even on television. I felt that the Lord was honouring my spiritual life."

She is thrilled to see the great increase in devotion to iconography.

"It has become popular culturally, but often in a superficial way, so you have the dilemma of art historians qualifying exactly what icons are. They are more than art; they are a prayer, which is to love God with your whole heart and soul and your neighbour as yourself.

SEEKING A FACE

"When you approach an icon, you are seeking the image of Christ in that particular saint, or Christ's image or Mary's. I can love God with my whole heart and soul while I am working because I am always seeking his face."

Langone lives in Vancouver and attends Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. She holds interdisciplinary masters in art and spirituality from Regent College at UBC, and a doctor of ministry degree from the Vancouver School of Theology.

She will teach a five-day course called The Way of the Icon this July 11-15 at the VST.

"This will be a more intensive course than I have offered before. My goal is to present this in such a way that each person will know his or her life is going toward something beautiful, because each of us is an icon of God and we are all on the way of the icon."