Inner Glow

If you have ever visited a Greek church, you will have noticed the beautiful icons, saints with glowing faces and equally glowing golden halos. Many of these are true works of Byzantine art. But, not all are old, as the traditional art of icon painting (iconography) is still being practised. In the village of Mystra, just below the UNESCO world heritage site of the walled medieval town of the same name, is the workshop of the iconographer, Maria Tsiboka. Below you see her work in progress, creating an icon – a hagiography – depicting a scene from the life of Saint John the Theologian who is seen in the Cave of the Apocalypse.

On the wall of the workshop, Maria had created a display showing the technique of creating an icon. It starts with a wooden board (1). This is then covered in white gesso in which incised guidelines are made (2), and finally egg tempura based paints made with custom ground pigments are applied in various stages to create the image (3-5). Numerous highlight washes are made over drab paint. Washes are said to represent the Anthropos, the light of human intellect and, with the final wash, the Theocosm, an angelic glow.

The first stage shows a lighter paint with a rough sketch of the face’s features. Next, a drab covering is applied providing shadows and depth. A last wash gives the appearance of an inner glow of the face. Gold foil is then applied, filling out details on the icon as well as decorating the halo.

We came away from Mystra with one of Maria’s icons. We chose Ayia Sophia, an embodiment of Wisdom.

Ayia Sophia’s wise inner glow now graces our living room.

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  1. Thank you so much for that Debi. We have three old icons that Larry’s father brought back from his time as a diplomat in Greece when Larry was a baby. I absolutely love them – and the wall paintings you see in some old Greek churches that are just stunning and seem to glow even in the dark – now I know why. I love your choice of Ayia Sophia, she’s fabulous.


    • We were lucky to stop at this place. From the outside it appears like a typical tourist shop (with a little better quality merchandise). When we asked about the icons, she invited us to the back of the shop for a bit of a tutorial. What I wrote was from memory plus a tiny bit of internet research. Yes, it does explain a lot about the quality of the faces. You are lucky to have icons handed down in the family and I am sure you cherish them.

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