Throughout the ages, the Carmelite Priory has always been patron to sacred art. This is one way of fostering dialogue with contemporary culture and to inspire artists to come up with new idioms and forms while being steeped in the Christian iconographic tradition. Thus from time to time the Priory encourages artists to open for us windows on Divine Beauty by “writing theology in colours”. Art at the Priory is always commissioned in view of our contemplative prayer life and artists are encouraged to get inspiration from the prayerful ethos of the Priory when working on a new work of art. What makes religious art sacred is the context of prayer and devotion and not the mere portrayal of Christian stories or themes. At the Priory we seek to provide this space wherein sacred art fits into its proper context: worship.
The latest commission and acquisition is that of the Panagia Filerimou, known also by the Knights of St John as “Our Lady of all Graces”. Last year, artist Susan Waitt gifted the Priory with a painting entitled “Man of Sorrows”, depicting the “Veil of the Veronica” (Holy Face of Christ), strikingly and unintentionally resembling the acheiropoietos “Veil of Mannoppello”. To complement the “Man of Sorrows”, the community thought of commissioning a face of the Sorrowful Virgin. After prayer and deliberation we came up with the idea of revisiting the famous icon of Our Lady of Philermos. After an iconographic research on the venerated image attributed by pious tradition to hands and brushes of St Luke, we commissioned the artist to revisit the icon, to strip it of the votive bejeweled decorations, and be inspired only by the faded, fragile, aged fragment of the face of the Virgin. The result is a stunning image of the face of the Virgin Mary. The artist herself disclosed to us her impression: “I like the simplicity… I tried to paint when it was very quiet in the house… I hope the contemplative feeling comes through”.
The oil on canvas “icon” is encased in a double wooden frame to evoke the iconographic tradition of the East. The face of the Virgin slightly bows to the right, facing directly the viewer respecting the panagia iconographic style. The background is misty with a mixture of green and violet hues. The appearance of the Virgin’s face from the mist gives the painting an ethereal touch. The facial features give a sense of solidity through the use earthly colours in the iconographic tradition of the “black” or “dark” Madonnas evoking the “I am black but beautiful” nigra sum sed formosa (Sgs 1:5) of the bride in the Song of Songs. The cheeks of “the handmaid of the Lord” blush as if capturing the moment she understands she is the object of God’s enlightened gaze and the admiration of all those who call her “blessed”. Whites and sky blues evoke the pure heart of the Virgin and her celestial glory, while tiny brush splatters evoke the antiquity of the original “icon” and the creaturely being of Mary.
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