At the beginning of Mass at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes yesterday, Bishop Lee Piche blessed a new icon of St. Joan of Arc, written for that church by the iconographer Nicholas Markell. Following Mass, Markell gave a wonderful talk on Art and Beauty in the Catholic Church.
One of the things Markell talked about was the need to appreciate the link between beauty and goodness. He cited Aquinas’ statement that truth, goodness and beauty are transcendentally one, and described beauty as a way we come to know truth and goodness, a way we come to know God. So beauty is not (as we often confuse it to be) glamor or prettiness or opulence or decoration. Rather, beauty is harmonious, radiant, whole and invites contemplation.
I found very illuminating his discussion of the characteristics of icons and how symbolism, anatomy, garments and nature are used to realize those characteristics. I can’t do an effective job of summarizing all the points he made, and I’m hoping there will be a podcast posted of his talk or his slides.
One of the things that stayed with me was the idea that the icon reveals a spiritual beauty linked to the glory of God and how God in his grace glorifies the person imaged in the icon. That is, the icon does not present a perfect, ideal of a person, but a glorified person – a person through whom God’s glory shines through. In that, the icon always points beyond the image, which linked to his brief discussion of praying with icons (something Markell has spoken about at Lourdes at greater length in the past.
Although it doesn’t do it justice, here is a picture of the icon:
You can see some of Markell’s work on his website here.