Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Grand Inquisitor.

On the subject of background checks...
Fr. Robert Fox, God rest his soul, purchased this icon of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima from me a few years ago.  The original work was of the two Blesseds, with relicarios containing 3rd class relics of their clothing in reliquaries at each corner.  Fr. Fox definitely wanted the icon, but before he purchased it I had to go through a mini-inquisition of sorts.  He wanted to know details concerning my spiritual background.  Was I Catholic?  Did I attend Mass?  How often?  Did I work?  Where?  What did I do?  Have I painted religious art before?  Do I pray?  How much?  The Rosary?  Was I married?  Single?  Did I live alone?  In a monastery?  How long?  Why did I leave?  Do I follow Church teaching?  The Pope?  Isn't your asking price a little steep?  Well then, would you add this and that detail?
I wasn't put out, and I willingly added everything you see in the border to please Fr. Fox's taste.  The asking price was less than what a good  attorney charges for drawing up an average will and testament.  I obviously passed the background check and Father was pleased with the additions, since he purchased the finished icon. 


  1. Terry,
    Isn't it wonderful that he was interested in your soul?

  2. Anonymous8:14 AM

    Terry, I love this icon!

    What do the symbols on the edges mean?

  3. I should add that it is an icon that I'm sure inspired a lot of prayer from Fr. Fox. I also love all of your art work that I have seen.

  4. RosieC8:58 AM

    I have a reprint of a 1918 book about sewing vestments for use at Mass and in the Forward it says that we should only sew such objects when we're in a state of grace.

    I haven't yet made any vestments, but I do knit a lot and when I do I think about the person for whom I'm knitting. It becomes a personal reflection on my relationship with that person. When I'm mad at them, it's much harder to knit for them and I invariably make mistakes.

    I think Father was on to something. The state of your soul and your state of mind while painting could very well come out in the finished product in ways we wouldn't expect or imagine.

  5. Thanks everyone.

    Susan - the symbols: The sun and moon represent Our Lord and Our Lady's 'lamps' as Jacinta referred to them - the moon; OL, the sun; Jesus. Midway down the panel next to Jacinta is the papal seal in gilded pewter, to signify her devotion and prayer for the Pope. Midway next to Francisco is a gold filigree orb to symbolize the world - since OL wore a globe on a cord around her neck. Bottom center is a gold and enamel Eucharist to emphasize the Eucharistic dimension of the Apparitions and message of Fatima. The gold 'beads' running the perimeter represent the rosary which OL asked to be prayed 'every day'. The two corners contain the reliquaries which are inset.
    Fr. Fox was a very kind, simple priest, an absolute expert on Fatima. I did not mind in the least his asking questions about me - I just thought it an interesting anecdote for our inquiring age.

    His requests for the additions to the panel made sense to me and he left it up to me as to how I incorporated them - he was not bossy at all.

    My comment on the asking price is something most painters and craftsmen would understand when it comes to selling their work - especially to church people. I believe I reduced the price at his request.

    I hope I am in the state of grace - not only when I paint, but always - to insure that I am, I try to confess frequently. I also fast and pray before and while I paint - and not just while working on icons.

  6. Terry, lovely work and lovely story. As it happens, just today, I was finally paid for a painting I was commissioned to do by a fellow Church person. What you say in the comment above is quite accurate.

  7. Owen, when I was working at a regular job, I can't tell you how many works I gave away or sold for next to nothing rather than go through the ordeal of haggling or the seemingly endless wait to be paid.

  8. Austringer12:25 PM

    Terry, if you don't mind me asking a few technical questions: is this painted on a harddboard panel (like masonite)? What kind of paint did you use? (I know that icons are often painted with egg tempera, but I'm wondering why oils aren't used.)
    For the gold leaf, did you use those leafing products that you can get at Dick Blick and other art supply places?
    Enquiring minds wanna know...thanks!

  9. I painted on hardwood panel and added hardwood strips to raise the edges, and I braced the back as well. The panel is traditionally prepared with numerous layers of gesso, finely sanded, and I use 22k gold leaf squares for the nimbus work. I paint with acrylics in tempera technique. The panel is finally sealed with a matt acrylic varnish. Preparation and painting takes many, many hours.

  10. Austringer12:54 PM

    Thanks, Terry, for the technical info.

    You might find interest in this article regarding acrylic gesso: it would appear to be a less than ideal ground for canvas, but hardwood panels are likely less suscptible to the problems he's discussing.

  11. Beautiful!
    May the Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta pray for us!

  12. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Interesting story.

    I am sure you know that in the Eastern tradition, for an icon to be useful in prayer, it has to have been painted by a very spiritual artist, in the state of grace. The artist usually fasts the whole time he/she is painting the icon. Certainly this is why Fr asked these questions.

  13. Austringer2:31 PM


    I'm familiar with the Eastern tradition that you mention (icons are said to be "written" and not "painted" as a result), but, truth be told, great art has been produced in the West by flawed individuals who probably wouldn't pass Fr. Fox's examination. (Caravaggio comes instantly to mind, but there are certainly others...)I believe that one's philosophy and way of life do affect one's work, so I'm not necessarily opposed to the kinds of questions Fr. Fox was asking, but I would dispute the idea that a work of art is failed if the artist fails that kind of examination. That would be my caution here....

  14. Austringer - I have to agree with you - I think Fra Lipi or someone else was an unfaithful, amorous monk who painted masterpieces. I'm pretty sure Raphael was kind of a rascal as well. But Fr. Fox was so sincere and as pure as a lamb - I think he wanted the best for Our Lady.

    Your point about the acrylic gesso is not lost on me - altho I have never had a problem and some of my work is over 30 years old - I started painting when I was 2 - lie.

    However, off topic in a way, but since I use the back of my hand sometimes as a transitional pallete, I discovered that the build up of thin washes of paint accumulated as one sheet, as it were. Which led me to speculate that one day some one will devise a way of lifting an entire painting off from its support - either from canvas or hard surface - and you will have a 'veil' or thin sheet of the original work. I peel the paint off the back of my hand - in a whole sheet - under water of course, and sometimes it makes for an interesting abstract. I throw it away since I have no idea how to display it.

    Okay - now I sound nuts.

  15. Terry - that is really beautiful, and a great story and explanation of the various elements in the icon.

    So.....if Fr Gruner were to request an icon, would you do it?

  16. Austringer6:31 PM


    You use the back of your hand??!! Well, I guess you could get away with that with acrylics, but it wouldn't work with oils...not to mention that some of the pigments are pretty nasty and you wouldn't want them in prolonged contact with one's skin. But aren't some of those same chemicals (here I am thinking of cadmium, as well as the lead present in some colors such as Naples Yellow) present in acrylics as well? I'm wondering if this is a practice you might want to doscontinue!

  17. Terry: You don't sound nuts to me...
    very interesting.
    Should try it sometime.
    As an aside, our icon instructor told us that painting in acrylics was not "dissident"...some Russian icon painters he knew were crazy because of the poisoning some of those natural pigments destroyed their brains!

  18. Austringer8:17 PM

    Nazareth Priest,

    A friend of mine, a plein-air painter, experienced some health problems some decades ago -- excema, light-headedness, and just overall crumminess. He could not figure out what the problem was, and was even driven to try some alternative treatments like acupuncture in an effort to relieve the symptoms. Eventually it was discovered that he was suffering from lead poisoning, contracted from using -- and contacting -- Flake White. He was also inhaling the lead because he was sleeping in his van along with his paintings while working on location. So yes -- some of the chemicals in oil paints and other mediums are hazardous.
    Did your instructor have any opinions on the use of oils?

  19. Anonymous8:39 PM

    Austringer, I won't argue with you about successful artists who have painted religious art! Most of my favorite painters were no saints.

    The point I was making, is about icons themselves; and the fact that they have a special significance in prayer in the Eastern tradition. They are not a form of artistic expression, as say, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, or Leonardo's Last Supper, Caravaggio's Taking of Christ in the Garden, Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross, Bouguereau's Madonna of the Roses, etc, etc. But, rather, icons are a form of prayer in and of themselves.

    As you probably know well, the whole process is a prayer --from the artist beginning with a good Confession, to the blessing of the paints and tools. The artist fasts during the whole process as well. And so the result, they believe, is a permanent, visual prayer. From Terry's description of the questions asked, it struck me that the priest was inquiring if this is an icon in the Eastern sense of the word.

  20. Austringer8:59 PM

    Georgette, I know what you're saying -- certainly a different standard applies.

  21. Very nice (as usual).

    Was this oil or acrylic?


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.