CULTURE

Icon paintings in aCopenhagen church

n most European countries, to host an exhibition on Byzantine icons in a Protestant church might have invited some controversy. But in the progressive society of Denmark, it was not only accepted but welcomed with enthusiastic attendance by the public and coverage by the press. The exhibition currently on display at the Icondialog in Copenhagen’s Helligaandshuset (the House of the Holy Spirit), is, in fact, a Danish initiative. Organized by painter Birgit Sperling, the exhibition was initially conceived by a group of Danish artists who have been studying Byzantine icon painting for several years. Prompted by their love for the technique and iconography of Byzantine icons and even more so by a deeper, even devout, respect for this traditional craftsmanship (two artists of the group actually converted to Orthodox Christianity), their idea was to bring together artists specializing in icon painting from different parts of the world. What they envisioned was a cross-cultural exhibition that would show the living tradition of an ancient craft and would gradually help to build a network that would spread knowledge of Byzantine icon painting. The exhibition at the House of the Holy Spirit includes works by 16 Danish and 13 international artists – from Armenia, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Greece. One Danish artist had actually followed a seminar on icon painting given by Sozos Giannoudis at the Athens School of Fine Arts. Through Giannoudis she met several other Greek artists and was able to create a small Greco-Danish network on icon painting. Apart from Giannoudis, other Greek artists participating in the Copenhagen exhibition include Eva Vasdeki, Kelly Andromeda, Angela Bouyiatioti and Nena Samara. All of the exhibition’s icons are replicas of original Byzantine icons. Some of them were actually made using ancient techniques. Eva Vasdeki, for example, has used the encaustic technique to make a reproduction of a famous seventh-century icon depicting Christ and originating from Mount Sinai. The encaustic technique was used for the famous Faiyum portraits and is a difficult, but apparently one of the most durable, techniques. The exhibition was somewhat uneven (not all artists have the same degree of experience), yet the public responded with unusual interest. Eva Vasdeki’s sister, photographer Ioanna Vasdeki, who went to the event, said that the inauguration was one of the most crowded she had ever attended. She was also amazed by the level of sophistication of the viewers and remarked that visitors would actually spend great amounts of time in front of each icon. Officially, the warm response was marked by a reception that the lord mayor of Copenhagen gave for the artists at the local Town Hall. Apparently the lord mayor and his wife are strongly interested in icons. The exhibition is taking place simultaneously with celebrations marking the 200th anniversary since the birth of Hans Christian Andersen. This is a further indication of the importance placed on the event. Its success also weighs against the fact that most of the 200 icons on display have already been sold. Vasdeki was told that there are several Danish art collectors who specialize in Byzantine icons, original or reproductions. The warm response that the exhibition has received may lead to further projects. The group that began the project hopes to organize presentations and lectures on Byzantine icon making and iconography and to publish a workbook on the technique of icon making. They are currently active in organizing workshops. Through their work the tradition of Byzantine icon making is becoming better known in the distant, northern part of the European peninsula. For more information, log on to www.ikondialog.dk. To October 2.