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KofC Icon Opens a Window to Paradise, Says Iconographer

11/26/2018

By Rose Wagner

At the 136th Supreme Convention in Baltimore, Aug. 8, the Knights launched its 18th Marian Prayer Program, this year featuring an icon of “Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians,” created by Italian artist Fabrizio Diomedi. The artist recently spoke about his work in an exclusive interview with Rose Wagner, a content producer with the Knights of Columbus.

1. It takes a long, long time to become a master iconographer and is considered by many to be a vocation, not a profession. What inspired you to pursue iconography, and what were your first years as an iconographer like?

I have always been attracted to art in general, and from sacred art in particular. I have not always painted icons: I have experimented with various types of art: at first more decorative, then more intimate and psychological, then a vision of nature revisited in a symbolic way. At the same time I attended the first course of iconography (2000) and I deepened the profound spirituality of the Orthodox church which is at the base of the icons. However, I have never been an esterophile, so I have always tried to be inspired by medieval Italian and Greek rather than Russian painting, because I have always considered them closer to my sensitivity, my culture and the Christian tradition of the Mediterranean. So, slowly I abandoned other kinds of art to devote myself exclusively to the research of icon painting.

At the beginning it is necessary to copy ancient models of the masters of the past, but with time and also to meet the needs of the clients, we must also learn to create in the language of iconography, remaining faithful to the canons.

Contact with the Norcia monks changed my style, as they preferred something that was closer to Catholic rather than Orthodox. So I was inspired by the gothic style and especially by the painters who worked in Umbria between the 14th and 15th centuries. And it is this style that I realized the Madonna Help of the Persecuted Christians.

2. Religious icons are commonly referred to as “windows to heaven” or “windows to the eternal.” Can you share how they do that?

The icons are windows open in Paradise and show us the glory of God and the blessedness of the saints in Heaven. To do this, the Church has developed a language that, starting from classical / Hellenistic art, has been enriched with a symbolic component that has eliminated the space-time references (volume, perspective) to bring the images into a dimension that is eternal present. The saints and the depictions of the icons are present before us and are addressed to us, but at the same time we are projected into their dimension of eternity. And this is possible through a wise use of geometry and colors.

3. What was the process of creating the image of Our Lady Help of Christians?  How has the icon’s central part — that of the Blessed Virgin protecting Christians under her mantle — impacted you personally?

The problem of persecuted Christians is of dramatic actuality, and perhaps too undervalued by the media. Last year I was asked a similar subject by a woman who, converted from Islam, had to escape to save her life. It was a great example of strength and faith for me. When I was asked to paint again the Madonna of the Persecuted Christians, for the Knights of Columbus, an icon that would be distributed all over the world, I sincerely hoped that it could be of comfort and hope for all those who suffer in the world for the name of Christ. Trusting in the Mother of Mercy, they will find the strength to face the pain and fatigue they are subjected to.

4. What’s a typical day in your studio like? What has been your favorite icon to “write”?

Every icon is an experience in itself. I am fortunate to face every commission with enthusiasm, as if I had chosen the subject that was proposed to me. So I recognize that I have painted very successful icons, but it would be difficult to make a ranking! Of course, the work of decorating the Norcia refectory, despite the damage suffered by the earthquake, has certainly been the greatest satisfaction.

5. Icons have a long tradition in Catholic circles, especially in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Can you explain how you see icons as authentic Christian sacred art, i.e., art that appeals to the human soul to find the truth of Christ himself?

Every kind of art is an expression of an idea about man, the world and God. The icons embody a complete vision of man, because it does not renounce the representation of the body, but through the corporeity can also communicate the presence of the Spirit. And it is a very delicate balance because we risk overcoming too much in abstraction as in sensuality. It is said that every icon has the Face of Jesus, the holy Mandylion, as a prototype. It is true, because in Jesus humanity and divinity have found the perfect union, and he has restored man to himself, giving him back his face that was originally thought of by God. Icons are therefore a constant appeal to what we are called to be, to become children of God.

6. Finally, you had a studio in Orvieto, Italy – where a 13th century Eucharistic Miracle is preserved in the Cathedral – and you worked in various historical places, such as the birthplace of St. Benedict in Norcia. Would you be willing to share some of your experiences living and working in historical places? What was it like to provide Sacred Beauty to such historically holy place, where the faith of many is kindled and nourished?

For singular coincidence, I was born on the day of Corpus Domini. Finding myself in Orvieto, the city where the solemnity of Corpus Domini was established and in which I worked from 2008 to 2014, was a unique experience, both for the beauty of the place and for the devotion to the Sacred Corporal. I considered the Cathedral my third home (after studying and my home). Also working in the Benedictine monastery of Norcia was a full immersion of spirituality and beauty. The air of prayer that you breathe in the monastery is almost palpable. I believe that every artist, but above all those who make sacred art, must be surrounded by a beautiful and spiritually stimulating environment; certainly a city of long artistic and spiritual tradition, like so many in Italy, could be a suitable place to feed the flame of art and faith.

For questions, or to tell your Knights of Columbus story, reach out to rose.wagner@kofc.org

Knights worldwide are spreading devotion to Our Lady using the hashtag #FollowingMary. As local councils host special prayer services with the Marian icon, Knights are encouraged to take photos and share them on Instagram, Twitter, and all social media. Be sure to include the hashtag #FollowingMary in all of your icon-related posts so that others can easily find and share your photos.