How Do They Make Orthodox Icons for the Blind?

An exhibition that takes place in the Museum of Icons is for people, no matter how they read the information – either with their eyes or with their hands. The exhibits are supposed to be touched. If fact, you NEED to touch them.
The aim of the exhibition is to tell people about the world of icon painting from the very beginning, which is making paints, till the finished image.
The visitors can see the mortars in which the icon painters pound the paints, the paint-brushes with which they paint, and the boards on which icons are painted.
– The exhibition includes also the materials from which icons are created – wood, ceramics, alabaster, smalt and metals. – says Ekaterina Vasina, the head of the public affairs office of the Museum of Icons.
– The tradition of the relief icons is rather ancient. – said Alexey Lidov, an art historian, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Culture research center, a member of the Russian Academy of Art. – During the period of the early Christianity, there were even the statues depicting Christ and the apostles. Later they were rejected because of the fear of being accused of idolatry.
The icons created with such a technique always existed in the Byzantine Empire. Concerning the material, some of them were made of wood, but more often, it was either marble or ivory. There was also a tradition of making icons of special wax pasta – a mastic which reminds clay or playdough, in which a small particle of relics was added. The material itself became sacred, and such an icon became a great sacred image.
From the viewpoint of our secular and sensuous sight, we need to become blind if we want to perceive an icon for real. At the same time, there is no need to do this for the blind. The only way for them to see an icon is to imagine it in their mind.
One of my acquaintances, an iconographer, was bothered when she heard about icons for the blind: “How can you touch a holy face! Isn’t this blasphemous?”
“No one, including the Patriarchy, had no doubts about that. Every person has his own way of perceiving the world and faith. If we forbid a person to touch the images, we can prevent him from understanding art, from knowing faith and God. I do not think this is right.” – said Ekaterina Vasina.

Moscow know-how

“We can say that the exhibition of the relief images for blind people, organized by the Museum of Icons, is a know-how. – says Alexey Lidov. – However, if we speak about demonstration of other types of works for the blind, then we can say that special exhibitions for them are organized in Europe since the 90s.
I have seen a beautiful exposition, which took place in the Royal museum in Brussel and I have noticed the influence it had on children. When I was there, a group of blind children came. They were given various original works of art, such as an ancient Egyptian statue, some works of ancient Greek plastic arts and so on. I remember the look of joy and some kind of revelation on their faces, which transfigured through that spiritual experience. They saw those works, but with a different sight.
I would say that the idea to share the art of icon painting with those who are blind deserves to be commended. An icon as a piece of art is connected with the definition of seeing. It is a mediator image, which joins two worlds together. This is why, it is not just sight, contemplation of a plain picture, what plays an important
role in perceiving an icon, but some kind of communication with the image, which brings the one who looks at it into a different world. The moment of seeing which is available to the blind is quite strong in the art of icon painting.”

What next?

The organizers are currently working on the audio accompaniment of the exhibition. Not all blind people can read Braille. What is more, audio information can be useful for seeing visitors as well.
Another point of the plan is to widen the exposition so that there will be more exhibits which the visitors can touch. Next step – partially sighted children from special schools will come to the Museum of Icons and have lessons there: not only in the subjects, which are connected with religion and art, but in other subjects as well. Children will have an opportunity to learn more about icons and to ask the staff of the museum any questions, which they will answer with pleasure.








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  1. What a generous and thoughtful gift this is for those of us who are blind. Prayers for all.

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