Gospel Desk

First Three Iconographers Join the Twelve Believers Project

Symeon van Donkelaar, Jonathan Pageau, and Federico Aguirre are making new images of St. Bartimaeus, the Centurion, and St. Mary of Bethany.

The Twelve Believers is a celebration of the twelve saints whom Christ directly, explicitly praises in the Gospels. As a major component of this project, I hope, under God, to commission new icons of each of the Twelve Believers, from twelve different iconographers. Today I am happy to announce the first three artists to join the project: Symeon van Donkelaar, Jonathan Pageau, and Federico Aguirre.

Symeon van Donkelaar

The Conestoga Iconographic Studio

Symeon's studio is in Conestoga, Ontario, Canada.

Symeon van Donkelaar of The Conestoga Iconographic Studio has chosen to paint St. Bartholomew. Symeon is the first iconographer I made contact with, after receiving his newsletter last October, on the Feast of St. Luke, with this call to action:

If you’ve thought about commissioning an icon from Conestoga Icons, please get in touch before the month of October is finished. Without such interest being expressed, the studio’s door will have to close for the foreseeable future.

I had been sitting by for a while, reading Orthodox Arts Journal and subscribing to newsletters such as Conestoga’s, pondering the possibility of a series of icons of St. Justa, the Canaanite woman. When I saw Symeon’s message, I was moved to step forward. Conestoga icons have such a distinctive style. While participating in the iconographic tradition, they embody a particular vision of the saints that evoke a decidedly modern—almost playful—aesthetic. I knew I wanted to work together if possible.

Symeon and I entered into a wonderful dialogue that contributed directly to the birth of Gospel Desk and the Twelve Believers project. Now we are aiming for late 2020 or early 2021 to realize a new icon of St. Bartimaeus, the beggar who has so much to teach us about seeing Christ. Praise be to God!

Jonathan Pageau

Pageau Carvings

Jonathan Pageau, also a Canadian, is to carve the Centurion. I knew of Jonathan from the masthead of the Orthodox Arts Journal, and from his social media presence through The Symbolic World. I find his exposition of a symbolic, Biblical worldview to be refreshing and invigorating. We are hopeful that his work queue and other commitments will allow us to begin working together in 2022.

When presented with an almost clean slate of saints to represent, Jonathan narrowed the field to the Centurion and St. Mary of Bethany. With Federico also choosing Mary (see below), the path for Jonathan became clear. Jonathan’s contribution may turn out to be unique in that he is a carver of icons rather than a painter. Lord willing, the Church will soon have a new stone (or wooden?) image of the Centurion, the man of authority who put himself under Christ’s authority. May we do the same with our own lives!

Federico Aguirre

St. Mary of Bethany, the twice-praised - first drawing

First drawing of a new icon of St. Mary of Bethany, by Federico Aguirre.

Federico Aguirre, known online as Xamist, is the third iconographer I have connected with, and the first to have drafted an image. Above you can see his sketch of a new icon of St. Mary of Bethany, the only one of the Twelve Believers to be praised by Christ more than once: for anointing Christ’s head on one occassion, and for sitting at his feet in adoration on another occassion. In Federico’s words, “Mary shows us that the way to know the Lord is to spend time with him, to celebrate him.”

Federico is a Chilean artist trained in Greece, and a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. As such, his style is a delightfully Latin American inflection of the Byzantine tradition. The pandemic currently hinders Federico from accessing his workshop, but, Lord willing, the icon of Mary can be completed in early 2021.

I am grateful for, and grateful to these first artists who have come together to celebrate those whom Christ celebrates. I expect to be able to budget for three or four icons per year, so we may be able to expand the roster again soon. I look forward to seeing how the Twelve Believers project continues to take shape as various complementary perspectives are brought together to build faith in our day.


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