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The Traditional Technique of Hagiography
By: Tony Kountouris - Hagiographer - Icon Painter

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Introduction - Process

The egg temperas constitute the basic method used by the Byzantine artists due to the fact, that works of high quality are produced, with incomparable results. Hagiography or icon making is based generally on the copying of exact replicas of old icons, which are found in monasteries, museums and churches.  In modern hagiography antiquating of icons is accomplished by the use of broken wood, flaking of the paint and intentional breaks of the icon.  

The technique and the art of using egg tempera in hagiography has as follows:

Primarily, the artist finds aged or artificially aged wood, without any knots in it, preferably cedar, cypress, oak, lime-wood, mountain pine or walnut and they prepare the wood panel. The panel is strengthened by the use of traverse sections of the same wood, so that no warping is produced with passing of time.

Then linen or cotton cloth is glued on the wood with hot glue (rabbit glue) or cold wood glue and then a mixture of zinc, stucco filler or plaster of Paris and glue is applied with a brush. It is left to dry and then sanded down with sandpaper or squid bone, until a smooth and fine surface texture is produced.

The next step is to transfer the outline of the figures, from the paper copy to the prepared wood panel using a pencil and then edging the lines with a sharp knife. Pure 24-karat gold leaves are applied to certain areas of the icon, where the shiny yellow background is required, by pasting it using miction glue and rubbing it with the agate tool or wolf's tooth. A final coat of ox gale is applied to protect the delicate gold area.

The painting with the egg tempera follows, which is a mixture of natural earth colors with watered down egg yolk, vinegar, damar, egg white and honey turpentine. Every painter is using his own formulas based upon the previous mentioned materials. Icon makers usually start with the darker shades as a background color, which they maintain at the borders of an area and at the shaded parts. This is called proplasmos. In the case of the face, the hands and the exposed parts of the body after the proplasmos step, follows the grapsimata, which mark the characteristics of the face and the lines of the body parts. The sarkomata is the next step, in which the lighter flesh tones are used (the color of the proplasmos mixed with the color of the flesh in the tone required). The icon maker proceeds from the most lighted points to the edges of each part, always leaving uncovered margins of the previously applied proplasmos, to the extend that the painter considers suitable for his aim. Following the sarkomata are glykasmoi which are applied in order to smooth the meeting lines of the two previous layers of proplasmos and sarkomata. The glykasmoi are obtained by mixing of the two colors at the meeting points of the previous shades or with an additional light greenish shade. An even lighter shade of sarkoma is used in spots where the intense light is desirable, by following the same technique. The final touches are called psimmythies and are very thin lines, almost white, which mark the most illuminated points of each part.

In a similar way the hair, garments and backgrounds are executed. Finally the icon is exposed to the sun and air for a number of weeks, so that a fusion of the materials is succeeded and then varnished.

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  1. Find aged or artificially aged cypress or cedar wood and cut it to the dimensions preferred. Inferior quality wood should be treated with special wood preservatives.
  2. Glue cloth on the wood.
  3. Apply a mixture of zinc, stucco filler and glue on the cloth 6 to 7 times, which is the so-called foundation.
  4. Sanding of the dry surface follows
  5. The drawing is done with pencil and the lines are edged with a sharp knife.
  6. 24-Karat gold leaf and egg tempera is used before the paint. The egg tempera is a mixture of the following: egg yolk, vinegar, damar, egg white, honey turpentine and natural earth colors.
  7. Treatment in sun and fresh air
  8. Varnish apllication


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For more details please contact:

Tony Kountouris
 Gregori Avxentiou 7, 3021 Lemesos


+357-25325676, +357-25343872