THE ONGOING ICON TRADITION OF BORROWING

I do not know by whom or where this contemporary icon in the Neo-byzantine manner often used in modern Greek Orthodoxy (whether in Greece or abroad) was painted:


Nonetheless, I was quite amused to see it, because it exemplifies the ongoing borrowing of iconographic imagery from non-Eastern Orthodox sources — whether Catholic or Protestant — that we have seen so often in the earlier history of icons.

Most Eastern Orthodox are not likely to know the source of this icon, but I recognized it immediately.  It is from a painting by that most ubiquitous 20th century painter of Protestant religious art — Warner Sallman (April 30, 1892 – May 25, 1968).  His paintings — in countless printed reproductions — were widely found in Protestant churches and homes in the last century, and are still reproduced today:


Yes, the icon painter has added a traditional halo containing the cross and Greek  Ho On inscription to the head of Jesus, and he has changed the hair style of the boy at the wheel by making it less mid-20th century American, but these and the other small changes do nothing to disguise the source of the image.

The original title of the Sallman painting is “Christ our Pilot.”  It calls to mind the once-popular Protestant hymn by Edward Hopper (1816-1888), first published in  The Sailor’s Magazine and Seaman’s Friend in the March 3, 1871, and later found in Protestant hymnals.  Hopper’s inspiration came from the accounts of Jesus stilling the storm on the sea of Galilee in the Gospels (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25).  The melody added to the verses was composed by John Edgar Gould (1822-1875), of Bangor, Maine.  The first verse of the hymn is:

Jesus, Saviour, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treach’rous shoal;
Chart and compass come from Thee—Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

Just as Western European religious engravings found their way into Eastern Orthodox iconography from Mount Athos to Russia in earlier centuries, this mid-20th century painting by a Protestant from Chicago seems to have found its way into modern Eastern Orthodox iconography — or at least an icon painted in the Eastern Orthodox manner.

 

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