Course Syllabus (Short Version)

Title: Sacred and Profane Icons: A Byzantine-inspired Creative Vision


In this course, students (of all levels of artistic skills) will be immersed through the making of icons in the historical and contemporary use of Byzantine iconography. What is unique about this course is that it takes the technical aspect of Byzantine iconography as a contemporary medium for creative self-expression. Thus, students will make icons during the class time. The purpose is not to simply reproduce the Byzantine style of painting, but to discover a new artistic skill and mode seeing images. For this reason students will be guided in ways that goes beyond the strict religious practice of icons. From a theoretical perspective, the attention will be on the theology of image developed by the Byzantine iconophile St. Theodore the Studite in the 9th centuries. This theology behind the icon will be used to break down its complex visual composition into simple steps of following the iconographic technique. From a practical perspective, the focus will be on the Byzantine egg tempera method on wood panels, including the carving process, gesso preparation, gilding, emulsion, and pigment making, tracing, and painting methods. While the emphasis is on the practical work, this course will also examine the role of the Byzantine icon in understanding of how contemporary artistic, political, pop culture icons bring to mind and make present an event, place, or person.


  • Develop a degree of skills in the technical applications of Byzantine recipes, materials, and methods—especially, in the preparation of emulsion and dry pigments, the carving and gessoing the wood panel, gold leaf application, brushstroke techniques, olifa application.
  • Understand the technical attributes of icon making (color transparency, calligraphy, revers perspective, line, shape, texture, light value, etc.) in a theological way as opposed to merely reproductive purpose.
  • Students will become familiar with the Byzantine theory of image and learn to use it in communicating about visual experiences in critiques and discussions.
  • To conceptually explore the meaning of the icon in today’s age of media images.


The instructor will provide all the iconographer’s supply (wood panels, gesso ingredients, gold leaf, gilding tools, pigments set, brushes, etc.).


St. Theodore the Studite. On the Holy Icons. Translated by Catharine P. Roth, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press Crestwood, 1981.
Quenot, Michel.  The Icon: Window on the Kingdom. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991.


40% - Classroom Work: One traditional/sacred icon following the Byzantine instructions
10% - Visual notebook
15% - Mid-term Assignment: Sketches for the Independent Project + Proposal (1 page)
35% - Independent Project: One Byzantine-inspired personal/profane icon + Reflective Statement (4-5 pages)


The grading system follows the one outlined in the Academic Calendar of the university in which this course is taught.


Week 1

  • Course Overview: Syllabus + Assignment Guidelines

Week 2

  • Demo: the wood panel preparation: sculpting the recessed area, making and applying the first layer of clay and cotton cloth.
  • Lecture on the Byzantine theology of the image, and the use of materials in constructing an icon. Students will be advised on how to choose the subject and composition of their icons.  
  • Reading: TBA

Week 3

  • Demo: preparation and application of gesso.
  • Lecture on the Byzantine canons.
  • Reading: TBA

Week 4

  • Demo: Line exercises. Selecting the icon pattern and tracing the drawing onto the icon’s surface with a metal pointing tool.
  • Lecture on the Byzantine reverse perspective and the theology behind it.
  • Reading: TBA

Week 5

  • Demo: Egg tempera preparation and color recipes. We will make the emulsion and learn about the transparency and consistency of pigments.
  • Learn about the layering technique (from base colors to highlights). Beginning of painting the first base colors.
  • Reading: TBA

Week 6

  • Demo: Beginning of painting the lighter colors and highlights.
  • Practice the brushstroke technique by painting various iconographic forms, from landscape, buildings, body parts, and garments. 
  • Reading: TBA

Week 7

  • Continuation of the Byzantine painting technique.
  • Lecture on the role of icons in contemporary visual culture.
  • Reading: TBA

Week 8

  • Continuation of painting the icon.
  • Lecture on the role of icons in contemporary art: Contemporary aesthetic approaches to an iconic vision.
  • Reading: TBA

Week 9

  • Practice the use of ornaments and lettering in iconography.
  • Lecture The chorographic/performative meaning of tracing the name. Practicing on paper the calligraphy for the icon.
  • Reading: TBA

Week 10

  • Gilding (making the clay bole, burnishing, and applying the gold leaf for the background, halo, and garments).
  • Reading: TBA

Week 11

  • Finalizing the painting, fixing the mistakes
  • The application of Olifa (final protection) over the finished icon.

Week 12

  • Presentation of Major Project—Peer Critique