Betsy Porter

Betsy Porter
Art and Iconography

Icons Of Jesus And Scenes From His Life

The Christ (the Anointed One), the Savior, Our Lord, the Son of God, the Teacher, the Master

Jesus is typically depicted as teacher and philosopher. Like other teachers, he holds a book or scroll. His gaze is intent, inquiring, both open and inward. His heavenly blue outer garment and earthy red inner garment symbolize his dual nature. The yellow silk ribbon on his shoulder, a mark of high status in the Roman Empire, denotes the esteem in which we hold him.

His unique halo is marked by a cross and lettering, roughly translatable as “I am who I am.”

The Mandylion, The Holy Face, "The Image Not Made by Hands"

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2005
photograph by Richard Anderson

Icons of this type, showing the face of Jesus (without neck or body) on a white cloth, are much beloved among Eastern Orthodox believers.

There is a legend that King Abgar of Edessa sent a message to Jesus, asking him to come and heal the king of a severe illness. Instead, Jesus pressed his face to a cloth, imprinting the image of his face - which is why this is considered the most true and accurate icon of Christ. When Abgar received the cloth, he was cured.

The Mandylion or The Holy Face

egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 5 x 6 inches, 2008

This beloved icon type has many variations. Here it is painted as a small personal icon, on a postcard-sized panel. To see how this icon was painted, go to the Step by Step page.

The Mandylion or The Holy Face

egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped panel, 8 x 9 inches, 2010; photograph by Richard Anderson

A cosmic view of Jesus as the human face of God, with double halo, brighter than the sun, moon, and stars.

Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All, Sustainer of All), "Eternal Light"

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 12.5 x 13 inches, 2003
photograph by Richard Anderson

Christ as Pantocrator, or Ruler of All, is typically painted overhead on the central dome of an Orthodox church building. Such an icon must "read" from every direction on the floor below.

This icon is based on such a painting, an 18th-century fresco in the outer narthex of the Holy Monastery of Karakalloy, Mount Athos, Greece.

Jesus Christ is presented as a classical philosopher, holding a golden gospel book symbolic of his teaching. The starry sky background shows his cosmic status - and the eight-pointed star surrounding him implies that he is the brightest star of all.

Christ is surrounded by four archangels and by four 6-winged seraphs. The words in the margin come from a medieval hymn.

Christ as Man of Sorrows

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2001
photograph by Richard Anderson

Here is Jesus in the crown of thorns and purple robe, as he would have appeared before Pilate. In Orthodox imagery, Christ never loses his physical beauty. Images of his passion are presented with only token bleeding and without the graphically explicit physical suffering often seen in Western versions.

Icons of Christ’s passion take us to our own places of fear, grief, pain, and horror. Here our beloved Lord, in severe grief and pain and trouble, stands with us and for us.

Jesus appears chilled and embarrassed. Pilate’s soldiers made him look really silly in that skimpy purple robe. The knot seems to symbolize his heart. To emphasize the drama and tension, I painted the inner background red.

Christ the Teacher, "Come Unto Me" a.k.a. "My Face"

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2004
photograph by Richard Anderson

Jesus is often pictured as with an open book showing one of his sayings; here "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."

This icon was painted in a workshop led by a visiting Russian teacher, Father Andrei Davydov. It uses some pigments which were new to me at the time; and it is more stylized than my usual work.

One Sunday morning, this icon was on a stand beside the church door, when a stranger entered and stared at it intently. Before I could stop him, he grabbed 3 ball point pens and wrote in large letters on the back of the icon: MY FACE. Then he left, and we have not seen him again.

Christ the Teacher, "Fear Not, Little Flock"

egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped sculpted board, 11 x 12.5 inches, 2006
photograph by Richard Anderson

I liked the small icon so much that I painted this larger one, a size suitable for display in church.

In this icon, Jesus looks quite youthful - he seems to be just starting out on his ministry, and people are listening to what he has to say. Christ’s expression is full of hope for his mission and for his followers.

Christ the Teacher, "The Kingdom of God is Within You"

Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped sculpted board, 6 x 6.6 inches, 2006
photograph by Richard Anderson

This small personal icon was painted for my bedroom.

Christ the Teacher; "The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Mustard Seed"

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 7 x 9 inches, 2007
Photograph by Richard Anderson

How big is Heaven? A favorite spiritual says, “Heaven is so high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, so you must come in at the door.”

But Jesus speaks of the intensity, potential, and concentrated value of Heaven. He compares it to a gold coin, to a precious pearl, to yeast, and to this tiny but living seed which can grow into “the largest of all shrubs, so that the birds of the air nest in its branches.”

The Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple of Jerusalem

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2002
Photograph by Richard Anderson

The Temple of Jerusalem was the pride of the Jewish people, the moral and spiritual center of their nation, and the repository of their culture and scholarship. The Temple remains central to the symbolism of Orthodox Christianity and appears in many icons. Every Orthodox church building is modeled on the Temple.

It was customary that a firstborn son should be taken to the temple 40 days after his birth and dedicated to God. The parents would also bring two pigeons to be sacrificed. Here (Luke 2:22-38) we see Joseph and Mary bringing the young Jesus to the Temple, where they are surprised by the old scholar Simeon, who has been guided to them by the Holy Spirit.

Amazingly, Mary lets Simeon hold her precious baby. In this version, Jesus is depicted as older than his 40 days, in intense discussion with Simeon. (I love the way the halos of Mary, Jesus, and Simeon are shown in a cluster.) The elderly widow Anna, who lives in the Temple, also recognizes this special child and praises God.

The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, "This is my beloved Son, in Him I am well pleased."

Tempera and gold leaf on shaped, sculpted board, 13 x 17 inches, 2015
Photograph by Richard Anderson

At the beginning of Jesus' career, he was mysteriously called into the wilderness, where his cousin John was already preaching to large crowds, and baptising many in the River Jordan.

Jesus too chose to be baptised. Here we see him standing in the river, with John on one river bank and a group of attending angels with white towels on the other. River spirits (understood as old pagan deities), shown in watery green at the bottom, look on - along with some fish. The mountains, too, crowd in as though watching.

God the Father watches and speaks from the height of heaven above. The Holy Spirit descends in a brilliant, sun-filled shock wave.

Following this decisive moment, Jesus went off alone in the desert to fast for 40 days.

Christ Walks on the Water "There is a part of you that has always said Yes to God, and that is the Anointed One, the Christ, the True Self that you already are."

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 13 x 17 inches, 2016.
Photograph by Richard Anderson.

This icon illustrates a memorable and dramatic Bible story! (Mt. 14 22-33) After preaching all day, Jesus sends his disciples back, sailing across a large lake while he stays behind to pray.

In the rough and stormy night, just before dawn, the disciples see an approaching figure, walking across the water - and think it is a ghost! When Jesus calls out to them, they are much relieved.

"Peter called to him: 'Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water." 'Come,' said Jesus. Peter stepped down from the boat, and walked over the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the gale he was seized with fear; and beginning to sink, he cried, 'Save me, Lord.' Jesus at once reached out and caught hold of him, and said, 'Why did you hesitate? How little faith you have!' They then climbed into the boat; and the wind dropped."

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board 12 x 16 inches, 2003
photograph by Richard Anderson

During a tense period leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, he asked three disciples to climb with him up Mount Tabor. There the disciples had an overwhelming vision of Jesus illuminated by divine light, and discussing his coming death with the prophets Elijah and Moses.

Every iconographer seeks to capture the brilliant and mysterious “uncreated light” of the Transfiguration as the interior source of light for the icon.

In order to evoke the intense light, the background is gilded. Jesus is clothed in glistening white, rather than his usual red and blue. The three disciples James, John, and Peter are depicted without halos.

The Raising of Lazarus

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 16 x 13 inches, 2012
Photograph by Richard Anderson

What a situation! Jesus' good friend Lazarus has been dead for 3 days; his body has been wrapped in a traditional manner and buried. Jesus' increasing troubles with the authorities have reached a threatening level, and his disciples Thomas and Peter are becoming very worried. Lazarus' grieving sisters Martha and Mary are upset that Jesus did not come earlier.

When Jesus arrives at the cemetery, he weeps but then, with a gracious gesture, calls the astonished Lazarus back to life.

This icon is full of complex emotional interactions; only Jesus seems calm and sure of what to do.

The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Egg tempera and gold leaf on arched sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2009
Photograph by Richard Anderson

"Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children."

On a trash heap outside the walls of his beloved Jerusalem, Jesus is
crucified. His mother Mary and his friend John, although horrified and
grieving, gesture in acknowledgment of Jesus' extraordinary personality and

By tradition, the skull in the cave at Jesus' feet was that of Adam - who waits
expectantly in hope of the resurrection.

Christ Crucified

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 9 x 7 inches, 2010

This more intimate and devotional version of the Crucifixion is based on a detail of a 14th century fresco at Decani Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Kosovo.

Processional Cross with Crucifixion "King of Glory"

Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped sculpted board, 15 x 22.5 inches, 2012
Photograph by Richard Anderson
Painted under instruction by Vladislav and Dmitri Andrejev

This large cross-shaped icon is intended to be carried in procession on Good Friday. Unlike most portable icons, it cannot be displayed on a stand, but can be hung on a wall the rest of the year.

This cross was the advanced project at the June 2012 Prosopon workshop in Santa Barbara, California.

Christ Pantocrator
(Ruler of All, Sustainer of All)

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board 11 x 14 inches, 1999
photograph by Richard Anderson

Betsy Porter
Betsy Porter

Head of Christ

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 1999
photograph by David Elliott

Christ the Teacher, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart."

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 13 x 17 inches, 2015
photograph by Richard Anderson

This large icon with gilded background is intended for display on the icon stands at the church entry, together with an equal sized icon of Mary with the Christ Child.

As I was writing the inscription in the book, it seemed to me not a command, but an invitation, even a Valentine from Jesus, delivered with a slight blush - so I added the little heart.

Christ the Teacher, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed."

egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2015
photograph by Richard Anderson

A newer and larger version of the Mustard Seed icon, with especially luminous colors, intended to create an effect of sudden brilliant light. The mustard seed is gilded.

Christ in Glory (also known as Christ Enthroned or Christ in Majesty) with Symbols of the Four Evangelists

egg tempera, gold leaf, shell gold on sculpted board, 13 x 17 inches, 2011
photograph by Richard Anderson
Painted under instruction by Dmitri Andrejev

"Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the age."

In Orthodox churches, an icon similar to this appears at the center of the iconostasis or icon screen, surrounded by images of saints and prophets in prayer.

It depicts Jesus as divine presence and as the priest of a future age. He is seated on a spiritual throne at the center of a blue-green oval symbolizing heaven, and interlocking red rectangles symbolizing earth, all enlivened by the faces of mysterious little angels and the movement of their closely spaced wings. The images in the corners represent the four gospel writers: Matthew (angel), Mark (lion), Luke (ox), and John (eagle). The winged circles at Christ's feet are another type of angel known as "thrones." This imagery alludes to visions in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Revelation.

Class Photo of Santa Barbara Icon Workshop, June 2012

We are holding our icons-in-progress of Jesus, either a large Crucifixion icon, or Christ Emmanuel. In the back row are instructors Dmitri Andrejev (with gray beard) and Vladislav Andrejev.

Below, Vladislav and Dmitri are shown with their unfinished icons of The Holy Trinity and the Crucifixion.

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