The Getty here in LA is currently featuring icons from the the St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai in Egypt.  The exhibit is well laid out–one room actually arranges the icons as they are in the main sanctuary of St. Catherine’s.  The collection is rarely allowed outside of the monastery, so having the opportunity to see them is special.

The exhibit is particularly demanding for the audience, though.  For one, I am not exactly sure what to do with icons–I am naturally disposed to be suspicious of their use during prayer, while still acknowledging their instructional uses.  But my troubles at the exhibit extended further than that:  with the icons removed from their proper contexts and use, I struggled to understand exactly what I was supposed to be seeing.  They may as well have been modern art–understanding the saints pictured, the techniques used to make them, or what makes icons good or bad all seemed necessary to seeing them well, but I was lacking in each of those areas.  Unlike other art, I had no pre-existing tools or fram of reference to understand the exhibit. 

The exhibit is worth seeing, and I commend it to you.  If you are in the LA area until March, take the opportunity to see icons you may never see anywhere else.  But do a little homework first, as it will be much more valuable to you. 

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

One Comment

  1. I, too, enjoyed this exhibition. The second time I went, I took the Exhibition Tour, which begins at 3 p.m. daily. That gave me some context in the composition of the icons, though the meaning of the images themselves come only with knowledge of the Bible and hagiography, the latter of which I don’t have much background in.

    In fact, I’m just going to post on this…


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