Christ came to enlighten our hearts and minds with his Act of Love thus opening the vision to the future glory. This transfiguration is going on generation after generation and in the process Art has become a vehicle of Revelation. This is especially true of the Sacred art of the East, the Sacred Icons.
Icon painting is a unique form of art which requires the painter to be a man of faith, in touch with the realm of the invisible, a man of deep prayer of the heart. His objective is to reveal by means of perspective, design, forms, symbols and colors the world that is not perceptible to our senses and to create a window, a way in, into the realm of transfigured humanity. (John Baggley, Doors of Perception, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1997, p. 77)
Light, as used in icon paintings, is a symbol of truth, goodness and revelation. The use of gold gives icons a certain luminosity signifying glory. Light or glory is also evident by golden halos surrounding the heads of holy persons and in this nativity scene light is seen as rays coming down from heaven. Further, shadows are not painted to suggest that the reality is bathed in supernatural light.
The mountain is another symbol also used in many icon paintings. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, Christ was transfigured on a high mountain and Elijah communed with God on Mt. Horeb and heard the LORD passing by in the whistling of a gentle breeze. So, going apart on a high mountain signifies approaching the mystery of God. As we can see in this icon, Mary is reclining upon the foreground mountain and the angels surround the background mountains.
The circle appears to be the underlying design of the scene. Mary appears in the central oval while other scenes associated with the nativity parade around the oval shape. This creates a sense of poise, harmony and order. On the other hand there is dynamic movement of ascent and descent.
Inverse perspective is applied icons. In western paintings, that which is further appears as smaller. At the right corner we see Christ being washed at his birth by two midwives. Although in front of mountains, are smaller than Mary. Likewise the angels which are behind the mountains are painted considerably large and note the hands of angels are in front of the mountains.
Note: On the bottom left Joseph appears as tempted to doubt by the devil disguised as an old shepherd while Mary looks upon him with compassion.
John Baggley has well stated the purpose of icons thus:
"We must look upon icons as doors and window
through which we are open to the sanctifying grace of the spirit,
a meeting point of man and God,
continuing the work of the Incarnation
in a way that combines with the Scriptures
to lead man into the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity." (Ibid., p.25)
Hope Transfigures Suffering