“Astounding!, what a beautiful painting. I can’t believe it is painted with a mixture of million year old dirt and egg yolk.” That’s one thought that comes to mind when you contemplate the work of modern icon painters.
The icon painting of Entry into Jerusalem was created by Mary Jane Miller, one of the modern famous icon painters living in Mexico. Looking at this icon painting, you will see strange and ethereal images like the floating donkey carrying Jesus. Another interesting feature is the sea of cloaks placed in front of the donkey.
Why is the donkey floating and why are their cloaks on the ground? Is it surrealism? No, it is not. It turns out that these features have spiritual significance. These are features with meaning. These are the types of features that make icon painting so special. And we can appreciate these aspects in paintings of the procession in Jerusalem.
In this post, let’s look at these ethereal features. Let’s understand why icon painters use these strange features in their pictorial scenes of the procession to Jerusalem.
1. Cloaks on The Road into Jerusalem
In both traditional and modern painted icons of this narrative, there are always a few standard characteristics that the artist uses. One of those features is the placing of the cloaks on the path where Jesus was traveling into the city of Jerusalem.
Why did ancient iconographers place these cloaks along the path? Obviously, no one has a scientific answer to this question. But many modern icon painters believe the reason is to demonstrate loyalty, respect and to celebrate the procession.
In ancient times, we must remember that cloaks and garments were of great value, and more often than not, the only garment of import a person had. Clothes were not plentiful at that time. Clothing was difficult to make, expensive and hard to come by. Many people of the time used their one cloak as bedding and protection from the elements. So, by placing the cloak on the ground in front of the donkey, we see the importance of the action. It demonstrates the importance of recognizing truth, surrender, and love.
2. The Floating Donkey
We often see a floating donkey or horse in the icons representing this procession. Again, no one is certain why the donkey is floating. But icon painters muse it may be a representation of something amazing and wonderful, something sacred happening in the celebration. If you examine later narrative iconography about this icon you see the Donkey depicted walking on the ground. The mystical element is lost and overshadowed by our contemporary portrayals of art and reality.
3. The Scarlet Cloak Under Jesus
Both ancient and modern icon painters tend to paint a scarlet cloak under Jesus on the back of the donkey. This representation reminds us of imperial triumphs and glory. Scarlet was once the color of royalty in ancient times. By painting the scarlet cloak, painters could emphasize the royal blood of Jesus and the triumph of this procession.
When Did Icon Painters Begin Painting This Representation?
We encountered early representations of this topic on early reliefs and paintings. The most significant painting was first found on a Roman sarcophagus dating to the early fourth century AC. The simplest representation we know of is on the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus in 359. In this early representation, Christ rides a donkey (not a horse). Also, we see a child spreading his clothes before him while another climbs up a tree. Children usually represent innocents and there are not many in iconography.
In the modern icon, The Entry into Jerusalem, a part of Miller’s Sacred Art Collection, she draws on these ancient icon painting narratives. You can see this when you look at painted the cloaks on the ground and when you contemplate the floating donkey. Note the painted features of the Palm tree (symbol of strength and endurance) and the mountain backdrop. These aspects are just two other features often represented in icons of ancient times.
Why Is This Composition So Important in Icon Painting?
The composition of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem represents the narrative event in Christ’s earthly life. It is important in Christian history. It is a day demonstrating triumph. The young children throwing their clocks down on the earth before the Lord signify how we are to lighten our burden. It also foretells of the light and glory of the future resurrection, heavenly joy, and renewed life for everyone.