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Sacred Doorways [Paperback]

Linette Martin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 15 2002
When Linette Martin, a student at Oxford University, asked her art history tutor if there were any good books on icons for the ordinary reader, he replied that there were books by Orthodox theologians from an theological perspective and books by art history professors from an art history perspective, but nothing for the ordinary reader. Martin, herself an Anglican, set out to fill the gap by writing Sacred Doorways: A Beginner's Guide to Icons.

Martin explains that she was initially captivated by the beauty and mystery of icons, but did not understand their "language." Her goal for Sacred Doorways was to write their alphabet, thereby helping others to understand this ancient Byzantine art form. Icons, Martin explains, are meant to convey Christian truths in a visual form, as a complement to the written Bible.

Sacred Doorways is an ideal book for the Orthodox to pass along to their non-Orthodox friends. For Catholics and Protestants, it will serve as a non-technical, yet comprehensive introduction to help to increase understanding and appreciation of Orthodox spirituality. For the general reader, Sacred Doorways provides an essential guidebook to one of the most ancient religious art forms in the world.


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From Publishers Weekly

For most Christians in the West, icons are intriguing but opaque, enigmatic and perhaps a little frightening. In an accessible and loving introduction to the ancient devotional art form, the late Martin, who studied art history at Oxford University, manages to make icons intelligible without denuding their mystery. Part reference work and part inspirational meditation, the book opens by sharing little-known characteristics of icons. Next she offers a helpful chronology, usefully chronicling the various periods of Byzantine art, and limning the history of Russian icons. One very concrete chapter catalogues the materials and techniques of icon-making, explaining the role of egg tempera and gesso in producing the often dark, matte pictures. The most eloquent and capacious chapter is that on prayer. Icons, Martin tells us, are not merely inspiring works of art, but are "made for the distinct purpose of prayer." Indeed, this chapter goes beyond instructions about icons to a moving meditation on prayer itself. The small but densely packed volume is rounded out by an appendix of international icon collections, and a helpful bibliography. Only occasionally does the book turn didactic and over-encyclopedic; chapters five and six, which define basics like "iconostasis" and "diptych," feel plodding. Martin's work, which nicely complements Henri Nouwen's classic reflection on icons, ought to become an indispensable part of any Christian library.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Many appreciate and admire icons while failing to understandthem, which isn't surprising because iconography is a complex subjectwith thousands of years of history. Martin aims to increaseunderstanding of what icons convey. She defines icon and describesan icon's purpose; examines the visual language that is iconography(according to her, the earliest surviving icons date from the sixthand seventh centuries) as it developed during successive Byzantineeras and thereafter in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, theso-called golden age of Russian icons; and discusses the artists andcraftsmen who created icons and the donors and guild members whoenabled their creation. She also comments on the materials andtechniques used to fashion icons and on the spiritual significance ofindividual types of icons, such as those of the Virgin Mary and ofscenes from the New Testament--the Annunciation, the baptism ofChrist, the raising of Lazarus, the Crucifixion, and others. Inconclusion, Martin offers a short list of important icon collectionsthroughout the world. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars sacred doorways May 1 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book several months ago to check it out. it has many pictures of christian icons which are beautiful.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Book delivers on a practical level March 26 2004
Format:Paperback
To fully understand the Icon it is best if one is living in the same Tradition which created the Icon, that is Orthodoxy. Out side of Orthodoxy the Icon loses some of its deep roots, some of the mystical, which sets the icon in an "art" arena of it's own. For an icon is not meant to be viewed as "art," but as a window to heaven. Therefore the only proper place for the icon is in the Church.
The above said, the book "Sacred Doorways" is a very practical intro into the what, and why of Icons. It examines the practical physical side of the Icon...why is Christ holding his hand like that, what materials are Icons made with, and the like. Which is, indeed, needed to know so that one can begin to read the message and meaning of the Icon.
So the book is as it says "a beginner's guide to Icons," and is a nice launching pad for those looking for practical basic information on Icons. In this way the book does just what it says it will do, and that makes it a good book. Yet, it would be a shame for one to stop with this book, because the book does not delve the depth of the Icon in it's rich Orthodox spirituality. Then again it never promises to do so. The book is a good starting point, but it would be a shame to make it the start and end. It is none the less well written and easy to understand, a very pleasant read. The author is clearly very educated in the practical sense of Icons. For someone studying icons it is a good book for the library.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Making Icons More Than Just Pretty Pictures Jan. 26 2003
Format:Paperback
I've always liked icons but I never "got" them. They were pretty, but sacred? I didn't understand why anyone would think of them that way. Then in France I was privileged to hear a lecture by a real expert about the Bayeux Tapestry which, I know, is not an icon but stay with me please. As she went along explaining the tapestry she began to read the various scenes and say things like "Because he is holding his hands this way and facing here, you can tell he is lying." I quickly realized the the Bayeux Tapestry wasn't just a comic book-like depiction of the Invasion of 1066 it was a novel!! "Well now," I thought to myself, "what's in those icons I could never understand before?" I started looking for a book. Then, my misery at not understanding was made even worse when on the trip to the Soviet Union, I met a man who trusted me enough to show me the icons he had hidden from the Soviet authorities. I looked harder for a book. Over the years, I found lots of books with collections of icons. Scholarly works on a particular schools of work were also easy to find. But I could never find a book that could help someone like me who was raised a protestant and was hooked on the printed word for information, get beyond the surface of an icon. That is until I stumbled across THIS book.

This book is a first-rate introduction to all aspects of icons from their history, to their construction, to their spiritual significance. All of this context has helped add for me, the texture and meaning I always knew was there but I didn't know how to get to. I am still a novice and I may never break free of my addiction to getting information via the printed word, but I am starting to hear the voices of the artists who made (and continue to make) these sacred images.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
130 of 132 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making Icons More Than Just Pretty Pictures Jan. 26 2003
By T. Avallone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've always liked icons but I never "got" them. They were pretty, but sacred? I didn't understand why anyone would think of them that way. Then in France I was privileged to hear a lecture by a real expert about the Bayeux Tapestry which, I know, is not an icon but stay with me please. As she went along explaining the tapestry she began to read the various scenes and say things like "Because he is holding his hands this way and facing here, you can tell he is lying." I quickly realized the the Bayeux Tapestry wasn't just a comic book-like depiction of the Invasion of 1066 it was a novel!! "Well now," I thought to myself, "what's in those icons I could never understand before?" I started looking for a book. Then, my misery at not understanding was made even worse when on the trip to the Soviet Union, I met a man who trusted me enough to show me the icons he had hidden from the Soviet authorities. I looked harder for a book. Over the years, I found lots of books with collections of icons. Scholarly works on a particular schools of work were also easy to find. But I could never find a book that could help someone like me who was raised a protestant and was hooked on the printed word for information, get beyond the surface of an icon. That is until I stumbled across THIS book.

This book is a first-rate introduction to all aspects of icons from their history, to their construction, to their spiritual significance. All of this context has helped add for me, the texture and meaning I always knew was there but I didn't know how to get to. I am still a novice and I may never break free of my addiction to getting information via the printed word, but I am starting to hear the voices of the artists who made (and continue to make) these sacred images.
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Understanding of Icons - Art & Religion June 10 2006
By Mr. Robert C. Bonds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Linette Martin an Anglican artist has written a very good book for artists and a satisfactory book for those who are trying to understand icons from a religious perspective.

This is a very detailed art book which explains how the icon artists approached their work. Ms. Martin ties the art techniques of icons with what she believes are the religious view point of the icon painters.

If you are a searcher, one who is looking to convert to the Eastern Church, one who is trying to understand the mystical roles of icons in the religious life of Orthodox Christians, then this book will in my opinion not meet your needs.

This is not an easy read. I would say that this book is more of an advanced guide to icons, not a beginner's book, for one who is just starting to investigate Orthodox Christianity.

If you are an artist, trying to expand your knowledge of this religious art form, then I can highly recommend this work.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book delivers on a practical level March 26 2004
By Z. Lynch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
To fully understand the Icon it is best if one is living in the same Tradition which created the Icon, that is Orthodoxy. Out side of Orthodoxy the Icon loses some of its deep roots, some of the mystical, which sets the icon in an "art" arena of it's own. For an icon is not meant to be viewed as "art," but as a window to heaven. Therefore the only proper place for the icon is in the Church.
The above said, the book "Sacred Doorways" is a very practical intro into the what, and why of Icons. It examines the practical physical side of the Icon...why is Christ holding his hand like that, what materials are Icons made with, and the like. Which is, indeed, needed to know so that one can begin to read the message and meaning of the Icon.
So the book is as it says "a beginner's guide to Icons," and is a nice launching pad for those looking for practical basic information on Icons. In this way the book does just what it says it will do, and that makes it a good book. Yet, it would be a shame for one to stop with this book, because the book does not delve the depth of the Icon in it's rich Orthodox spirituality. Then again it never promises to do so. The book is a good starting point, but it would be a shame to make it the start and end. It is none the less well written and easy to understand, a very pleasant read. The author is clearly very educated in the practical sense of Icons. For someone studying icons it is a good book for the library.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent reference book, but not satisfying on its own Jan. 1 2006
By Hairy Lime - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sacred Doorways is set up in different sections about icons, such as the history of icons, the materials used in icons, the symbols and visual languages in icons, etc. Unfortunately, the sections are written like a reference book, kind of choppy from one subject to the next, rather than someone talking to you about the subject.

For instance, the history section is basically an expanded timeline. Kinda like reading a history textbook. The materials section is in alphabetical order of the material. But some definitions include terms that are defined only later on in the section. So one definition refers to "gesso", which isn't defined until later in the section. Frustrating if you're reading the book from beginning to end.

The book does include a few color pictures of icons, but it doesn't talk about specific icon-makers. I've heard that Andrei Rublev was a great icon-maker; after reading this book, I still don't know why. I did, however, enjoy the section on what the hand formations and gestures in icons mean.

The book would have been better if it were written in a more flowing style. The final section (10 pages) about the theology of icons was written by the author's professor. It was good reading and was more what I was looking for in an introduction to icons.

Sacred Doorways would be useful as a reference if you're reading another icon book, but on it's own, it really isn't that fascinating.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction April 24 2006
By Mel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a really great introduction to what the symbols, colors, and items mean in iconography. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in iconography.
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