DREAM of ST. ROMANOS
DRAWING by DANIEL MITSUI
This is an ink drawing on a 7" × 9 1/2" piece of calfskin vellum. I drew it using calligraphers’ inks applied with brushes and metal-tipped dip pens.
The original was created on private commission.
St. Romanos the Melodist was a Greek-speaking Syrian who florished as a singer and hymnographer in the sixth century. His musical and poetic abilities were a miraculous gift. While serving in a Constantinopolitan church during the Vigil of the Nativity, he chanted the sacred verses so poorly that he was dismissed from the liturgy. He fell asleep and the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in his dream, giving him a scroll to eat. The following morning he sang, extemporaneously and in a pure and resonant voice, the Kontakion of the Nativity. This remains one of the most masterful works of Byzantine music and poetry; it is the first of more than a thousand sacred compositions attributed to St. Romanos.
Here, I depicted the dream; St. Romanos rises slightly from his slumber and consumed the scroll that unrolls from the Virgin's hand. The scroll contains the Greek words of the Kontakion; a portion is legible:
Bethlehem hath opened Eden: O come, let us gaze! We have found nourishment in a secret place: O come, let us receive the things of Paradise within the cavern! There hath appeared the Root Unwatered which buddeth forth remission. There hath been found the Well Undigged, from which David of old longed that he might drink. There a Virgin hath brought forth a Child, and straightway the thirst of Adam and of David hath been assuaged. Wherefore let us go unto him where He is born a little Child, yet is God before the ages.
The background icons of David and Adam refer to the text of the Kontakion; these two men are also traditional symbols of music; David for writing and singing the psalms, and Adam for naming the beasts and birds in a prelapsarian voice that is the archetype of earthly music.
The Virgin is surrounded by cherubim; each has four wings, two hands and many eyes. The Biblical descriptions of cherubim vary, suggesting that they can take different visible forms. Here, I followed a description in the Prophecy of Ezekiel, except depicting each cherub with a single face. I followed also an old iconographic convention in coloring them blue, to distinguish them from red seraphim.
The event takes place in a decorative frame that takes the form of a Byzantine church; I got the idea for this from a twelfth-century Byzantine manuscript containing homilies of St. Gregory the Theologian. In my drawing, the domes recall specifially the Church of Hagia Sophia. The patterns on the lower part of the wall are also based on designs in Hagia Sophia. A Greek inscription at the bottom refers both to the church and to the event happening: Wisdom shall praise her own self, and shall be honoured in God, and shall glory in the midst of her people.
My intention in this drawing was to depict an event from Byzantine tradition through the eyes of an occidental artist. I did not make the figures resemble Byzantine icons in their style or proportions, but I used Byzantine icons only as references in determining their gestures and attributes. I added also some whimsical capitals and bases to the columns, in the spirit of Romanesque architecture and sculpture.
An open-edition giclée print of this drawing is available for $62. You may use the button below to pay via PayPal, debit card or credit card. Be sure to confirm the shipping address.
Please note that the original drawing was made on calfskin vellum, which is not perfectly white, flat or homogenous. Natural variations in the color and thickness of the calfskin show up in the giclée print, especially in the outer borders. These are not smudges or printing errors, but part of the artwork itself.
See this page for additional ordering instructions and general information. If you want to pay via a check or money order, please e-mail me at danmitsui [at] hotmail [dot] com.