As part of its effort to answer Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a rebirth of beauty and reverence in the liturgy, the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts recently unveiled a beautiful icon of St. Michael that is now on display in the College’s chapel.
Leading the renewal of the chapel’s liturgical art is the College’s Artist-in-Residence, David Clayton. At 5 feet high and 2.5 feet wide, the icon is painted on a wooden panel in egg tempera and depicts St. Michael placing a spear in the devil’s head as heavenly angels battle demons.
“There are many reasons why I chose to paint an icon of St. Michael,” said Prof. Clayton. “First, I think that there is something very special happening at Thomas More College—and I know that the devil always does his best to undermine good in some way. I thought it was important to make the point through this icon that although our work is not done, the battle is already won.”
Prof. Clayton added that this is why St. Michael is depicted as winning the victory easily and almost effortlessly. “It is a constant reminder,” he said, “that the ‘Commander of Angels’ is marshaling the forces of good against those of evil on our behalf.”
Prof. Clayton also noted that his most recent icon is also a critique of modern culture, in which the principles of moral relativism are widely accepted.
“There are many people who think that angels and demons do not exist,” said Prof. Clayton. “It is said that the greatest victory of the devil is to convince us that this is so. It is my hope that through this icon of St. Michael the imagination of the viewer will be directed to heavenly things, and remind us that there is a battle between good and evil for our own hearts and souls. Knowing that the devil exists does not create fear, but instead allows us to deal with the fear that is already there by placing our trust in God.”
Painted in an early Gothic style and in the Western tradition of a patterned frame, the image of St. Michael is also aimed at reviving more ancient styles of iconography.
“This image is loosely based upon a twelfth century German illuminated manuscript,” said Prof. Clayton. “There are, however, key differences. The angels are slightly less stylized and more naturalistic than the original. As I painted these, I had in mind the Greek icons that were painted during a phase in which Eastern icons were becoming more naturalistic. The face of St. Michael in particular has been changed quite markedly from the German original.”
Prof. Clayton also leads the Prayer to St. Michael after Vespers at the College each day in which students and faculty regularly participate.
Thomas More College President William Fahey noted that Prof. Clayton’s work is another key way in which the College is answering the Church’s call for the re-evangelization of culture.
“We are deeply privileged to be playing a part in the rebirth of reverence in liturgy and beauty in art and culture, which Pope Benedict considers so important. It is my hope that David and the other talented members of our faculty will continue to add to this Catholic renewal in the works they produce, and in the formation they offer our students.”
David Clayton is trained in both Byzantine iconography and in the realist tradition of the European Great Masters. A Graduate of Oxford University, Clayton joined the faculty at Thomas More College in 2008. Each student at the College is required to take a year-long sequence with Prof. Clayton called the “Way of Beauty,” which explores the human experience of the beautiful and its roots in the Divine Order as revealed in the structure of music, geometry, and figurative art.
Each student can study icon-painting with Prof. Clayton as part of the College’s St. Luke Sacred Art Guild, as well as naturalistic drawing with world-renowned artist Paul Ingbretson at his studios in Manchester, N.H.
Through the Way of Beauty Program, a series of summer programs are offered in 2011 for both students and adults alike in iconography, naturalistic drawing, and Gregorian Chant. Prof. Clayton said that previous training in art or music is not required to attend these courses. More information can be found at www.ThomasMoreCollege.edu/SummerPrograms.
In addition to the icon of St. Michael, Prof. Clayton has created other works for the Thomas More College chapel, including a tender image of the Madonna and Child, a large iconographic representation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and a six-foot painted wooden cross that now hangs over the College’s wooden altar.
In the coming years, Prof. Clayton plans to produce icons depicting St. John, Our Lady, and an image of St. Thomas More which will hang opposite St. Michael.