Bob Atchison at Hagia SophiaI am an icon painter, Russian Historian and Austin Web Designer formerly of Seattle, Washington and now living in Austin, Texas. My interest in Byzantium and icons began when I was 8 years old and read my first book on Byzantium called "The Fall of Constantinople". In second grade I made a 100 page long "Joshua Scroll" relating the experiences of me and my classmates in Constantinople which was illustrated with panoramic scenes of the Great City.  I wish I had saved it.

It was almost impossible for me to find books on Byzantium, we only had two in my elementary school library and I checked them out over and over again.  I remember how excited I was on my first visit to the library in the small town I grew up in, where I discovered a dozen or more books on Constantinople and Byzantine history.  I felt like the world was opening up for me to see real pictures of Hagia Sophia for the first time.

Bob Atchison in Hagia SophiaWanting to create my own virtual Byzantium at home, I painted the walls of my bedroom with life-sized saints, Christ and angels. I created my first icons when I was 9 and opened my own 'Byzantine Museum' in my bedroom.  Not having any Byzantine artifacts of my own, I created mosaics, crosses, sculptures and reliquaries to stock the exhibit cases in my room. I created my own guidebooks to this 'collection' and issued free tickets to kids in my neighborhood. I was both curator and docent for these exhibitions.

I remember I painted my room when my parents were away on vacation.  I was really pleased - really excited - about what I had created. When my mom got home she came into my room she looked around and said "Oh my God, just wait until your father sees this".  She was worried he was going to blow his top when he saw what I had done. Anyway, after my dad saw the room his only comment was "Not bad".  That sounds like nothing but it meant a lot to me - that was the first and only time my father said anything about my art, even when (years later) I won awards, was in the news and on TV about my work. Years after I left home my father preserved the room exactly like it was.  My mom told me he would go in there and and sit and look at everything.  When my mom died my father remarried and sold the house. I understand the people who bought it were scared to touch the room or alter the decoration, so it remains just as it was.  Perhaps one day I will get to see it again.

My parents had no interest in religion and we never went to church, although we had a Bible in the house; one of the dozen books we had.  That Bible was very scary, full of frightening engravings of the Last Judgement and the torments of Hell. I was afraid to open it, I really thought all of those horrible things were going to occur at anytime.  There was one picture I remember of God casting down Lucifer and his angels. These images gave me nightmares and I didn't have anyone I could ask about them and what they meant.

Byzantine Enamel from the MetThe first 'official' sort of icon I painted was for Saint Demetrios Church in Seattle.  I remember it was the first Orthodox Church I ever visited and it was Easter.  I went on a school field trip that involved seeing how various religions and churches worshipped.  Anyway, I brought an icon I painted of the Archangel Michael.  I was going to give it to the priest but I was too embarrassed and just left it outside the door to the rectory.  I left it in a bush.  Years and years later I went back to Saint Demetrios and saw my icon.  I told the priest I had painted the icon when I was a kid and left it in the bush.  He laughed and said "well that solves a mystery, please don't tell the old ladies of this church, they think it's a miraculous icon that just appeared in the bush on its own!"

Today as an adult I continue my interest in Byzantine studies and painting icons. I have travelled to Istanbul and other parts of Turkey on a number of occasions.

The catalyst for this website was my interest in and devotion for the icon of the Christ from Hagia Sophia, which has had a big impact on my artistic and spiritual life. It provides me with inspiration and opens a window to Christ for me in my daily prayer life.  It is difficult for me to explain my experience when I am with this image or see it; it is like the shadow or silhouette of God on earth, the most real presence of Christ I can imagine.  For me there is no image of Our Lord that is more perfect, more like Him than this one.  It is not Him, for He cannot be depicted or circumscribed in a work of art, but the spirit I feel behind the image is profound. I am not very good at words, I hope I have expressed this in a way others can understand. Many of my friends don't understand icons and still think that I am worshipping the image when I venerate an icon.  For me it's a spiritual bridge to God.

I have built this website so that others might receive their own blessing from the image of the Christ of Hagia Sophia.  I hope people will help me to promote the site and get the word out about it.  Please link to this site.  I really hope it will be a resource for people who don't have access to all these wonderful books I have used to fill out the site.  Some of these books are virtually impossible to find, I know how long it has taken me to collect them.

To send me an email click here

Here's a picture of some ikons I have painted in my library.  I didn't do the small pointed-arch one.

Bob Atchison

icons I painted in my library Bob Atchison

WORLD OF BYZANTIUM

Icon of St. Michael the Archangel, looted from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and now in the Treasury of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. It is dated to the late 11th or early 12th centuries. It is 18 inches tall and 14 inches in width. made of gilt-silver and enamel, set with gemstones and glass. The gold cloisonne enamel work is amazing workmanship. It is impossible to know where this icon was kept in Constantinople, there are no records of its origin. Its size and opulence may mean it came from a private Imperial chapel.

Our Lady of the Pharos and St. Stephen's Chapel in the grounds of the Great Palace both had treasure houses of relics and precious works of art like this.

The icon of the Archangel is surrounded an entourage of military saints in enamel and points to his role as the the leader of the celestial army.

Icon Panel of the Archangel Michael, looted from Constantinople in 1204 and now in the Treasury of St. Mark's in Venice. It is 17 inches tall and 14 inches wide.  It is made of silver-gilt, enamel, precious stones, pearls and glass and is dated to the late tenth or early eleventh centuries.  The use of such images has been debated over the years, they could have been placed in a chapel iconostasis or carried in processions. Such and icon would be appropriate in a funeral chapel or a shrine to the Archangel himself.

The Emperor Issac II Angelos, one of the last Byzantine Emperors before the Fourth Crusade, poured enormous sums into a church he built for the Archangel near Constantinople, icons like this would have been part of its decoration.

Chalice of the Emperor Romanos II, 959-963, possibly from Hagia Sophia and looted in 1204.  It is now in the Treasury of Saint Mark's in Venice. It is 9 inches tall and 6 inches wide. The communion chalice is made of silver-gilt, gold cloissonne enamel, stones, pearls and glass. The cup is carved in sardonyx.