Egypt’s presidency has sent a letter of appreciation and thanks to the Institute of Coptic Studies (ICS), which was handed to the Dean of the Institute, Dr Samy Sabry.
The presidency’s letter praised the ICS for its outstanding efforts at creating the Coptic icons which President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi gave as gifts to Pope Francis and the delegation accompanying him during their visit to Egypt on 28 and 29 April 2017. “The letter made us so proud,” Hind Fouad Ishaq, Deputy to Dr Sabry and Professor of Textiles at the Institute told Watani.
“It had made us so happy to see the expression of appreciation on Pope Francis’s face as President Sisi handed him the Coptic icons,” Dr Fouad said, “We felt the thrill and honour of having achieved such a momentous task. For three days we worked day and night to hand-make 180 icons in different sizes and vivid colours, with the highest precision possible.” Her voice shook with pride.
“Because the ICS is the only institution that specialises in Coptic icons, the presidency entrusted us with the task of creating the gift icons for Pope Francis and the delegation accompanying him to Cairo,” Dr Fouad told Watani. “We showed the President samples of our works. He liked them immeasurably, but had a few comments. In one of the icons of the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, he asked to replace the ancient Egyptian Horus and temple with an angel and the pyramids.”
Ermiya al-Qatsha, a professor at the ICS, made the large icon presented to Pope Francis. The smaller icons were done by iconographers Martha Naeem; Emad Bibawy; Amal Foumeih; Evelyn Adel; Nancy Mikhail; Ermiya Naguib; Martha Azmy, and Hind Fouad, under supervision of Galal Ramzy, head of the Art Department at the ICS, and Dr Sabry.
“On the back of each icon,” Dr Fouad explained, “we placed an English-language description of the icon, its dimensions, and the materials used to make it, signed by the iconographer, plus a note that it was a gift from the Arab Republic of Egypt.”
The theme of the icons was chosen according to the slogan of Pope Francis’s visit: Pope of peace visits Egypt of peace, the safe haven to where the Holy Family fled and took shelter. “This is why the topic of the icons was the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt,” Martha Naeem Assistant Professor at the ICS’s Art Department, told Watani. “We—the group of iconographers—were assigned to depict the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt in three different scenes and three different sizes. The first scene depicted the Holy Virgin holding Baby Jesus and riding on a donkey, with St Joseph walking beside them and Egyptian palms in the background. The second depicted the Holy Family sailing on a boat in the Nile, with the Pyramids and an angel in the background, whereas the third depicted the Holy Family sailing the Nile against a backdrop of palms and lotus flowers.
“We were asked to do 42 icons, but for a large number of artists to do this and come up with homogeneous results was not easy. So we used the three designs and produced them on 42 pieces,” Dr Naeem explained.
Emad Bibawy, Assistant Professor at the Art Department explained the technique used to paint the icons, “We used tempera, egg-yolk and vinegar, as in the ancient icons. Originally, the technique had been used by ancient Egyptians to do the paintings in the ancient tombs. We also used natural metal oxides including iron oxides with their various colours and tones.
“The best wood was used,” Dr Bibawy said. “On it, we glued the 100 per cent cotton canvas using wax and gelatine, coating the surface in several layers. Altogether, 27 steps need to be applied before we could begin painting. The outline of the topic is sketched in pencil then the painting process begins. Each colour in the icon has a special significance. The painter starts with the darkest colours and moves on the lighter until the lightest. The philosophy is, as the Bible verse in Genesis says, ‘Let there be Light’. The background is usually in golden or yellow, symbolising eternity.”
9 May 2017