Dirk Willems Anabaptist Icon
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Although the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition has never identified “saints,” several key 16th-century figures have inspired contemporary Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish – as well as others – to live lives of faithfulness, compassion, and service. We’re pleased to offer several limited edition sets of Anabaptist Icons, a unique series of hand-painted icons we developed beginning a decade ago. 

Already available in limited editions are icons of Dirk Willems, who has long captured the imagination of readers of Martyrs Mirror, a 17th-century illustrated text by Thieleman J. van Braght. Artist Jan Luyken’s engraving of Dirk’s rescue of his pursuer from an ice-covered pond is arguably the most recognized – and most moving -- visual image for those within the Anabaptist tradition. 

Bulgarian iconographer Jivko Donkov has beautifully recaptured the Luyken scene in vivid color. Our second and third Anabaptist Icons are of Menno Simons and Margaretha Sattler.  

Creation of icons is one of the world’s oldest artistic traditions, and icons can powerfully inspire spiritual contemplation. Although 16th-century Anabaptists rejected icons as idolatrous, images of saints and martyrs have long adorned Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, stimulating respect and memory and reminding viewers of lives of faithful service. While Western art honors originality, dramatic displays of originality are inappropriate for iconographers, who strive to make their figures look the same so that universality is stressed over the painter’s individuality. Iconographers often trace or “preserve” outlines from previous icons, known as prototypes, that have been passed down for generations. In this spirit, the Willems icon draws directly on Luyken’s memorable engraving. 

In creating the icons for the Anabaptist Images series, iconographer Jivko Donkov uses the ancient methods of his craft. Each icon begins with wood covered with gesso, which is then laboriously hand painted with dry pigments mixed into egg tempera paint. The traditional gold background of the icons is Donkov’s attempt to incorporate heavenly light, a color one rarely finds in nature.