I took this photo of my husband shortly before his eighty-third birthday, his last, in April of 2015. The right half of Dick’s face is in shadow, the left lit by late afternoon sunlight streaming in through a window. Two halves: Light and dark. Life and death.
My friend Elizabeth says the portrait reminds her of an icon. The word icon means image and is used to refer to sacred artworks in which religious figures—saints, Jesus, the Virgin Mary—are portrayed.
Icons move the viewer from this world into the world of the sacred. The focus is on the saintly figures’ visages, which are emphasized by a halo behind the head. They often face the viewer with an expression that’s startlingly direct, yet enigmatic. They have a noetic quality; they’ve had a revelation that can’t be put into words.
It’s said that contemplation of an icon can serve as a window to the sacred. I studied those iconic faces, their mien of being both here and not. I think that sense of movement, from this world to a sacred realm, from the mundane to the mysterious, might be why Elizabeth compared the portrait of my husband to an icon. It speaks to her and to me of both corporeality and spirit.
And I wonder if my husband, like the saints in icons, had experienced something ineffable.