When I first met Vasiliki (call me “Vicky”) Papantoniou at the city-center Athens hotel where our group assembled to begin a cultural tour of several Greek Islands, I knew we were in for a treat. Her eyes said it all: flashing with personality, full of humor, and continually sizing up her surroundings and the new recruits for whom she accepted full responsibility for the next two weeks.
Twenty-five years of sharing the culture, art and history of her beloved homeland with thousands of visitors shone through in Vicky’s always-professional delivery of each day’s program. On our particular journey, there were a number of times — due to unpredictable ferrying weather and a 24-hour general strike — when she exercised all the logistical expertise of a Napoleon, with whom she shares the characteristic of being a diminutive figure whose leadership goes unquestioned!
However, it is Vicky’s “other life” that particularly intrigues me. It is a life that blossoms when the demands of the tourist season are over for another year and she has the luxury of time between November and April to study and to create her internationally-acclaimed iconographic art. This post-Roman Byzantine stylized art form is revered and commissioned by all Orthodox and Catholic Christian church communities and art collectors around the world. As a perennial student, never satisfied with the extensive knowledge she has already achieved, Vicky has immersed in the art and archaeology of the long-influential Byzantine era (500-1450 A.D.). She has acquired a Masters degree in history and archaeology from the National University of Athens, and a just-completed degree in academic theology from the same institution. Studies in Italian culture and art at the University of Florence, Italy have extended her expertise ever wider.
Though she is a contemporary icon painter, Vicky honors and adheres to the traditions of the past. She paints in the traditional egg-tempera technique of Byzantium in which a paint mix of natural earth powder colors is added to egg yolk and vinegar and painted onto a wooden panel prepared with 22-karat gold leaf ground over a gesso base. Sizes range from miniature to full size paintings. The beautiful wood carvings that are an integral part of most icons are all one-of-a-kind pieces, carved by true folk craftsmen working with traditional hand tools and carving methods.
Vicky is also in demand as an international guest lecturer on Byzantine iconography, explaining the techniques and symbolism of each icon theme. “I’m not giving a sermon,” Vicky says with a characteristic twinkle in her eye. “I present my information from a theological and historical, not a religious point of view.”
Vicky’s passion and affection for her vocation go with her everywhere. I will not soon forget a chance encounter on our foray into Crete’s parched hills to visit the Holy Trinity Monastery, not previously on this tour itinerary. In one of its cluster of historic buildings dating from the 1500s, we came face to face with the original of a charming 2×3-foot icon of St. John the Evangelist with a small dark haired angel perched comfortably on his shoulder and whispering into his ear. Vicky had painted this icon for several clients but always from books. Giggling like a school girl between astonished exclamations, here was Vicky in a heartfelt encounter with a cherished friend.
Interested in learning more about Vicky’s Icon Art?
Contact: Vasiliki (Vicky) Papantoniou, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or visit her website: Fall in Love with Greece, www.fall-in-love-with-greece.com/ where she shares her deep knowledge and love of icon painting and displays a collection of her work, 17 icons in all.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine.