Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.

Silvia Dimitrova: Miriam

ArtWay Visual Meditation 18 February 2024
Silvia Dimitrova: Miriam
Crossing Over
by Otto Bam
Silvia Dimitrova’s Miriam stands front and centre, graceful, joyful. Her head is slightly tilted, recalling many traditional depictions of Mary, but instead of a baby, she holds a tambourine. The painting plunges us into many marvellous events from the book of Exodus. But the central moment is the crossing of the Red Sea. Exodus 15 tells of how Miriam led the people in joyful song: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Ex 15:21)
The painting is part of a series of seven paintings each depicting a woman from the Bible. The project started when Alison Kings, the wife of the Anglican bishop, theologian and poet Graham Kings, offered to buy him a commissioned work by Dimitrova as a 50th birthday present. The result was a painting of Mary Magdalene. Over the seventeen years that followed the bishop and the artist worked together to complete the series of seven women from the Bible.
Dimitrova, a trained orthodox icon writer and painter born in Pleven, Bulgaria, specialises in two modes of art –classical iconography and more modern paintings with secular subjects. The series of seven women, however, represents a unique blend of these two modes: biblical characters are depicted, but not according to the strict stipulations of iconography. Like an icon, the paintings are illustrative – they tell a story – and are full of symbolism, yet they offer a more personal expression of character which breaks with classical iconography. These are not icons, but they are iconic.
The painting of Miriam invites us to look deeper at the character of this extraordinary woman and the events in which she played such a pivotal role. Behind Miriam we see various events unfolding, almost as if her song becomes visible in the painting. Exodus calls Miriam a prophetess – it is through songs and poems that history is preserved in the memory of a people. Miriam’s song prophetically proclaims, calls to remembrance, and celebrates sacred history.
To the right among the bulrushes is the baby Moses, where he had been placed by his mother in an ark to save him from Pharaoh’s slaughter of Hebrew boys. We must not miss the irony in how Moses is saved from death. The Egyptians are commanded to kill boys born to the Israelite women by casting them into the Nile. But Moses’ mother devises a plan to preserve the boy’s life. She makes an ark and casts him, so to speak, into the very river that represents death to Israelite boys! To save him from death, Moses is delivered into the arms of death. This is a profound reflection and prefiguring of the Salvation that God would work in Christ, who by death defeats death.
Exodus relates how Miriam watches her brother to see what would become of him, and in a moment of astounding shrewdness, once Moses is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam convinces the Egyptian princess to have the baby nursed by his own mother! Miriam here emerges as a helper and protector, an invisible hand that orchestrates things for the preservation of her brother – a sort of midwife who sees to the deliverance of the baby from the water.
Look to the left of the painting and you will see Moses and Aaron. Below the two brothers is the burning bush. Moses, the Lawgiver, holds the tablets of the Law. Aaron, the high priest, holds a vase with anointing oil. The two men are walking towards the rushing waters of the parted Red Sea where they are soon to cross over.
The three adult figures in this painting form a sort of trinity. It is significant that the prophet Micah identifies all three these figures as the leaders of Israel out of Egypt: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam” (Mic. 6:4). Might Miriam be considered a shadow of the Third Person of the Trinity? The One who, by an invisible hand, leads, guides and protects? The One who calls to remembrance the works of God?
Lent is a type of crossing over for Christians. We remember and identify with Christ in his crossing over – through baptism in the Jordan – into the wilderness for forty days, and ultimately through the baptism of death into glorious resurrected life. We enter into that wilderness by repentance, fasting, and prayer and by feeding on the Scriptures and the Sacrament. Miriam reminds us in profound ways that there is a powerful Helping Hand that accompanies us in all our crossings over and brings to remembrance the glorious works of God.
Silvia Dimitrova Silvia was born in Pleven, Bulgaria in 1970 and won a place at the School of Applied Arts at Troyan at the age of 13. She graduated in 1989 and then studied icon painting in Sofia under the tuition of Georgi Tchouchev and was invited to exhibit her work in Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, amongst the elite group of icon painters. She held a successful one-woman exhibition in Paris, in the Cultural Centre Edmond Rostand, Rueil-Malmaison in 1997. In the spring of 1999, she was commissioned by Downside Abbey to paint the Icon of St Benedict. At the beginning of 2000 Silvia worked as an artist-in-residence at Wells Cathedral with a commission to paint the Fourteen Stations of the Cross as a project for the Millennium. She was nominated and shortlisted for the European Women of Achievement Awards 2000 for contributions to the Arts. Since then Silvia has been working on both private and public commissions including St Paul's Cathedral, London and Hertford College, Oxford, Bishop's Palace, Wells and St Peter's, Eaton Square. See:
Nourishing Connections is collection of poetry which brings together Graham Kings’ poems on a range of devotional subjects, looking on the world with the eyes of faith and observing the sacred in the ordinary. With this perspective, all things are capable of pointing beyond themselves to the truth and beauty of God. The book contains seven poems reflecting on seven paintings by Silvia Dimitrova. Kings’ poetry celebrates the people, places, art, past and present, the practice of prayer, the stories that shape our lives, the rhythms of the spiritual year that have been for him doorways to the divine. See:
The book led to the composition of seven anthems by the composer Tristan Latchford.
Otto Bam is a South African writer and musician. He is the co-editor of ArtWay and the arts manager for the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology, where he also holds a fellowship. Otto has a master’s degree in English Studies from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, as well as master’s degree in religion and literature from the University of Edinburgh.
THE ARTISTIC SPHERE OUT NOW!  The Arts in Neo-Calvinist Perspective, Edited by Roger D. Henderson and Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, published by IVP- Academic. Among Reformed churches, the Neo-Calvinist tradition—as represented in the work of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, Hans Rookmaaker, and others—has consistently demonstrated not just a willingness but a desire to engage with all manner of cultural and artistic expressions. This volume, edited by art scholar Roger Henderson and Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, the daughter of art historian and cultural critic Hans Rookmaaker, brings together history, philosophy, and theology to consider the relationship between the arts and the Neo-Calvinist tradition. With affirmations including the Lordship of Christ, the cultural mandate, sphere sovereignty, and common grace, the Neo-Calvinist tradition is well-equipped to offer wisdom on the arts to the whole body of Christ. Read more
KLC ANNUAL CONFERENCE. First Things First: Spirituality and Public Theology. 11-13 JUNE 2024, IN CAMBRIDGE, UK. KLC’s first Annual Conference is an opportunity to gather, to build community, share great meals, enjoy Cambridge, share stories and hone spiritual practices so that we are better equipped together for public theology. The aim of the conference is to establish an annual gathering that embodies our ethos: community – with great food and fellowship – rooted in spirituality, with intellectual rigour coram deo. The launch of the book The Artistic Sphere. The Arts in Neo-Calvinist Perspective, edited by Roger D. Henderson and Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker will be an important part of the proceedings along with other arts-related events. We have chosen these dates so that if overseas participants choose to come in earlier and leave later there is good time for meals and conversation. Some 70 people have registered their intention to attend thus far. During February we will be finalising accommodation, costs and the programme. Thus do please sign up here if you plan to attend:
OPEN LECTURE: ART AND THE CHRISTIAN IN THE AGE OF MASS CULTURE. The Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Otago has extended an invitation to an open lecture by Professor Ephraim Radner. The lecture will be on 'Art and the Christian in an Age of Mass Culture: A Theological discussion on a famous argument of Walter Benjamin regarding art and its reproduction'.
Time: Tuesday 13 February at 5:15pm – 6.30pm (NZ time)
Place: Archway 2, University of Otago, Dunedin, or livestreamed here.
PAINTED PRESENCE: REMBRANDT AND HIS PEERS. Exhibition: 17 February 2024 - 1 February 2026.  From the Bader Collection at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the AGO welcomes a remarkable selection of seventeenth century Dutch paintings. Shown in dialogue with paintings from the AGO’s European Collection of Art, at the centre of this focused installation are seven artworks attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), shown together for the first time. Featuring intensely observed still life paintings, detailed interiors and mesmerizing portraits, these striking artworks offer a rare glimpse of Dutch artistry at work. This exhibition is co-curated by Adam Harris Levine, AGO Associate Curator European Art and Suzanne van de Meerendonk, Bader Curator of European Art, Agnes Etherington Art Centre. This exhibition is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University. See: 
*Please note that the closing date for this exhibition is subject to change. See the museum’s website for the latest information.
"CREATION LONGS" SOLO EXHIBITION BY JOSH TIESSEN. OPENING RECEPTION: February 23, 7pm - 9pm. Location: Wycliffe College, 5 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto, ON, Canada. "Creation Longs" is an early career retrospective from international award-winning contemporary artist, Josh Tiessen. Select paintings from Tiessen's 15-year career will be on exhibition at Wycliffe College located at the University of Toronto, Canada's premiere academic institution. The theme for this show highlights Tiessen’s emphasis on beauty, particularity, and diversity in the natural world. More than mere aesthetic appreciation, the artist shines a light on the ethical dimensions of creation’s groaning for redemption, longing to be liberated from its bondage to decay, as articulated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8. Tiessen explores humanity’s relationship with nature, often juxtaposing animals with abandoned remnants of human civilizations. 
To learn more, visit: 
HOPE COLLEGE ARTIST IN RESIDENCE PROGRAM. Hope College runs the Borgeson Artist in Residence Program, a twelve-week summer artist residency. The residency seeks to support the creation of new art through the provision of a stipend, studio and living space on Hope’s campus, along with engagement with the college’s art and art history departments. Learn more + apply by February 17. 
ArtWay has just published an interview with the philosopher Calvin Seerveld. The interview is conducted in Portuguese and translated by an interpreter. See the interview here:


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Other recent meditations:
- April 2024: The Church of Saint George in Lalibela
- March 2024: Peter Paul Rubens: The Resurrection of Christ
- March 2024: Lamidi O. Fakeye: Annunciation
- March 2024: Güler Ates: Blanket I

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists