Villanova professor returns to teach icon painting

VERO BEACH — When Richard Cannuli starts his class at First Presbyterian Jan. 5, he will be ready to break eggs but not to make an omelet.

Cannuli, a Villanova University professor, has been teaching icon painting annually in Vero Beach since 2001, and eggs are essential to the traditional tempera medium that he uses.

“They’ve been used for more than one thousand years to bind pigments to a wooden board,” said Carol Ludwig, executive director of the Center for Spiritual Care, which sponsors the workshops. “And they’re only the beginning of an amazing adventure that links Richard’s students to the past in a very contemporary yet meditative way.”

Icons are flat panel paintings depicting a religious figure. They are used in prayer and contemplation and they date from the fourth century. They have undergone something of a renaissance in recent times.

Workshops today are held at churches and other sites all over the United States. Universities like Villanova, are teaching icon painting in their art departments.

“But that’s a fascinating thing about icons,” Ludwig said. “You don’t have to be an artist or to have a background in painting to produce perfectly beautiful work.”

That’s because for more than one thousand years, innovation in icon painting has been frowned on. Traditional images are essentially copied rather than created anew. Results are judged not by the degree of inspiration or ability to draw but by learning to handle materials, which range from freshly made tempera paints to 24 karat gold leaf.

Participants in past local workshops, most of whom have had no previous art experience, have produced scores of icons during the six-day workshops. They describe the process as intense but incredibly fulfilling as they accomplish something they never dreamed possible.

“The whole, fail-safe process is illustrated in photos on our website, under programs,” Ludwig said.

Cannuli, who is an Augustinian priest as well as the director and curator of the Villanova Art Collection and a certified Liturgical Design Consultant, recently returned from a European exhibition tour of his paintings, which showed in Italy, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

He is a world-renowned designer and maker of liturgical vestments, stained glass windows, mosaics and church furniture. He is also a master watercolorist, with exhibitions in North and South America, Europe and Asia.

There are a number of reasons to study icon painting with Cannuli, Ludwig said. “In the first place, he is a marvelous painter, not only of icons but of contemporary religious art in general. Moreover, he’s a natural teacher. He’s able to make you understand why things are done the way they are as they are. You come away understanding what defines the tradition and how your work fits into it.”

The workshop will be held on Jan. 5 through 10th from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Banes Room of First Presbyterian Church on Royal Palm Point. Ludwig describes the room as having “gorgeous lighting and enough space to allow iconographers to spread out so they can work in comfort.”

Cost for the workshop is $600. A deposit of $300 is necessary by Dec. 15 to hold a place. Further information is available through Dec. 14 at (772) 567-1233 or at

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