The Courageous Iconographer

Featured Photo: The “Sacrae Immaginis Domus-Eikon” is the collection of religious artwork belonging to Aurel Ionescu, an isografo, or creator of sacred images, and an internationally recognized guardian of the tradition of icons born in Byzantium. Himself born and raised in communist Romania, as a young painter he was stigmatized as a ‘mystical paranoid.’

Article and Photographs by Emmanuele Capoferri

English editing by Meghan Ferrara

These treasures are housed in an old church maintained for the “isografo” by the curia of Como, Italy.

Upon entering the church of San Francesco, a sense of peace and timelessness envelops the visitor.

Ionescu describes icons in his own words as, “a sacred image, and a hallmark of Christian art.

Its purpose is depicting the struggle between man and the Devil, who is the anti-icon par excellence — the enemy and evil one.

At the same time, icons allow the expression in images of the story of human salvation.

From an etymological point of view, -Syn-bolon (meaning two halves of a whole) – is the opposite of the dia-bolon (the great divider) and indicates that truth opposes lies.

 The symbolic icon portrays both these themes. On the one hand it simply presents the afterlife, on the other hand it leads man to salvation, in the eternal and true realm, away from the influence of the “negative” and “detrimental.”

For Christians, the philosophies of eternity and of man’s salvation are intrinsically linked.

Iconic art invites the faithful to connect to a deeper, more profound theology. The encounter between thought and belief lends art a religious overtone; it is no longer sign or picture, but icon – a symbol of the presence of an invisible mystery that seeks to be communicated.

Aurel is an artist who best represents, through his works, the meaning of this ancient but timeless tradition.

“The icon must take precedence and the ‘isografo’ must acknowledge that his work is a reflection of something greater than himself,” says Ionescu.


Ionescu was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1951, and completed his classical studies (Liceo Aurel Vlaicu), graduating from A.L. Cuza with a degree in graphic art.

After a period of secular artistic activity Ionescu became part of the establishment of the Romanian Patriarchy in the workshop of Plumbuita monastery located in Bucharest. He worked as a wood sculptor and began his apprenticeship as an iconographer, under the guidance of Simeon Tatu. Within the walls of this community, under the spiritual guidance of Father Lazar, he deepened his technical and spiritual formation and in 1973 received the Holy Miron or anointing of the hands.

This path in Romania was not easy. The young painter was even stigmatized as a ‘mystical paranoid.’

“I’m aware of that title,” admits Ionescu, though he only learned of this only after many years after the fall of the regime – and that by means of the Securitate files. “Nonetheless, as a young Rumanian, considered by the public as a national artist with numerous publications and magazines to my credit, I still felt a calling to sacred art and the desire to bear witness to Christ.”

The need to continue on this path pushed him to look for a different country, where he can “write” images without opposition. Today, he depicts holy icons in the church of San Francesco in Marchirolo in via Roma 24 in Varese, Lombardy, Italy.

Sign up for REGINA's weekly newsletter

  1. You will usually hear from us about once a week, usually on Sunday. 
  2. At other times, we may send a special email. 

To subscribe, go here!