Exploring the Mysticism of Greece’s Byzantine Icons: Profiling Iconographer Dimitrios Moulas

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In a two-room workshop that is dwarfed by the surrounding massive Meteora rock formations, 38 year-old Greek iconographer Dimitrios Moulas demonstrates admirable focus towards his subject – an icon that will soon represent Jesus Christ. With a delicate paintbrush in hand, he carefully draws fine facial hairs. After a few moments have passed, the hairs have been transformed into a wispy mustache. As I quietly watch the process from behind, it seems as though the artist’s and subject’s eyes are locked upon one another, in an intense gaze.

village of Kastraki, Greece

While strolling the historic village of Kastraki, escorted by a friendly ginger-haired neighborhood dog, we’d serendipitously stumbled upon Dimitrios’ workshop, set among Old Kastraki’s buildings. Happening upon him on the hilly streets that wind through the village, we asked him if he knew where our new canine companion lived. We wanted to be sure she returned home safely. Dimitrios was friendly and chatty with us, and so gentle in his sales approach, that he didn’t even mention that he had a icon studio just meters away. Instead, he was curious about our home country, and eager to share that his grandmother and many Kastraki villagers had immigrated to Boston and New York in the early 1900s, to later return to Greece in the 1930s.

Byzantine icon workshop sign in Kastraki Dimitrios Moulas

After we parted ways with him, we glimpsed a hand-painted sign leading to a small studio of Byzantine iconography, something I had been hoping to visit in Greece. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, icons are an essential part of prayer. Unlike some of the icon workshops that we’d seen in nearby tourist mecca Kalambaka, this appeared to be an authentic, living studio. The whitewashed stone building seemed as though it’d be equally at home on a Greek island as it was in Kastraki. A small chair sat out on the stoop and a wall of icons with rich colors hung on the entryway’s wall, highlighted by warm beams of sunlight.

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Spotting us by the entrance, the same passerby we’d chatted with earlier came bounding down the hill, eager to welcome us into his cozy studio. Jewel-toned icons that have been in his family’s care for centuries adorned the white walls, as did some that he acquired during visits to Istanbul and Russia. There were images of Saint George slaying the dragon, of Mary and Baby Jesus, of Jesus holding his right hand in such a manner that symbolizes the Greek letter for ‘Christos.’

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We learned about the colors and materials Dimitrios uses to create the icons, some of which can take up to one week to complete. “Gold symbolizes divinity,” he said. Showing his palette and desk, Dimitrios explained, “I use all-natural materials such as egg tempera, which is a blend of egg yolk and vinegar. They are then gilded with 24 karat gold leaf.”

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“In order to create the halos, sometimes I use pure-silver, and at other times I use a gesso technique.” (To achieve this technique, an artist uses a hard compound such as plaster of Paris as a base, giving three-dimensionality to a piece of work.)

I asked Dimitrios what he most appreciates about this art form that is so sacred in Greece, something that he has been practicing for 23 years.

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“It is the mysticism,” he said. “When looking at the icons, one can see something that seems simple, but when you study them, you see that they have much deeper meaning.”

Dimitrios led us to his studio windows, eager to point out the 14th century hermit caves that are still visible in the formations not far from his workshop. In the golden hour light of the late afternoon, the setting seemed as mystical as the centuries old art form that Dimitrios is so keen on preserving.

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14th-century hermit caves in the Meteora rock formations, visible from Dimitrios’ studio window.

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Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Dimitrios’ studio is located at the top of Old Kastraki. If you’re walking down towards central Kastraki from Adrachti (Kastraki’s signature rock formation) it’s likely you’ll happen upon his sign. At the present time, Dimitrios does not have a sign posted at the lower part of the hill. He joked that he does not want to be too commercial in his approach.
  • Since we are long-term travelers and space is at a premium, I reluctantly didn’t purchase an icon, however, Dimitrios does regularly sell them to visitors. He said that the bulk of his customers are from Greece and Italy. Prices range from 60-200 Euro depending upon the size of the icon purchased. Keep in mind that some of the larger icons take up to one week to complete.
  • Dimitrios’ contact information is as follows: Address: Kastraki Kalampaka, 42200. Telephone: +30 2432075248. Mobile: +30 6977068376. Email: dimitriosmoulas {at} hotmail . com
  • Accommodation wise, we stayed at the cozy Guesthouse Patavalis (affiliate link) in the village of Kastraki. The hotel’s owner, Marina, whom we dubbed our ‘Greek mama’, even surprised us with samples of tasty, home-cooked Greek food like spanakopita, candied figs and milk custard pie. In total, we spent about a week at the Guesthouse Patavalis, staying in its ‘Purple Room’. We enjoyed its terrace views of the surrounding rock formations, and its convenient location. It made a great hub for hiking to, and exploring some of Meteora’s monasteries!
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Greece.

Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

24 Comments on “Exploring the Mysticism of Greece’s Byzantine Icons: Profiling Iconographer Dimitrios Moulas

    • Marilyn, though I have a few icons of my own at home, I also didn’t know much about their history. I’ll certainly look at them in a different way when we return ‘home.’

  1. Love it, love it your new post, Tricia, beautiful insight of greek art in religious views, so interesting what kind of layers Dimitrios applies on his canvas. Thank you Epharisto for sharing.
    Say hello to my beloved country of Greece, I have been there numerous times back than when I lived in Germany. Kalinichta or Kalimera, what ever time it is. Cornelia

    • Cornelia, isn’t it funny how Greece can feel like home? I’d be curious which places were your favorites in this beautiful country.

      It’s so nice to see that the artform is still cherished and being handed down from generation to generation. We were lucky to have stumbled upon Dimitrio’s little workshop.

  2. what a wonderful post, and pictures. It must have been hard to resist buying one of those gorgeous icons… a really fascinating post, thank you

    • Mark, what impressed me was the non overly-commercialized nature of Dimitrios’ little workshop. It was a bit like traveling back into time…

    • I love that, Alessandro. With your permission, I may just have to use that as a future quotation (attributing it to you, of course). :)

  3. I am mad for religious icons like you have show here. I have a triptych I purchased at an estate auction. It is a cherished possession Tricia. V.

    • Virginia, I’m so curious – do you know where your triptych is from, and approximately how old it is? On the other hand, sometimes not knowing just adds a mystical quality to a piece.

      One of my favorite icons back home is from Cyprus. I purchased it from one of the country’s most beloved monasteries, though I didn’t have the fortune to meet the artist. If we’d had more room in our luggage, I certainly would’ve loved to have bought a piece of Dimitrios’, though meeting him was a gift in itself.

  4. I can just imagine the intricate workmanship and devotion or commitment to preserving this art form. I am happy for you that you stumbled onto this studio.

    • Lynne, we were too, and we stumbled upon it in quite a funny way. A little chestnut-colored dog escorted us for about 45 minutes, from village center to an unusual rock formation. At one point, we feared she’d continue hiking quite high up among the boulders, but fortunately, we were able to lead her back to the village center, and ultimately found this studio.

      I’m eager to hear how your trip to Cuba went, and admittedly have lost touch with others in the blogosphere lately (no internet connection at our b&b). I look forward to reading your adventures soon, though, and hope your trip was as you’d hoped!

    • Krzysztof, we felt quite lucky to have had this chance meeting with an artist as welcoming and talented as Dimitrios! In addition to jewelry making, you also do drawing or painting, don’t you?

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