Silvia Dimitrova (b.1970 – )
Egg tempera on wood
62cm x 79cm
Loaned by The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings and Mrs Alison King
Women in the Bible – The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings
‘Choose a subject, and I will commission Silvia Dimitrova to paint it for your 50th birthday’. My wife, Ali, offered me this wonderful gift in 2003, when I was Vicar of Islington.
‘The moment Mary Magdalene hears Jesus call her by name, on Easter morning’, I replied. I knew there had been many paintings set a few seconds later, concerning (Noli me tangere – don’t touch me), but had never seen one of the instant her face, and her faith, came alive.
Silvia is a Bulgarian Orthodox icon writer based in Bath, whose exhibition we had arranged in the crypt of St Mary’s Church, earlier that year. I later wrote a poem expounding John 20: 11-18 and her iconic painting.
When I became Bishop of Sherborne, in 2009, the churchwardens said the church would like to give us a farewell present and we suggested a contribution towards another painting. We chose Lydia, a trader in purple goods, and, during my consecration retreat, I wrote a poem on Acts 16: 6-15 and Silvia’s painting.
It was in discussing this second commission with Silvia that our project of seven ‘Women in the Bible’ emerged. I had seen Zurburan’s paintings of the 12 Sons of Jacob in Auckland Castle and had wondered about a series of biblical women.
For my 60th birthday, 2013, we chose ‘Priscilla’ and I wrote on Acts 18: 1-4, 24-28 and Romans 16: 3-4. ‘Sarah’, whose face reflects my mother’s face, was painted soon after I became Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion, in 2015, and my inaugural lecture for the project, at Durham, ‘Sarah the Mother of Mission’, included the poem as part of the exposition of Genesis 18: 1-15.
‘Miriam’ was painted in 2017, with the face of our middle daughter, Miriam. The poem was written during a quiet day at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine, East London. ‘Ruth’ was finished in 2019, resonating with the face of our eldest daughter, Rosalind and the poem was written during another quiet day.
‘Esther’ completed the series of seven in 2020, with the face of our youngest daughter, Katie, whose middle name is Esther. The poem was written again at St Katherine’s.
In February 2019, over lunch at St Chad’s College, Durham, Margaret Masson, the Principal, introduced me to Tristan Latchford, the Director of Music, and a young composer. Tristan agreed to write seven anthems on the seven poems and paintings and, astonishingly, completed them all by the end of 2020. He is now studying for his PhD at the Peabody Institute of John Hopkins University.
The 17 year old project of Women in the Bible interweaves three forms of art – painting, poetry and music – all expounding the nourishing words of the Holy Scriptures.
(The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings),
Dr Kings, in retirement in Cambridge, is Hon Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, which he founded in 1996. He trained for ordination at Ridley Hall (1978-80) and was the Henry Martyn Lecturer in Mission Studies in the Cambridge Theological Federation (1992-2000)’
The book of poems Nourishing Connections written over 35 years was published by Canterbury Press in 2020.
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. During this time she was also nominated and shortlisted for the European Women of Achievements Awards 2000 for contributions to the Arts. Since then Sylvia 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.
She works in the traditional technique of icon painting – egg tempera on wood, and her work covers the whole spectrum of traditional Bulgarian icons and original work.