An Interview with Niko Chocheli on his illustrations for The Legend of the Cross

Legend-of-the-cross-ARC-CoverEarlier this year, I was privileged to read my new children’s book, The Legend of the Cross to children at the St. Emmelia Homeschooling Conference at the Antiochian Village in Bolivar, PA. While at the book-signing table with Niko Chocheli, illustrator for our book, I took the opportunity to interview him about his beautiful illustrations. The first letter on each page is illuminated in a medieval manuscript style. The blue heavenly color used throughout the book is in the style of Georgian enamel, known as cloisonné. The colors are those used by Titian, a Venetian painter who inspired Niko. Below is a page by page commentary which I hope readers will find useful:

The front cover of the book shows a lion, wearing a gold crown and a cross above a scroll. The lion is the lion of Judah, the symbol of Christ who was from the tribe of Judah. The lion may also be viewed as Aslan, from The Chronicles of Narnia which was based on the lion of Judah. The lion represents power and courage, while the crown shows the lion is king.
The dedication page shows King Solomon and a heavenly Jerusalem in the background.

P 3 Shows the triple branched tree made of cypress, pine, and cedar, with a skull at its base representing Adam’s skull.

P 4  In the darkness, behind Adam and Seth, there is a silhouette of a cross which implies the beginning of the journey of the cross.

P 5 The cross is the gateway to heaven, salvation and paradise. See Niko’s book, Prepare O Bethlehem:

“The gate of Eden is opened
Adam dances in exaltation.”

P6 Shows the Archangel Michael in his glory, with a cross motif behind and above him.

P7  The angel is holding Adam’s soul and the cross behind them is the entrance to heaven. The church is the rock and is depicted this way throughout the book.
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” King James Bible.

P8 The earth is ruled by the cross. This is a Bolnuri cross, an ancient symbol from the early fifth century. Jerusalem is shown to the right. All symbols are prefiguring Christ’s birth.

P9 Noah’s ark contains a church on a rock, symbolizing our salvation.

P10 King David is composing his psalms under the shade of a tree with the lion of Judah at his feet.

P11 King Solomon and the woodcutter.

P12 The hippos express wealth and splendor of a great king.

P13 The large rock formation is famous in Ethiopia. The queen of Sheba travels from Ethiopa to Jerusalem, with the pyramids of Egypt in the background. An angel holding a cross is guiding them. The procession of animals and gifts represent the splendor of Africa.

P14 and 15 show the Queen of Sheba, with the church far away and in the horizon. Georgian crosses are painted behind her. She is riding a rhinoceros suggesting wealth and splendor.
P 16 The elephant kneels in respect and honor as it looks towards the church in the distance.

P17 The lions symbolize throne griffins inspired by the painting, The Judgement of Solomon, by French painter, Nicolas Poussin.

P18 The pelican is also symbolic of Christ who is also shown in the background on the cross, as  a blue dreamlike vision. The pelican symbolizes sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the Eucharist.

P19 The illustration of the throne of Solomon was inspired by an ancient Georgian throne,  in Tao Klarjeti, Turkey. The owl represents the wisdom of Solomon. The Queen of Sheba holds a cross one hand and the other hand touches the  earth – suggesting the cross will rule the world.

P 20 Shows the wood being placed in a pit forming the pool of Bethesda with five porticoes.

P21 This illustration is shown from the perspective of the angel above over the pool of Bethesda. The lame man, his bed and crutches are shown on the letter F.

P 22 The shape of the cross and the bark of the wood are shown below in the letter T. The Theotokos is shown in the bottom right.

P23 The magi come on elephants to the newborn King. The triune symbol of the cross with the star is above the Theotokos and Christ child in the cave.

P 24 and 25 Show a close up of the wood of the cross in the pool.

P26 Jerusalem is behind the crucified Christ with the sun and moon. The skull of Adam is below the Cross and the blood of Christ renders Adam a new Adam.

P27 Shows the resurrection  with Christ in His full glory! He is the Pantocrator and the Cross below is illuminated with gold colors overlooking a large, expansive landscape.
P 28 The angel flips pages of a book which is not yet finished.

Back cover – The country of Georgia commissioned The Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem, which is represented in the top right corner. Shotav Rustavelin, a Georgian poet, dedicated an immortal poem to Queen Tamara of Georgia, and he is shown on the left. The hole below marks the spot where the holy tree is believed to have once grown, now behind the altar at the Monastery of the Cross.

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