Demetrius J. Dukas, iconographer who painted churches
He spent more than two decades decorating St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington
Demetrius Dukas (Perry Thorsvik, Baltimore Sun / June 21, 2011)
The son of Greek immigrant parents, Mr. Dukas was born and raised in Lynn, Mass., where he graduated in 1947 from Lynn English High School.
His artistic talents became evident early, and he began drawing portraits when he was 9 years old.
"He had a keen interest in Byzantine art and was drawn to icons because he felt they were used to help people with prayer and reflection," said a niece, Melanie Dukas of Saugus, Mass. "He was also deeply religious and said, 'I feel like God is moving my hand when I paint.'"
In a 1988 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Dukas said that a priest and friend suggested that he become a religious painter and that he took his inspiration from El Greco, who early in life had painted icons.
"But when I actually saw Byzantine art — I had only seen some pseudo-Byzantine art — I was overwhelmed. It was vernacular which blew my mind, I found an identity with it. At first I said, 'Well, at least this is a way to make a living, then I can do my own thing.' But then this became my own thing."
He added: "It's a great art. It's a religious art, but it prefigures modern art. It has elements of Cubism, Expressionism, it has everything. … It's an art that transcends nationalities and speaks to everyone."
After graduating in 1951 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mr. Dukas, who had received a Yale University Art School fellowship, conducted field study and analysis of Byzantine monuments in Greece, Italy and Turkey.
In Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, Mr. Dukas studied mosaics with Fotis Kontoglou, a noted religious painter who led the movement for the revival of Byzantine art in Greece.
He also worked with the artist on the restoration of Hagia Sophia, the former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica in Istanbul, which dates to A.D. 360 and has been a museum since 1935.
Mr. Dukas then taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and at Harvard University. He supervised workshops on mosaics and panel painting at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
He lectured widely on Byzantine art at the State University of New York at Albany, Notre Dame University and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington.
It was Mr. Dukas' life as an iconographer, one of about 20 who work regularly in the United States, that made his reputation.
He designed the doors and furniture at St. Demetrios Church on Cub Hill Road in Carney. He also decorated the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lynn, Mass., where he was baptized and married.
Other commissions included decorations at Annunciation Church in Mobile, Ala., the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, St. Mary's Church in Minneapolis and the Church of the Archangels in Stamford, Conn.
Perhaps one of his greatest commissions was the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Northwest Washington, where he had painted for more than 20 years.
His "crowning achievement," his niece said, was the 1400-square-foot dome that rises 79 feet above the cathedral floor and measures 30 feet across.
"The mosaic dome illustrates 'Isaiah's Vision of the Lord' with cherubs encircling the vision," his niece said.
Of the more than 90 icons rendered in mosaic or acrylic in the cathedral, all but two were executed by Mr. Dukas.