Images of the Virgin Mary: a fleet-footed online tour of the collections

The present series, to which a new text will be added every two weeks, takes what may seem a rather contemporary approach: works of art are presented from the point of view of the person portrayed—the Virgin Mary.
We would like to provide a gentle note of reminder: sympathetic identification with the protagonist was the original purpose of precious votive paintings, long before such works came to be exhibited in museums in the 19th century.

An exquisite treasure

Albrecht Dürer, Virgin and Child with a Pear, 1512, KHM, Inv. No. GG 848

We were created in Nuremberg. My portraitist had returned to his home town after a stimulating study trip to Venice. Now—in addition to all of his other work—he concentrated his efforts and skill on me.

Coiffed curls and plucked eyebrows, high brow and soft chin, delicate nose and red mouth: the very picture of a woman.

But eye contact I may not grant.

My shimmering, many-layered veil of gold keeps you at a distance, for your gaze should be directed at the child that I hold in my arms.

I wish you could feel what I do: Christ’s plump, warm body wriggles almost restlessly, but I hold him tight.

And if something should happen, would you catch him?

The cloth that lies between my strong fingers and his soft curves was originally violet in colour, and thus commonly understood as an allusion to Christmastide and Easter.

The stem end of a pear in Jesus’ left hand is a reference to his fruitful gospel, and you will have noticed how I prepared a bite-sized piece of the sweet fruit for him as part of my divine commission. Sweet too are the traces that his small milk teeth have left in the pear.

written by Cäcilia Bischoff, translated by Joshua Stein on 12.6.2017 in #Marienbilder
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