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.


Lorenzo Lotto, Mary with Child and the Saints Catherine and James the Elder, 1527/33, Inv. no. GG 101

Can you imagine for a moment this idyllic spot in the country without people?

A landscape in deep green, mountains and lakes, here and there rugged barren land, then broad islands of sunlight, and a sky heavy with rain. On my way to the saintly gathering here, I passed a tree with luxuriant crown and sturdy trunk. Nearby, I discovered a tree stump whose cut surface had been smoothed by the hand of man.

Here I sat down.

Clothed in shining blue, protected from both sun and rain, I sat my son on the natural throne, protecting with part of my cloak his delicate skin from small splinters and rough bark.

Catherine and Jacob soon arrived, or perhaps they were already here and I have a different recollection of the discovery of this secluded, enchanting corner of the world. This question must remain unanswered, because Lorenzo, my earthly creator, never made it clear.

Jacob, one of the twelve apostles and brother of the beloved apostle, John, kneels and seems to lean in our direction. He does not relax, but pays homage to my son. His hands are prepared for prayer, his gaze directed to Jesus.

His pilgrim’s staff brings solidity and calm to our gathering.

Catherine holds a book, part of her spiked breaking wheel, she has tellingly propped against Jesus’ tree-stump throne. She looks back silently at the hands of the saint kneeling beside her. But she feels my child’s hand on the pages of her book.

Apropos book: today I pose a fundamental question:

Why am I a painting and not a text?

My answer: one can see me, and with a bit of imagination hear and feel me too. At the same time one can read into me, speak to me, contradict me, contemplate me endlessly, find me engaging, and the next day tedious. One can undertake a pilgrimage to me, and at the next opportunity secretly ignore me. Not that I wish for such a rollercoaster of sentiments, but they remain unpunished—and I unchanged.

The angel that has flown in elegantly as a dancer crowns today’s scene. Though the expression on our faces is calm and gentle, our gowns are agitated, colourful and sophisticated.

written by written by Cäcilia Bischoff, translated by Joshua Stein on 19.9.2017 in #Marienbilder
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