Maiden mother, meek and mild

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | May 19, 2015 | 0 Comments
Raphael’s “The Madonna of the Pinks” (“La Madonna dei Garofani”),  c. 1506–7, is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts until June 28. Oil on panel (yew tree). Lent by the National Gallery, London. Bought with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), the American Friends of the National Gallery, London, the George Beaumont Group, Sir Christopher Ondaatje, and through public appeal, 2004. Courtesy the MIA.

Raphael’s “The Madonna of the Pinks” (“La Madonna dei Garofani”), c. 1506–7, is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts until August 9. Oil on panel (yew tree). Lent by the National Gallery, London. Bought with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), the American Friends of the National Gallery, London, the George Beaumont Group, Sir Christopher Ondaatje, and through public appeal, 2004. Courtesy the MIA.

Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ an MIA birthday surprise

A small but beautiful Renaissance painting of the Blessed Mother and Christ Child has the potential to draw viewers’ imaginations from the ground floor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where it is displayed to contemplation of the incarnation.

The painting, “The Madonna of the Pinks,” usually attributed to the painter Raphael, is named for the pink carnations that a young, affectionate Mary is giving to the Christ Child whom she holds tenderly on her lap.

Such beautiful images are “kind of like practice for being in the presence of God,” said Elizabeth Kelly, managing editor of “Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture” and Catholic Studies adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.  “You can be in the presence of something beautiful and good and true and reap the effects of that without even knowing it.”

The quality of the painting, the figures of Mary and Jesus, and the religious symbolism of the carnations are a few reasons “Madonna of the Pinks” is an image not only for admiration but meditation.

The painting, considered by some to be Raphael’s “Mona Lisa,” is on loan from the National Gallery in London as part of MIA’s 100th birthday year celebration.

“As part of our birthday year we wanted to bring some very special paintings to Minneapolis for our public to see,” said Rachel McGarry, MIA associate curator. “Bringing an Italian Renaissance painting by one of the greatest artists in the history of art, Raphael, was always at the top of any wish list. This is something we could never dream of acquiring.”

The painting, which dates to about 1506, was unveiled on May 15 and will be on exhibit until August 9. There is no charge to view it.

The fact that it is being exhibited during May, considered by Catholics the month of Mary, wasn’t intentional, McGarry said.

It is the second of three paintings by internationally renowned artists on loan from European museums that the MIA is exhibiting this year as part of its “Masterpiece in Focus” series. The first painting of the series, Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter,” was exhibited earlier this spring; the third painting will be revealed later this year.

Renaissance masterpiece

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael, is considered with Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as a Renaissance master. He was born in 1483 in Urbino, Italy. He spent the early part of his career as an itinerant painter in central Italy known for his Madonna paintings. He later was appointed by Pope Julius II as architect of St. Peter’s Basilica and died in 1520.

“The Madonna of the Pinks” measures roughly 12 by 9 inches without its frame, McGarry said. It is believed to have been commissioned as a devotional image by a nun who was part of a wealthy family in Perugia.

“It’s small but it has an incredible presence,” she said. “It’s exquisite. You can’t see a brush stroke in it. The handling is so fine.”

In the painting the Blessed Mother is dressed in blue and the curtain behind her is green. She sits in a darkened bedchamber with a landscape visible through an open window. “It’s a wonderful pictorial strategy, because what it does is it gives you the sense that they’re in a private room,” McGarry said. “We’re kind of looking in at a private moment.”

Mary holds Jesus tenderly and protectively in a natural interaction that any mother with a small infant can imagine having, she said.
The image is lovely because the Blessed Mother is youthful and robust, Kelly said.

“This isn’t a pale-faced skeleton of a woman,” said Kelly, a parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater. “This is a young robust woman who’s clearly just had a baby and is breastfeeding and has color in her cheeks.”

The painting is joyful, and unlike other Madonna and Child images, it doesn’t foreshadow the sorrow of Christ’s passion, Kelly said. “In some ways it’s a call on all Christians that we be taken up with innocence and purity and light and goodness.”

Deep symbolism

The carnations, after which the painting is named, represents a symbol of marriage, love and betrothal, McGarry said. Mary the Mother of Christ is also considered the Bride of Christ. The carnations also are seen as a sign of Christ’s passion, she said. “There’s the thought that when Mary saw Jesus carrying the cross up to Mount Calvary she began to cry,” McGarry said. “When her tears touched the earth carnations bloomed for the first time.”

Works of art such as “The Madonna of the Pinks” offer another way of learning the history of the Church and of the faith, Kelly said. “The way that [art] was perceived and captured by artists in different periods, it brings to a greater understanding the movements of the Church.”

Paintings such as this one used to be essential for teaching the Gospel, as many Catholics were illiterate, she said. They still can be an aid in meditation and serve to make prayer deeper, richer and more insightful, Kelly said.

More so than the other transcendentals, or properties of being, of goodness and truth, people can still recognize beauty, she said. True beauty draws us out of ourselves — a central aspect of communion — and draws us toward God, she said.

It’s important for Catholics to have an understanding of art and culture because aesthetics are an important part of the liturgy, Kelly added. If Catholics aren’t well formed in any aesthetic sense they could miss a lot at Mass —the hymns, prayers and paintings such as the “The Madonna of the Pinks.”

We’re visceral creatures and we have an aesthetic, Kelly said. “Of course we want to direct it toward the good, the true, the beautiful, because that’s going to draw us to God.”

Tags: ,

Category: Faith and Culture