Virgin Portraits


Rafael - La Belle Jardinière

Today I will try tell what I think about Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ and her depiction in paintings or sculptures.
I was raised by my paternal grandmother, a woman baptized in a Reformed Church who embraced the Orthodox traditions after being married to an Orthodox man. She used to tell me that in her first religion the importance of Virgin Mary is insignificant compared to the Orthodox dogma, because after all she was only a woman who carried the Redeemer in her body, giving birth to a child like any other woman. She taught me Pater Noster in Romanian and another child prayer towards God.
My maternal grandmother was a peasant woman of Orthodox religion, who taught me when I was a child the prayer Ave Maria in its Romanian Orthodox version. I had my book of prayers and my own little cardboard icons, and the image of Virgin Mary became for me little by little something graceful, elusive, delicate. I also had in the countryside many icons hanging on the walls, with the Holy Family, Christ and Virgin Mary and also Saint Anna, mother of Virgin Mary.
When I grew up I read a few art history books, admiring different Madonna portraits. I saw that usually (in many paintings) the colors the Mother of Christ wears are blue and red, pure colors who can integrate symbolically from the psychological point of view different directions of human thinking, activity and passivity, love and contemplation, devotion as a whole.
Thinking about them I must underline that I was impressed the most by Michelangelo’s paintings and sculptures depicting the Virgin, Botticelli’s Madonnas and Rafael’s Madonnas. My favorite was by far „The Madonna of the Beautiful Garden” (La Belle Jardinière, 1507), which impressed me more than others, because of the harmony of colors who seem to fill all my heart’s chambers. I found there a language of colors delicate and pure, yet poignant, in relation with smooth and melodious lines. Everybody reacts in front of a painting according to personal past experiences and for me that Madonna painting was bringing back in my mind my childhood feelings, which were the roots of my religious attitude – the children playing outdoors, the graceful attitudes, the book on the Virgin’s arm reminding me some Annunciation paintings, the powerful emotional bond between Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus…
A few years ago I bought for me a present: a small collection of Virgin portraits, from the Xth century until contemporary paintings. It seems that in professional painting Saint Mary gradually lost through the ages some of her Renaissance spiritual characteristics. Otherwise Saint Mary exists in many colloquial clip art images, which are almost the opposite, depicting her in sweet colors, like a fairy queen for little girls.  🙂  When I was tired it was good for me to try to draw myself Virgin and Child portraits…

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