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The Arts Room General Sooo many Madonnas, soo many babies!
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Sooo many Madonnas, soo many babies!
Has anything else been the subject of so much art? How come it is the image of Madonna and Child that has inspired so many artists? Wouldn't the cross scene be more fun to paint? Maybe it is because Madonna and Child gives a bit more creative opportunity for the artist?

Take these two for example:


























Madonna and Child Enthroned by Saints - Raphael                Madonna and Child- Procaccini

So how come we need both (not to mention the million other versions of this)? Are the two paintings original, distinguished, unique enough in themselves to merit the same subject matter? Well one is an altarpiece and one is a painting, that's a difference sure! I think artists must keep coming back to this subject matter because it allows for so much interpretation. It's the equivalent of open-source software, anyone can tamper with the basics. And isn't Madonna a great symbol for the artist? I mean she birthed Jesus, what better kind of creation is there?

As to these two pieces, aside from the subject matter they are entirely different. They employ different techniques to achieve different religious and artistic function. In the Raphael altarpiece he employs high renaissance innovations like the aerial and linear perspective in order to make his seem as realistic as possible. Procaccini on the other hand uses the Mannerist technique which rejects the realism of the renaissance and probably wouldn't have made the religious folks happy. However, the way Procaccini's baby Jesus is holding his mother's face adds a degree of realism to his otherwise hard to believe painting. Raphael's, on the other hand, almost rejects the fact that he is a baby in order to highlight the religious significance. Likewise Procaccini ignores the Halos for the surrounding saints which might be seen by the Church as something of an insult, and definitely not deserving a place in a church. Raphael's must have been sanctioned by a church.

In the mannerist style Procaccini contorts his subjects into impossible body positions. Might that not be a critique on religion? Both employ iconography as Saint Francis is easily picked out in his monkish robes and holding his wooden cross while above Raphael's Madonna is a saint holding a globe who I am sure is someone I am supposed to recognize.

So while these two pieces are similar in subject matter, they aren't similar in much else. While Raphael's was more a classic take on the old line with special attention given to the center where the mother and child sit, Procaccini's gave more significance to the action of Madonna dropping the rosary. Why is that important?

I wonder what you all think about Madonna and Baby represented in art? Do you get tired of it or do you find there is enough variation on the theme to keep you interested? And isn't it kind of nice to see something familiar transcend so many generations? Do you have your favorites? And what is so magical about this subject matter rather than other religious art that for some reason grasped the hand of so many long-dead artists? (Are there any contemporary Madonna's and Childs or is it so passe at this point?)
Morgan,

Thanks for the subject choice. In the vein of open-source tampering, a notion I find quite humorous as you applied here, I feel qualified to comment by my absolute ignorance of painting and iconography. I enjoy learning about how to translate and understand painting. I wish my classes in humanities had used paintings in the lectures. It would've been helpfull.

Of the two pictures I relate to Procaccini's far more readily. Everyone seems so happy compared to the Raphael piece that seems more like a cartouche than a painting. I like the manner in which the baby Jesus's hand touches the mother's chin. The naked babies are puzzling but they are comforting somehow. The women are quite lovely. I've never seen Mary looking so good before. She always seems sort of sad in this painting as well as others. It is as though she suspects that her baby is going to grow up to become a dead Marine on a Normandy Beachhead. The Pieta comes to mind.

I think that "the magical" part of Mary and her child and the reason it was a subject so frequently painted has to do with the all important issues of rebirth and compassion (represented by both Jesus and Mary) associated with the story of Jesus and the reciprocal nature of its meaning with the Christian viewer. Christ is "available" to the viewer in a way that the other two Abrahamic religions do not allow. That God, Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the rest of people in the Judaic Bible and New Testament have been so visually presented to the viewer gives christianity a personal immediacy that the other two religions have denied to their believers by authoritarian limitation. 

For myself, I do not care for the Mary and Baby theme in paintings. Part of the reason for my dislike of such paintings is that they do not let me understand Mary. She always seems to not be present in her body and I don't understand how she is being "used" by the others in the picture, nor by the artist. It is as though Mary is denied her individuality, as though she has no personal nature other than being the vehicle of Jesus. However, I do like Michelangelo's The Pieta very much. Perhaps the reason why Mary with baby theme was so popular reflects the 15th - 16th century state of the Catholic Church itself more than anything particular about the theme as art. The Universal Church, as a corporate religion, was at its peak during the Renaissance. Ever since then the Church has been in one long, gradual state of decline.   
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Latest Post: April 17, 2010 at 1:10 AM
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