As you know, on Sunday’s – if I can – I like to visit a nice museum if possible while traveling.
On this snowy snowy New York Sunday afternoon, a priest friend and I made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the lighting of the Christmas Tree in the Medieval Hall.
We also explored some galleries. In our explorations, we saw some common features of many of the Italian late Medieval, early Renaissance depictions of Madonna and Child.
Little Jesus grabs or plays with Mother’s veil.
For example, here is one of The Goodhart Duciesque Master painted early, from 1315-30 using the Duccio motif of the Child playing with the veil of the Virgin. She looks out at us.
And he has a little flower, a carnation or “pink”.
There is Duccio himself, of course!
Taddeo Gaddi, a Florentine (+1366) did it too with this Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, rather old fashioned.
Lippo Memmi, Sienese, painted around 1350. This is a little variation. He is reaching in the same gesture as if for the tempting veil, but instead He’s giving Mother a little “pink”.
Sano di Pietro, Sienese (+1481) is still at the fun game of grab the veil, which is turning into a cloak.
This painting of Jacopo Bellini, Venetian, painted around 1440, is in rough shape.You can see the game continues with the cloak veil.
Michele da Verona, from, well… Verona, painted around 1490.
The style is changing as we move into the High Renaissance. We no longer have flat gold backgrounds. We are into landscapes and perspective. But Jesus still likes that veil, even while He blesses little John.
Andrea del Sarto, Florentine, died in 1530. It is harder to see here, but he is still at it.
There are more… but that is a good overview.
It is the most human thing imaginable to see every little Bundle-Of-Joy, every Stupor Mundi, grabbing hold of things that are nearby, and what is more convenient that mommy’s hair or clothing or, in the case of the styles of the time, veils.
But there is probably a theological dimension to this in paintings, even as it seems to become a convention copied over and over again through the centuries, particularly in Italy and then in northern countries who use Italian conventions.
I haven’t looked into this, perhaps someone more expert in art can help me, but I suspect that this shows something of how the Lord is grasping our humanity to Himself, especially as it shifts to her blue mantle. Blue on the Virgin and on the Lord is often a symbol of humanity, while red is a symbol of divinity.