I had a way too brief visit to Chicago’s Institute of Art. I hadn’t been for a while and I was eager to refamiliarize myself with the collection.
During the visit, I spied this, which I am sure will interest you as much as it did me.
Here is an unattributed triptych of the early 16th c. from S. Germany. It depicts Madonna and Child with Saints. I was happy to see her yesterday, Our Lady’s Feast, and you can see that she is indeed crowned as Queen of Heaven.
She, the Christ Child, and the Saints, are in a garden, calling to mind both paradise and the hortus conclusus. St. Ursula is in the left part, doing a great imitation of a Schutzmantel Madonna, and the wonderful St. Agnes is on the right. They are both martyrs.
Atop the fencing posts are different species of birds, carefully detailed. I suspect the painter worked from the real thing and was a fan. This is unattributed. I’d like to think that this was painted by a cloistered sister, or at least a woman, who watched birds and had a bit of a naturalist streak.
Let’s get closer.
Notices that the flowers on the lattice are “pinks”, which in Italian portraits are sometimes associated with marriage. They are also seen in paintings of Mary in the garden. There are quite a few examples from both Italy and N. Europe wherein carnations or “pinks” appear.
She is pointing to the piece of fruit in Christ’s hands, an apple, a symbol of paradise and the loss of grace in Original Sin. Christ is the Second Adam. But, who is that closest to her head?
This is our old friend the Christological Goldfinch, who today is rather freer than usual. Usually, the Child is crunching Finchy in one of his pudgy fists. Here is is, however, the closest of the birds to Mary’s crown, which is not a Crown of Thorns, but which was won through His Thorny Crown. Newcomers here should know that this European finch got His read face, as legend has it, when he tried to relieve Christ’s suffering on the Cross by plucking thorns from his Head.
There is plenty going on in this not-really-all-that-great painting, which is good for a devotional object as this triptych surely was intended to be. And it is nice to see our old pal the Christological Goldfinch.
Since the painting is not attributed, it could be fun to make up a short story about the painter. I must do that someday with some paintings. I once saw a great though small exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The exhibit included portraits of who-knows-who, people never identified. Then the clever people who put the exhibit together asked some writers to concoct stories tied to the paintings, true to their period, venue, clothing, depiction, etc. Fascinating and memorable. But I digress.