Tuesday, March 24, 2009

700 Year-Old Gift Still Elicits Gratitude

Following yesterday's posting, I remembered feeling that sense of gratitude to the Universe while looking at this sculpture in Our Lady Cathedral, in Antwerp, Belgium.

This sweet Madonna and Child was carved sometime before 1350, a gift from a long-dead, nameless artist – known to us today only as the Master of the Mosan Marble Madonnas. It's a gift that has kept on giving for almost 700 years!

The first time I saw it I knew very little about late medieval sculpture. But I was drawn instinctively to the expression of tenderness between this universal rendering of Mother and Child.

I was amazed that such grace and suppleness could be evoked in stone. The surface of the marble is so smooth and soft-looking, I wanted to reach out and stroke it.

It was only later that I learned that this sort of fluidity of pose and drapery, and the expressiveness in the baby’s playful gesture and the young Madonna’s affectionate gaze -- were extraordinary in a 14th century sculpture.

As a footnote: One might well wonder how this sculpture has remained almost completely undamaged for so long -- given that the cathedral stood central to Antwerp's tumultuous history (ie: religious iconoclasm, French revolution, world war). In fact, the statue is hollow, making it light-weight enough to be easily moved out of harm's way ... as oftern as might have been necessary!

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