The Madonna In Art by Estelle M. Hurll - THE PASTORAL MADONNA. Part 2

Turning from the mother to the children, we find the same general types repeated in the three pictures, but with some difference of motif. The Christ-child of the Belle Jardinière is looking up fondly to his mother. In the Vienna picture he is eagerly interested in the cross which the little St. John gives him. In the Uffizi picture he is more serious, and strokes the goldfinch with an air of abstraction, meditating on the holy things his mother has been reading to him.

The arrangement of the three figures is the same in all the pictures, and is so entirely simple that we forget the greatness of the art. The Virgin, dominating the composition, brings into unity the two smaller figures. This unity is somewhat less perfect in the Belle Jardinière, because the little St. John is almost neglected in the intense absorption of mother and child in each other.

Casa Alba Madonna.

Once again, in the later days at Rome, Raphael recurred to the pastoral Madonna type of this Florentine period, and painted the picture known as the Casa Alba Madonna. We have again the same smiling landscape and the same charming children, but a Virgin of an altogether new order. A turbaned Roman beauty of superb, Juno-like physique, she does not belong to the idyllic character of her surroundings. It is as if some brilliant exotic had been transplanted from her native haunts to quiet fields, where hitherto the modest lily had bloomed alone.

As Raphael's first inspiration for the pastoral Madonna came from the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, it is of interest to compare his work with that of the great Lombard himself. Critics tell us that the Madonna pictures in which he came nearest to his model are the Madonna in the Meadow and the Holy Family of the Lamb. (Madrid.) These we may place beside the Madonna of the Rocks, which is the only entirely authentic Da Vinci Madonna which we have.

Madonna of the Rocks

It is only the skilled connoisseur who, in travelling from Paris to Vienna, and from Vienna to Madrid, can hold in memory the qualities of technique which link together the three pictures; but for general characteristics of composition, the black and white reproductions may suffice. Leonardo availed himself of his intimate knowledge of Nature to choose from her storehouse something which is unique rather than typical. The rock grotto doubtless has a real counterpart, but we must go far to find it. In the river, gleaming beyond, we see the painter's characteristic treatment of water, which Raphael was glad to adopt. The triangular arrangement of the figures, the relation of the Virgin to the children, the simple, childish beauty of the latter, and their attitude towards each other—all these points suggest the source of Raphael's similar conceptions. The Virgin's hair falls over her shoulders entirely unbound, in gentle, waving ripples.

We do not need to be told, though the historian has taken pains to record it, that a feature of personal beauty by which Leonardo was always greatly pleased was "curled and waving hair." We see it in the first touch of his hand when, as a boy in the workshop of Verrochio, he painted the wavy-haired angel in his Master's Baptism; and here, again, in the Virgin, we find it the crowning element of her mysterious loveliness. We try in vain to penetrate the secret of her smile,—it is as evasive as it is enchanting. And herein lies the distinguishing difference between Leonardo and Raphael. The former is always mysterious and subtle; the latter is always frank and ingenuous. While both are true interpreters of nature, Leonardo reveals the rare and inexplicable, Raphael chooses the typical and familiar. Both are possessed of a strong sense of the harmony of nature with human life. The smile of the Virgin of the Rocks is a part of the mystery of her shadowy environment;[2] the serenity of the Madonna in the Meadow belongs to the atmosphere of the open fields.

[2] That the Leonardesque smile requires a Leonardesque setting is seen, I think, in the pictures by Da Vinci's imitators. The Madonna by Sodoma, recently added to the Brera Gallery at Milan, is an example in point. Here the inevitable smile of mystery seems meaningless in the sunny, open landscape.