The Madonna In Art by Estelle M. Hurll - THE MADONNA OF LOVE. (THE MATER AMABILIS.) part 3

Madonna of the Cherries
Beside such names as Raphael and Correggio, history furnishes but one other worthy of comparison for the portrayal of the Mater Amabilis—it is Titian. His Madonna is by no means uniformly motherly. There are times when we look in vain for any softening of her aristocratic features; when her stately dignity seems quite incompatible with demonstrativeness.[4] But when love melts her heart how gracious is her unbending, how winning her smile! Once she goes so far as to play in the fields with her little boy, quieting a rabbit with one hand for him to admire. (La Vierge au Lapin, Louvre.) In other pictures she holds him lying across her lap, smiling thoughtfully upon him. Such an one is the Madonna with Sts. Ulfo and Brigida, in the Madrid Gallery. The child is taking the flowers St. Brigida offers him, and his mother looks down with the pleased expression of fond pride. Again, when her babe holds his two little hands full of the roses his cousin St. John has brought him, she smiles gently at the eagerness of the two children. (Uffizi Gallery.)

[4] See the Madonna of the Cherries in the Belvedere at Vienna, and the Madonna and Saints in the Dresden Gallery.

Another similar composition reveals a still sweeter intimacy between mother and son. The babe stretches out his hand coaxingly towards his mother's breast, but she draws her veil about her, gently denying his appeal. A more beautiful mother, or a more bewitching babe, it were hard to find. Three fine half-length figures of saints complete this composition, each of great interest and individuality, but not necessary to the unity of action—the Madonna alone making a complete picture. There are two copies of this work, one in the Belvedere at Vienna, and one in the Louvre at Paris.

The motif of this picture is not unique in art, as will have been remarked in passing. The first duty of maternity, and one of its purest joys, is to sustain the newborn life at the mother's breast. A coarse interpretation of the subject desecrates a holy shrine, while a delicate rendering, such as Raphael's or Titian's, invests it with a new beauty. Other pictures of this class should be mentioned in the same connection. There is one in the Hermitage Gallery at St. Petersburg, attributed by late critics to the little-known painter, Bernardino de' Conti. The Madonna's face, her hair drawn smoothly over her temples, has a beautiful matronliness. Still another is the Madonna of the Green Cushion, by Solario, in the Louvre. Here the babe lies on a cushion before his mother, who bends over him ecstatically, her fair young face aglow with maternal love as she sees his contentment.

We have noticed that in one of Corregio's pictures the babe lies asleep on his mother's lap. It is interesting to trace this pretty motif through other works of art. No phase of motherhood is more touching than the watchful care which guards the child while he sleeps; nor is infancy ever more appealing than in peaceful and innocent slumber. Mrs. Browning understood this well, when she wrote her beautiful poem interpreting the thoughts of "the Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus." Hopes and fears, joy and pity, are alternately stirred in the heart of the watcher, as she bends over the tiny face, scanning every change that flits across it. Each verse suggests a subject for a picture.

Madonna of the Diadem
We should naturally expect that Raphael would not overlook so beautiful a theme as the mother watching her sleeping child. Nor are we disappointed. The Madonna of the Diadem, in the Louvre, belongs to this class of pictures. Like the pastoral Madonnas of the Florentine period, it includes the figure of the little St. John, to whom, in this instance, the proud mother is showing her babe, daintily lifting the veil which covers his face.

The seventeenth century produced many pictures of this class; among them, a beautiful work by Guido Reni, in Rome, deserves mention, being executed with greater care than was usual with him. Sassoferrato and Carlo Dolce frequently painted the subject. Their Madonnas often seem affected, not to say sentimental, after the simpler and nobler types of the earlier period. But nowhere is their peculiar sweetness more appropriate than beside a sleeping babe. The Corsini picture by Carlo Dolce is an exquisite nursery scene. Its popularity depends more, perhaps, upon the babe than the mother. Like Lady Isobel's child in another poem of motherhood by Mrs. Browning, he sleeps—

"Fast, warm, as if its mother's smile,
Laden with love's dewy weight,
And red as rose of Harpocrate,
Dropt upon its eyelids, pressed
Lashes to cheek in a sealèd rest."

In Northern Madonna art, the Mater Amabilis is the preëminent subject. This fact is due partly to the German theological tendency to subordinate the mother to her divine Son, but more especially to the characteristic domesticity of Teutonic peoples. From Van Eyck and Schongauer, through Dürer and Holbein, down to Rembrandt and Rubens, we trace this strongly marked predilection in every style of composition, regardless of proprieties. Van Eyck does not hesitate to occupy his richly dressed enthroned Madonna at Frankfort with giving her breast to her babe, and Dürer portrays the same maternal duties in the Virgin on the Crescent Moon. Holbein's Meyer Madonna, splendid with her jewelled crown, is not less motherly than Schongauer's young Virgin sitting in a rude stable.

Rembrandt in humble Dutch interiors, Rubens in numerous Holy Families modelled upon the Flemish life about him always conceive of the Virgin Mother as delighting in her maternal cares. As has been said of Dürer's Madonna,—and the description applies equally well to many others in the North,—"She suckles her son with a calm feeling of happiness; she gazes upon him with admiration as he lies upon her lap; she caresses him and presses him to her bosom without a thought whether it is becoming to her, or whether she is being admired."

Dürer.—Madonna and Child.
This entire absence of posing on the part of the German Virgin is one of the most admirable elements in this art. This characteristic is perfectly illustrated in Dürer's portrait Madonna of the Belvedere Gallery, at Vienna. This is an excellent specimen of the master, who, alone of the Germans, is considered the peer of his great Italian contemporaries. Frankly admired both by Titian and Raphael, he has in common with them the supreme gift of seeing and reproducing natural human affections. His work, however, is as thoroughly German as theirs is Italian. The Madonna of this picture has the round, maidenly face of the typical German ideal. A transparent veil droops over the flowing hair, covered by a blue drapery above. The mother holds her child high in her arms, bending her face over him. The babe is a beautiful little fellow, full of vivacity. He holds up a pear gleefully, to meet his mother's smile. The picture is painted with great delicacy of finish.

The Mater Amabilis is the subject par excellence of modern Madonna art. Carrying on its surface so much beauty and significance, it is naturally attractive to all figure painters. While other Madonna subjects are too often beyond the comprehension of either the artist or his patron, this falls within the range of both. The shop windows are full of pretty pictures of this kind, in all styles of treatment.

There are the portrait Madonnas by Gabriel Max, already mentioned, and pastoral Madonnas by Bouguereau, by Carl Müller, by N. Barabino, and by Dagnan-Bouveret. Others carry the subject into the more formal compositions of the enthroned and enskied Madonnas, being, as we have seen, not without illustrious predecessors among the old masters. Of these we have Guay's Mater Amabilis, where the mother leans from her throne to support her child, playing on the step below with his cousin, St. John; and Mary L. Macomber's picture, where the enthroned Madonna folds her babe in her protecting arms, as if to shield him from impending evil.

Bodenhausen.—Madonna and Child
By Bodenhausen we have the extremely popular Mater Amabilis in Gloria, where a girlish young mother, her long hair streaming about her, stands in upper air, poised above the great ball of the earth, holding her sweet babe to her heart.

Pictures like these constantly reiterate the story of a mother's love—an old, old story, which begins again with every new birth.