And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 6. april 2011

Epistles from Edinburgh - Christ among roses

As I mentioned in the previous blogpost, one of my most treasured encounters in the National Gallery was Botticelli's The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child (from about 1490). Botticelli is one of my favourite painters, possibly due to the way his smooth and sinuous brushstrokes enhances the piety of the objects and the way he manages to fasten emotion to matter, rendering it fixed and eternal in contrast to its fleeting nature. It was therefore a great pleasure to unexpectedly come upon this painting while meandering the rooms of the gallery.

Botticelli's art resonates very strongly in me, both as an aesthete but perhaps chiefly as a Christian. The soft postures of his figures, their tender gestures and the mild colours of his compositions are key aspects of his works, and this is partly why I count him among the greatest painters ever to have lived.

The motif of the Virgin and Child is frequently found in Botticelli's works, a fact that is unsurprising if we consider that this was a favourite motif of contemporary patrons, be they noblemen or guildmen. However, the reason of this recurrence is not solely the motif's popularity in contemporary taste, but also due to Botticelli's eminent talent for emotion and composition. The mixture of realist techniques mixed with certain stylised renderings of objects create an almost vague realism where objects are not always rendered the way they are, but always rendered in a manner that conforms to expectation and spawns immediate recognition.

What struck me about this particular painting was first of all its beautiful imagery. Christ sleeping among roses is to me the perfect allegory of His life and passion, the roses adumbrating what will ensue in times to come, an adumbration enhanced by the Virgin's sad posture of parental concern, vaguely presaging what fate awaits the sleeping child. The painting stayed in my mind long after we had left the gallery and I decided to compose a poem. It is not an ekphrasis, since this is a painting that does not invite such an approach, but rather it is a reflection of how I understood the painting and my emotional response.

Image taken from the homepage of the Scottish National Gallery.

Christ among roses

After Botticelli's Virgin adoring the sleeping child

Child, do the rose-thorns sting you
In their quiet adumbration?
Weep, then; weep for this world's woe
For it is yours, child-god, crafter of angels.

Weep, child, and let each rose
Be a looking-glass into futurity
Of blood mingled with tears.

Gold, of the earth, makes crowns for kings,
Puppets of the mundane lord,
But roses, facing Heaven,
Makes a perfect diadem for God.

Hush, child, sleep; sleep among roses,
Sleep where no gold is found, for kings,
Aspiring wealth, seek the earthen jewel, not the rose.

- Edinburgh, March 20-21 2011

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