Friday, April 1, 2011

Icons, Idols?

So, art history is one of those things that can get me started on this big discussion or lecture. I start by showing Seth some of my favorite images then I start telling him the stories and contexts behind them (a great way to study, by the way). Yesterday he began by talking about Mary, and how she's probably a good saint to reflect on during this time of Lent and pregnancy. He mentioned Mary's Magnificat and I shouted, "Botticelli has a tondo painting of that scene!" In which I promptly pulled out my textbook and explained how the idealized and gorgeous virgin and baby Jesus icon was scrutinized by the Dominican Monk, Savonarola, who attributed the ills and down-fall of Florence near the end of the 1400s to the "vanities" of the culture. That is, icons that to me began to take on humanistic portraiture to stand in for holy figures (I'm talking about you Fra Fillipo Lippi, and using your wife as a stand in for the Madonna). During medival times icons were painted with gold backgrounds and green flesh, with the Christ Child in a gesture of blessing and Mary in the "one who points the way (way=Christ)." This was to signal a holy, transcendent being, but here in the Neoplatonic Renaissance, we see painters and patrons who believe that to be worldly is not bad, for being worldly was then to be beautiful which was to be like God, since we are made in the image of Christ/God etc etc. Beauty was revered and vanities by the major patrons of the time (cough cough Medici) such as Botticelli's Mary Magnificat were scrutinized, (personally I feel) rightly, for having strayed away from Christ and from the teachings of the church ( from the meek and humility, poverty, etc to lavish extravagance and material beauty).
Giotto's Madonna and Child

Botticelli's Mary Magnificat

Now to write from a purely conjectural point of view....honestly I don't know much about the history of the Catholic church or of the church in general, as I'm still learning, but I know from my experience Catholicism has gotten a bad rap. Coming from my evangelical background, Catholicism isn't really seen as Christian, but rather a cold and lifeless motion of steps of strange idolatry to saints, of a weird, foreign structure that seems to be really restrictive. I used to think Catholic=Mary worship. And perhaps this shallow stereotype is one that isn't completely unfounded (I look at icons from the 1400s and Mary is becoming more and more glorified--baby Jesus, rather than in a gesture of blessing, is reaching for Mary's face.), Mary's position in the tradition could have been misinformed by humanist and worldly thought. But to think about who Mary was and her position of carrying the Redeemer of humanity, you have to reason that Mary's position (as well as all other saints) in the Church, in the Chrisitian narrative and tradition should not to be taken lightly. She cannot be dismissed as a mystical Catholic icon that seems to be worshiped. Seth suggested to me that I consider Mary as an example for me. Pregnancy is not the easiest thing in the world to accept. Let me be clear, when that stick showed up positive I could not have been more thrilled. SOOOOO happy, but when I see my body changing (I want the belly, but to be frank, my face is filling out, as is everything else...), when I have to sit down after like 30 minutes, when I have to eat all the time, when I have to consider every drop of food I eat, and how I eat it (I think I'm experiencing heartburn for the first time ever), when I look like some teenager going through a rough breakout, I begin to feel like I am not myself anymore. I am not in control of my body. I must be submitted to the process of being pregnant. Mary submitted to the mystery of acceptance of Christ. It is a beautiful metaphor to hold the Word, the Light, close(how much closer could you get than in the womb?!). Mary was faithful, and why did she do it? It was a pure love; our choice perhaps to allow Christ to enter and control our lives. It's really powerful, and I'm especially lucky to be in a position where I can experience this submission first hand. My job now, in this time of uncertainty, of waiting, of even grieving the loss of the vanities of my youth, is to be faithful to what I have submitted myself to: to being a mother, to carrying life, to taking care of the work I have been given now to do. Those are what I need to concern myself with now, not worries of how it's all going to work out four months from now.
17 weeks (almost 5 mos)

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