Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Virgin a Day (4): Virgin/Mother Mary

Mary is the centerpiece of virgin-adulation
 in the Christian tradition, though she is
 not the only religious figure said 
to have given birth asexually.  
Nor was she the first. 

Mighty Isis gave birth to her son Horus
 by immaculate conception after Osiris
 was murdered and hacked into tiny pieces
 by his wicked brother Set.

Michaelangelo's Pieta - photo © MAK 2010

This Virgin Mary, of course, 
is part of the Pieta, 
an incomparable sculpture 
carved by Michaelangelo. 
Besides being rendered awestruck
 by its ethereal beauty, you can't help
 but notice that this Mary -- 
probably in her late 40s or early 50s 
at the time of the crucifixion -- 
has the countenance of a teenager. 

There are no wrinkles, 
no signs of life lived well. 
There is perhaps a suggestion of shock 
or perhaps surrender, 
but not the overt grief that might be anticipated 
from a human mother holding a son 
who died too young under horrendous circumstances, 
even a human mother
 who fervently believed in God's plan. 

Her first-born son, 
now lying cradled in her lap post-mortem, 
is represented as a mature man, 
albeit one whose proportions have been altered 
to fit in his mother-statue's lap. 
But Mary is pictured
 as still in the full blush of her maidenhood.

Art critics and commentators have lots of opinions
 about the symbolic meaning of Michaelangelo's choice. 
One interpretation is that Michaelangelo, 
a great fan of Dante's Divine Comedy, 
was showing Mary as the daughter of the Son 
in the Holy Trinity.

Michaelangelo himself remarked 
to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi:
Do you not know that chaste women 
stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste? 
How much more in the case of the Virgin, 
who had never experienced 
the least lascivious desire that might change her body?

Oh, for crying out loud! 

This woman wasn't just an icon. 
She wasn't just a vehicle to bring Jesus into being
 (though that's how Christianity treats her). 
Besides her rather famous first-born son, 
she bore and reared a number of other children. 

Are you telling me
 that in all the hoo-hah 
associated with glorifying 
the cult of the virgin aspect, 
poor Mary was stripped
 of all the passionate glory of sex 
that makes it a pleasure to procreate? 

She had no desires? That's pitiful. 
And says a lot about attitudes
 about women's sexuality
 if good old Michaelangelo's perspective
 was representative.

Condivi himself suggested
 that Mary's appearance as a woman
 much younger than her chronological age
 was a mark, not only of fortunate genetic inheritance
 (though he didn't use that phrase), 
but also a sign that she was blessed by God.

 Since I'm told I look much younger than I really am,
 I like this explanation best of all. 

(Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now
but Christianity has been a huge shaper
of attitudes about women, their roles,
and the need to control their sexuality.)

For more Virgins, click HERE.


deb did it said...

BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO...can you hear my applaud?

eb said...

oh this is good!

xox - eb.

rebecca said...

i see you have given this much thought. i myself have been teaching all day and am only now home to come a visiting.

i will say this...perhaps jesus was not rendered smaller, to fit in mary's lap. perhaps the scale is purposely in homage to mary. to finally yet subtly suggest that her gift to the world was immeasurable. that her lap is epic and so strong in its appearance here, as to be able to hold us all with her compassion and care.

as for the face of youth.....our culture has yet to fully embrace and revere old age, wisdom and character. it still glorifies youth/beauty.

maybe in this case youth was chosen as another subtle message; longevity. that mary's love and protection would be with us for all time.
so a marble statue with a vital mary for all time.

hey, i quite simply love mary!
primitive, simple, ornate, humorous, contemporary, huge or diminutive... i am swept away by her presence...
so just bring her on!!!

thanks for being here meri....i adore you and your mind.

Noelle Renee said...

This is the most beautiful of all of Michaelangelo's works. I never really focused on the issue of Mary's youthful appearance. I always focused more on the incredible compassion in her face. I wonder if that is what he was trying to draw out by having her remain youthful in appearance, focusing on the fact that she was only 14 when all of this first happened to her, and thirty three years later, she had suffered such deep and unimaginable loss. It is true that Christianity does diminish women and their sexuality in many respects, but Mary is about the closest we come to having a goddess culture again, when you think about it. We never should have lost it in the first place. Mary as archetype can be a source of empowerment if one's perspective is right. It is all about how you see it. She did have other children, it is true. I have never believed in the whole virgin birth myth to start with, but that is another story. Stunning Photo! I have seen it in person too.
Cheers Meri.

Peacefully*Chaotic said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!It is a beautiful work of art!I look forward to more of your posts!

Paula Scott said...

Yes, it is laughable that a man (especially in that era) could even begin to understand the psyche of a woman.
But, how wonderful that you got to see this work of art in person? To have cold marble have such life is remarkable.