(Madonna & Child, Pompeo Girolano Batoni, 1742, Galleria Borghese, Rome)
There has always been a special place in my heart for the subject we are looking at today:
The Madonna and Child.
Italian artist, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, painted this "Madonna and Child" masterpiece in 1742.
Pompeo was, quite simply, the most successful painter in 18th century Rome.
What happened to bring him to this point of prominence?
Well, it's never just one thing, is it?
It's obvious to any person with normal vision that Pompeo was born with raw talent.
But weather was definitely a factor.
Pompeo was busy drawing sketches of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome in the spring of 1727.
The rains hit Rome hard in April of that year.
An Italian count happened to drop by seeking shelter under the portico of the palace.
He scoped out Pompeo's sketches and was impressed.
Batoni invited the good count to his studio to view more of his work.
Pompeo's first commission:
A new painted altarpiece for the chapel of the count's family in San Gregorio Magno al Celio.
Folks flocked to see the painting in the chapel.
They liked what they saw.
And a star was born.
Of course, it didn't hurt that celebrated painter, Anton Mengs, Pompeo's only serious rival, decided to head for Spain in 1761.
Later, Pompeo became a highly regarded portrait painter.
The movers and shakers in British society were especially attracted to his work.
Many of these upper crust VIP's stopped by Pompeo's studio in Rome to sit for their portraits.
Indeed, records show that Pompeo painted over 200 portraits of the British elite during his show-stopping career.
American painter, Benjamin West, visited Rome in 1760.
Pompeo's work was the talk of the town.
West said that Italian artists "talked of nothing, looked at nothing but the works of Pompeo Batoni."
And we can see why.
Eventually, Pompeo bought a sizable house in Rome, which included his studio, exhibition rooms and a drawing academy.
It became the meeting place for Rome's social and intellectual elite.
Master Batoni had it made in the shade.
And then some.
One glance at his "Madonna and Child" tells the tale.
This is an exquisite painting.
It is clean.
Simplistic in design.
It is technically brilliant.
The sublime colors drift hazily against the charcoal backdrop.
And the subject?
It is perhaps the most hallowed in the history of art
We are looking at the world's preeminent model of motherhood, Mary, the mother of Christ.
Eyes lowered, she quietly gazes upon her holy infant.
The virgin's head is turned toward him as his tiny hand cups her chin in his hand.
Mary's left hand gently touches the back of her son in a motherly embrace.
Her right hand barely grasps his swaddling wrap.
And what about the Christ child?
His plump little body is perched on two gold-tasselled pillows.
The babe's head is pointed upward toward his mother.
His eyes are fixed on Mary.
What could be more natural?
Christ depends on his adoring mother for every needful thing.
He looks to her for life itself.
There is a bond between them that speaks of the highest love.
And the deepest dignity.
Christ cradles a ripe apple in his right hand.
It reminds us of the apple eaten in the Garden of Eden.
That bitten apple would someday require a sacrifice of unthinkable magnitude.
Only a perfect God could offer such a sacrifice to the world.
The infant Christ, holding the fully ripened apple, is the appointed one.
The Anointed One.
But the time is not yet.
There is a season for all things.
Now is the season for blossoming growth.
A season of learning......
and childhood joys.
Mary will be with her precious son every step of the way.
This is a mother who knows all too well that she must live in the moment.
She will stand by His side with the kind of devotion that only a mother can give.
At the end of His days, she will stand with Him until His work is finished.
Because that is what a mother does.
And what does a divine Son do?
He asks a beloved friend to look after His anguished mother in His absence.
Because His love for her is pure, holy, and without blemish.
This Son knows she will suffer.
His heart's desire is for His mother's burdens to be lightened.
By one He can trust to stand in His stead.
Near the end of His agony, Christ speaks to John and says,
"Behold, thy mother."
Mary will be cared for until the end of her days.
By John, Mary's son in spirit.
Motherhood is the highest of callings.
Every woman who has ever lived is called to that noble stewardship.
It does not matter if the woman has birthed biological children or not.
It simply does not matter.
What does matter is this:
The motherly woman will desire to love, teach and shepherd children.
This woman will gladly offer her individual talents, gifts and skills to that end.
And because of her motherly desires,
and because of her personal talents and gifts,
each of these women will become the most unique mother the world has ever known.
Motherhood is the most sacred sort of work.
It speaks of holy sacrifice.
And unnumbered blessings.
With every swish of Pompeo's brush......
he testifies to that truth.