Monday, July 11, 2005

The Duccio "Madonna"

Not long ago my wife and I drove to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (one of the benefits of living in Northern NJ) to see the Duccio "Madonna" before it was removed for a quick cleaning. It will be back in its place of prominence July 13.

There is an interesting article of how the painting was purchased in the current "New Yorker" (July 11). I was quite impressed with the little 8.5 by 11 painting (ca. A.D. 1300 - see picture above). It arrests the eye with its bright, clear colors, and with its tenderness of form. When you contemplate the picture, you recognize that you are seeing a transitional moment in art - from the formality and stasis of the Byzantine, to an attempt at capturing a real moment in time, which is a hallmark of post-fourteenth century Western painting. The infant is clearly Byzantine (a little "adult"), but he clings to the Virgin's mantle with tiny fingers, as she lovingly gazes at him, instead of looking outward toward the viewer. It is also easy to not notice the parapet below them, placing this image in an Italian 14th century setting.

The painting costs $45 million, which doubles the previous Met purchase - and I think it's worth every penny, and I'm a Calvinist! Which brings up an important point: how do faithful Reformed folk justify appreciating images of Christ in art without violating the Second Commandment or their Standards (e.g., Q.96 of the Heidelberg Catechism)? I think the answer lies in the word "worship." Unlike Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox, the Reformed Christian does not allow a picture of God into the sanctuary, or worship God through such a representation, either privately or publicly. Yet in the sanctuary of the church which I pastor, there are two stained-glass windows depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd, and risen from the grave. The images of Christ fall into a different category, in that Christ was not only God, but also fully human, so our depictions of him are permissible, as long as we do not worship Christ through such pictures: that is, no kissing of icons, no praying to statues.

My appreciation of the Duccio "Madonna," or for that matter, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is not only one of aesthetic enjoyment, but also involves appreciating (or criticizing) the theological message(s) being communicated. God has given sublime gifts to men, and our hearts are lifted up in joyful thanksgiving for allowing us to share in His creation. Art is medicine for the soul, and this little teaspoon by Duccio is one I will gladly swallow.


Blogger Steve said...

Thanks, Scott.
I enjoy the interaction between art and theology as well.
Currently reading Paul Johnson's History of Art

10:29 AM  

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