Sunday, February 14, 2010

Waitrose to Bastiani

Saturday morning, a fleeting visit to Waitrose, where references to Valentine's day were imposible to avoid, was in order. In one of the aisles we met Jane, the wife of Shaun who is the minister of Helen's church; jane mentioned that Shaun had pointed out that the date was also the feast of St. Methodius (albeit only in the Roman Catholic church). The reference to Methodius intrigued me so, on returning home, I went online to find out a little more about Methodius and, the first image I was greeted with was the celebrated icon of Cyril and Methodius holding the Glagolitic scroll.

 Mind you, this is something of a diversion from the main topic of this posting but, it was the starting point for a little process of rediscovery. As I viewed the icon, I wondered if I could possibly find a reproduction of a painting which has gently haunted me for several years. The painting I had always thought to be attributed to Giovanni Bellini but, on referencing the artist and the collection in which this picture could be found I was delighted to discover an illustration ( of this wonderful painting attributed to Lazzaro Bastiani (who had evidently worked, at times, with both Giovanni and Gentile Bellini).

I first became fully aware of this painting, of the Madonna and Child, in the days when I occasionally attended exhibition previews and Open House at the beginning of the season for Harewood House. Those who attended these openings with me invariably knew that, regardless of the purported preview I was attending, they would be likely to find me enraptured by this painting. The image is very simple and direct, a flush-cheeked teenage mother cloaked and hooded in a dark blue garment holding a child, apparently somewhere between two and four years of age. The mother has a rather dolorous expression, her eyes conveying a deep sense of foreboding, a touching vulnerabilty. Her hands have a somewhat tentative gentle hold on the robustly healthy child, almost as if they yield to the knowledge that all too quickly she'll have to let him go his own way. The infant in this painting is definitely a child, rather than the miniature adult so frequently portrayed in paintings of this period.

I've saved a copy of the image to my computer, cropping it from the elaborate frame, and printed a small copy from which I find it difficult to avert my gaze. As someone whose primary area of art historical interest is American and British painting of the mid-twentieth century, it seems rather strange that this simple image could hold me in such thrall.


SimplyTim said...

Hi Mal, and Happy Valentine's Day,

My wife and I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston the other day. Numerous paintings of Madonna and Child. One of the mysteries to me was why the hand of the Madonna which was holding the Child always seemed disproportionately large. Such a heavy load to hold? The need for a very steady hand?


Malcolm said...

Hi Tim, Thanks for the greeting.

I suspect that, at the period when M&C paintings were most common, the large hands are a result of exagerrated foreshortening in an attempt to bring the child forward as the artist attempts to represent 3D space on a flat surface. Just a thought.