Which Madonna?

Lecture given on 10/7/2010 by Father Johann G. Roten, S.M. during the reception for the exhibit of Marian art by MB Hopkins, Seething and Soothing--The Madonna Between Hope and Havoc in the Marian Library Gallery at the University of Dayton

Among the thousand faces of Our Lady, some intuited, others decreed, which one is MB Hopkins' face of Mary?  No doubt there is the allusion to the icon in her art: its somewhat rigid and hieratic look, the otherworldly impression that makes it a window unto eternity.  The seamless connection between the wide forehead and the elongated nose speaks of spiritual quality and unimpeded presence of the divine.  But there is a second mark etched in the face of MB Hopkins' face of Mary; the marks of life lived, the strain of experience, the wornness of human maturity.  It gives Mary's face the contours and expression of an expressionist El Greco putting human drama into the elusive mimic of the icon. A face with two faces?  A double-faced Madonna?  All authentic religious painting has two faces: one turned toward eternity the other impregnated with the more familiar seal of the human, all too human.  The ultimate art lies in the ability and skill of the artist to merge the two without maiming either of the two faces.

MB Hopkins' Madonna evolves along a fine line of demarcation between the official Madonna and one she has personally experienced.  Her Madonna is the result of what we might call a process in five stages.  It begins with the search for a mediator or intercessor: this is the time of her Wakeman, Ohio experience.  Helplessly confronted with the tragedy of eleven children forced to sleep in cages, she seeks for the one who listens, the compassionate helper and intercessor.  She will find it in the fascination with the "global icon" of mother and child, Mary and the Christ child. Here she finds comfort, peace, and the grace that is God's ultimate power in this world.  However, this Madonna is a seething and soothing mother.  Her face expresses anger and suffering.  There is no place for shallow sentimentality. She is no cheap religious alibi for the atrocities committed in this world.  The soothing is real but so is the seething. There is hope but only for those who fight havoc.

MB Hopkins' Mary is Our Lady of Escopetarra, the Madonna of those who refashion their shotguns (escopeta) and make them into guitars (gitarra).  This Madonna, only this Madonna, does MB elect as companion and soul-mate, the one who is "always there," who is "good for a night’s sleep," "for another day," and a time "of respite."  Not enough, the artist presents this Madonna as personal gift to others, sharing Mary's comfort, peace and grace, both the seething and soothing Mother of God.  In the end she is not the answer.  She wraps her arms protectively around the victims of the Tsunami, one with the unleashed forces of nature, one also with maimed humanity.  But there is one painting in the exhibit that sets a new accent and by the same token speaks the final word in this process of assimilating Mary into the soul of the artist.  In the painting called The Gift there are three actors.  One of the magi with a big money bag, next Mary with both figures plunged in an atmosphere of chiaro-scuro.  Only the tiny Christ child is bathed in brilliant light.  He is the gift.  The global icon of Mother and Child draws its true meaning from the child.  The mother remains mediator and intercessor.


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