Madonna and Child
Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. AS 9174
This statue was given to Pope Paul VI in 1970, and was placed in his
studio where it remained until his death. The artist’s name is Den Fet-Ma.
He was Chinese and cast this life-sized bronze statue around 1870. It
represents a young mother holding the naked baby tenderly against her
body, possibly rocking it to sleep. The figure of the woman shows proud
but natural bearing. Her posture and countenance radiate vitality and
joy inspired by the gift of life she holds in her arms. Her regal
appearance is enhanced by the form-fitting gown and the sophisticated
hairstyle characteristic in some Asian countries of noble birth.
The Many Faces of Inculturation
Religious art was first introduced to China by Matteo Ricci di
Macerata (1552-1610). Among the first images reaching China we have the
famous image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani, the Madonna of
Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome), and missionary image par excellence used by
Jesuit missionaries all over the world. This image, a copy of the Roman
original, was copied by Chinese artists. In the process, a
transformation took place introducing Chinese patterns for vestments and
facial expressions (around 1600).
The Method of the Rosary (c. 1620) by Giovanni da Rocha was
illustrated by Chinese artists using as model for the fifteen mysteries
of the Rosary the illustrations printed in G. Nadal’s book of liturgical
meditations (1595). A juxtaposition of the two renderings of the
Annunciation – Western (Nadal, left) and Chinese (Rocha, right) – shows
an evident progress of inculturation. The Annunciation is placed in a
sumptuous setting incorporating nature but safeguarding the structure
and meaning of the event. If we now turn our attention to contemporary
art work from China, we notice that there exists a tendency to blend
into one traditional and contemporary styles. He Qi, e.g., is mixing
Chinese folk art and contemporary Western styles to portray the Annunciation scene.
His intention is to overcome the limits of geography and culture. The
result may be more Western than Chinese.
In the case of Den Fet-Ma’s sculpture, the outcome is different. The
allusion to the Western sense of individuality and vitality is
assimilated and translated into canons of Chinese artistic sensitivity.
For more information:
Consult the exhibit catalog:
Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary,
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