Anonymous (Brazil)
Our Lady
soapstone with silver crown
Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. AM 7044

General Description

Used to consider inculturation a movement to revive and appreciate indigenous culture, we sometimes forget that at one time, inculturation meant introducing culture of the old world into countries of the new world. The Brazilian sculpture of Our Lady is the product of such process. Demonstrating excellent workmanship, the statue, dated to the middle of the 18th century, is a typical example of baroque style, and as such, reflects classical canons of Western culture. There is first the overall posture of the praying Madonna. Her prayer appears both self-conscious and enraptured, projecting a truly baroque synthesis of heaven and earth embodied in this proud and exalted person. Clouds and garments intensify the impression of a spiritual whirlwind, seizing the figure of Mary and transporting it to a place beyond human reach. Nevertheless, cape and robe blown by the wind suggest a this-worldly presence made of playful elegance and expansive self-confidence. This Madonna figure is a queenly figure as her crown suggests, but her queenship seems to be heaven-on-earth rather than that of other-worldly abstraction. In the end, the question may be raised: where does “sacred theater” end, and when does art become theatrical and artificial?

The Significance of Baroque Art

Mary is the central theme of baroque art basically because of its obsession with making visual and tangible the spiritual realities of faith. She unites in her person both of these qualities. If baroque architecture becomes a “sacred theater,” her life and her person are reminiscent of the sacred play re-enacted in this sacred space. In her, Jesus the true synthesis of heaven and earth, becomes visual and tangible. Baroque art is didactic art. It wants to teach (the decrees of Trent), and it wants to prove (the rightful endeavors of Counter-Reformation). Baroque mentality is not only inspired by the reactionary tendencies of Counter-Reformation; it is feeding as well from the ideas of humanism and classical antiquity. Three expressions summarize some of the most important tendencies of baroque religious culture and art:

Persuasio (persuasion): the enthusiastic power of persuasion that leads to a display of visualization and rejoicing over the salvation event.

Compassio (compassion): the eagerness to reach out and bring all and everybody into actively participating in the “sacred theater” of salvation.

Ordo (order): the attempt of building again a unified cosmos of the heavenly and earthly world.

We find these ideas in some of the great themes of Marian representations during that period. The Queen of Heaven embodies in her physicality the enthusiastic power of persuasion. Our Lady of Victory protects and brings together all those who seek unity and need compassion. The Immaculate Conception, another major iconographical theme of baroque times, is the personal embodiment of “ordo,” the unity between heaven and earth.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog: The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary, pp. 114-115.

The Mary Page features the national patronages of Latin American countries. See:  http://www.udayton.edu/mary/resources/english.html

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