Anonymous (Philippines)
Madonna and Child
eighteenth century
Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. AU 2899


An ivory sculpture from the Philippines, this Madonna and Child was executed in a Western style which is reminiscent of the so-called “Schöne Madonnen,” pleasant and pleasing, with a slightly s-shaped body (here, probably due in part to the tusk from which it was carved). The softly draped garment, the curved, cascading hair, the elegant gesture of the right hand, the self-assured pose, and smooth oval face make this statue to be a precious object of art, in expression (beauty) as well as in matter (ivory). The image of the mother suggests certain self-sufficiency to a point where the critical onlooker may wonder whether the child is more than a mandatory afterthought. He appears comfortable enough on His mother’s arm, but He seems to be detached from the mother and lost in His own world.

Marked by the Word of God

Madonna and Child should not be separated, neither in fact nor as suggestion. Styles and iconographic programs may change. The one fundamental message remains:  Madonna and Christ Child cannot be separated. Together they symbolize the union of heaven and earth, that is God’s human presence in this world for our salvation. The art of the Madonna should lead us on or back to God. Where the Madonna is a mere expression of herself, of self-sufficiency, her art becomes a cul-de-sac, a dead-end. On the contrary, the art about her fulfills its true purpose when she points to the glory of God. This is true for Our Lady of the Gospel by Hugh Witzman. The posture of this sculpture is that of Our Lady of receptiveness and attentiveness. Her chest is marked with the symbols of the four gospels. The Word of God has been carved unto her body; it has been imprinted on her heart. She is the open book of God’s glory, and His salvation.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog:  The Mother of God:  Art Celebrates Mary, pp. 118-119.

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