Her red and blue robes indicate a living synthesis of spirit
and body in her person.
Madonna and Child
early nineteenth century
Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. 2944
This somewhat mysterious statue of Asian provenance (Vietnam) but of
evident European makeup is loaded with theological meaning. Of
transfixed gaze and majestic pose, the Madonna holds the Child in a
leger-de-main fashion underscored by the vivid expression on the Child’s
face. The onlooker gets the impression that the boy will not stay much
longer with his mother. Whatever the call he perceives, the Child will
eagerly and energetically engage in his mission. But it is the mother
who is the carrier of a rich theological symbolism.
The crown identifies her as Queen: royalty by virtue of her
Son’s royal status.
The serpent under her feet, based on the traditional reading of
Genesis 3:15 (“I will put enmity between you and the woman....”) is an allusion to
Mary’s involvement in Christ’s mission as redeemer.
The crescent moon under the woman’s feet is, with the serpent,
a symbol of Mary’s victory over sin, but serves also as reference to her
Holding the Christ Child in her arms highlights her divine
maternity. She is Theotokos, the God-bearer.
Finally, the oriental traits of the Madonna’s features combined
with the iconographical type of European origin, suggest cultural
synthesis and universality of meaning.
endowed with theological meaning, this statue of painted wood is like a
little catechism on salvation history and Mary. However, art
sometimes departs from explicitly theological meaning in order to
highlight and provide a socially oriented message. The Marian Library
has among its holdings an icon by the Ohioan artist, John Solowianiuk,
which he called Mother of God of Chernobyl (wood, dyes and
gilding). The message here is not primarily theological but social. The
Madonna weeps and accuses. The stars on her veil and shoulders have been
replaced with symbols of nuclear contamination. She is grieving for the
innocent victims of human hubris, and for the children with deformed
limbs. Her right hand is outstretched in protest and accusation. Mary
represents the silent counter-culture of God’s peaceable Kingdom.
For more information:
Consult the exhibit catalog:
The Mother of God: Art