Anonymous (Vietnam) Madonna and Child early nineteenth century painted wood Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. 2944
General Description

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.

Her red and blue robes indicate a living synthesis of spirit and body in her person.

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 Immaculate Conception.

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.

Richly 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 Celebrates Mary, pp. 116-117

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