Le Madonelle

The smile of Madonna greets me every morning when I get out on my balcony with a cup of coffee. The painting in an oval frame is situated on the corner of a house at a small intersection of two streets and is in direct line of my vision. Its colours are darkened with time but the image is still clearly visible, and people do stop in front of it from time to time.

Madonella

There are many similar themed paintings along the streets and piazzas of Rome – they are called Madonelle (Little Madonnas) in reference to their small size. Some of them are well cared for and others  – are  neglected, but all of them were placed there initially for the protection of passerby.

From all the images of iconography- hers is the most familiar and the most relatable to me. Her life is ordinary and magical at the same time. The stages of it are familiar to many women – a girl, a maiden, a wife, a mother, a woman of a certain age, and are well documented.

The miracles that happened in her life – the visitations of the angels which preceded her becoming the Mother of God and later the Queen of Heaven inspired numerous artists – but they didn’t relief her from suffering. She endured the tragedy of losing her child and that alone forever connects her with the world of people. No wonder that she has been one of the most popular subjects of art for centuries

The major place that Virgin Mary has been occupying  in collective conciseness is often reflected in the color of her clothing – most always she wears blue which  not only symbolizes her connection to Heaven, but  happened  to be the most expensive colour in artists’ palette in the Middle Ages reserved for the most important images.  It was derived from ground lapis lazuli, a precious mineral imported mainly from Afghanistan.

Mary carries many titles – most of them emphasize her Status as the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven, but some – are more lyrical and closer to earth: Our Lady of Sorrow, Madonna of Humility, Madonna del Latte, Madonna del Roses. And then there is  Stella Maris/Our Lady, the Star of the Sea that has been in use from the 9th century and is shown in images by placing the star in her clothing.  The title underlines her role as a sign of hope and as a guiding light of mankind, but there is certain familiarity in it –  after all each of us one time or another stared at the stars of the evening sky, admiring their mystery and light.

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Fragment of Madonna of the Shadows, c.1450 Fra Angelico

 Referring to this title Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in the 12th century :

If the winds of temptation arise, if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation

Look to the Star, call on Mary:

If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry,

Look to the Star, call on Mary.

As I walk the streets of Rome, I mentally greet each of the Madonelle –  silent witnesses of our present and our past.

Greetings Madonna, I see you.

 

 

 

StArt

During the past months I have been seeing a lot of art related FB posts where the art images are used for compilations to address the changes in our everyday living brought by CoranoVirus or “recreate some famous paintings” challenges.  This tendency highlights the importance of art especially in  stressful times. Visual images are the ones that anyone can understand and they transcend different backgrounds or languages. I think it is also more engaging than pure texts because they are easier to grasp – by now we are very much used to moving images of news, films, emojis, GIFs, etc.

It made me think of art and how its role in my own life.

For the longest time I thought of  artists as superheroes who have magical ability to transform pedestrian objects  into pure magic. With their touch the words were able to lead me into  adventures or describe precisely what I long for, the paintbrush elevated the ordinary life into dreamy images , the music notes arranged themselves into auidio images of various moods.

It was always something to admire, to learn about, to share that knowledge with others.  I never thought of partaking in its creation.

Early in my childhood I was told that I didn’t have a music bone  in my body and my attempts to draw simple geometrical forms during school classes were pitiful.  I knew I  I had the way with words but I never thought that I could be good enough to devote myself to them as a vocation. That was the theme at that time in my country – if you are not good enough why bother? Why would you try to sing, to draw, to write if you are not planning to make a living out of it. And if you are not good enough to make a living  out of it – why are you wasting your time?

So, I  firmly limited myself to being an admirer.

And then little by little my attitude started to shift. At first, there was a discovery that all the artists are mere humans, talented,yes, even  brilliant at times, but always flawed like the rest of us.

Secondly, I started to notice that in fact I were able to capture a melody with my voice very closely – not always, not even often,  but I could and in such instances I got compliments. This completely shattered the notice of being musically dead. Challenged yes, but not dead.

My writing even in the adopted language were good enough to have some published art reviews, and I grew more confident in this field too,  but the art of drawing remained elusive. I dabbed into it through the years, picking up the basics of ink painting, and re-creating with pencils some of the Japanese designs. I did have to have a picture in front of me at all times- there were not enough skills, but mostly not enough courage, to deviate.

And then we came to Rome, where little by little I started to draw almost every day. What was the trigger? Why now I find myself drawing every day? And more curiously, I  don’t even mind to share my childlike images with people?

During the summer in the US I picked up a notebook that had both blank and lined pages, and that when the desire for creative expression kicked out all the hesitation. In the evenings I started to put my gratitude on the lined pages, and across from it – trying to capture my mood or a thought in drawings. At times it was just colouring of the page, sometimes I draw an object of the house, at times I looked up the instructions on how to draw this or that, and sometimes I drew from the photographs taken earlier in the day.

There is no hidden agenda – I am not preparing myself to life of the artist, I am doing it just because of the sheer joy of drawing. It helps me to think, to sort through the day, it calms my mind, it stretches my creativity. The proportions are wrong, and the perspective doesn’t exist but it is not really a point – I feel like I finally answer the urges of the creativity.

There is no hidden agenda – I am not preparing myself to life of the artist, I am doing it just because of the sheer joy of drawing. It helps me to think, to sort through the day, it calms my mind, it stretches my creativity. The proportions are wrong, and the perspective doesn’t exist but it is not really a point – I feel like I finally answer the urges of the creativity.

Practice any art, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” Kurt Vonnegut