Monday, December 24, 2007

A Blessed Christmas

Madonna mit dem Apfel

Here is my "Christmas card" for you, with a wish that everyone may receive the gift of joyful wonder at this season.

In my various travels -- real and virtual -- I am always enchanted to discover yet another image of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus with beads. So many of these pictures were clearly painted by people who love and are well acquainted with REAL babies and how much they love to play with something so appealing to the sense of touch.

Infants approach the whole world with a sense of openness and discovery, as you'll know if you've ever tried to keep one from putting everything she encounters into her mouth. I have yet to see the Holy Infant shown actually chewing on beads, but I'm sure that's going to happen any minute now in some of the paintings I've seen. Fortunately, the beads are usually red coral, a good and harmless (if expensive!) choice for teething on.

This particular painting is a bit of a mystery. I've seen two versions, and while I'm no art historian, it seems fairly clear from the museum labels that no one is sure just who painted either one. I found the color version above on REALonline (which, annoyingly enough, I can't get to work at the moment, so I can't easily check what it says about the painter). My notes say it is tentatively identified as a copy after Joos van Cleve, but all I can see that this has in common with van Cleve's work is that he painted the same subject, the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus. The style of the painting is quite different.

Then I found what seems to be a slightly different version of the same painting -- this one has a bit of landscape in the background, seen through a window, but the pose is identical:

Madonna mit dem Apfel

This image comes from the KIK-IRPA (Royal Institute for the Study and Conservation of Belgium's Artistic Heritage) website, and the painting is in Liège at the Musée Curtius (which seems to be in flux and doesn't have a very organized website at the moment). The information on the KIKIRPA site attributes this one to the school of Joachim Patinir (1480-1524), which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either, considering all the paintings I can find online by him are broad landscapes with a few small human figures. So I don't think this is really his style either.

It sounds to me like the curators who wrote the labels were guessing. I'll be keeping my eyes open, and would welcome any further pointers. (So far I and my faithful readers are 2 for 2 on identifying mysterious paintings!)

I should mention, by the way, that for the purpose of creating a pretty "greeting card," I've done quite a bit of retouching and mending on the color image above. The original looked quite scratched and rather beat-up, and I've tried to smooth over the flaws while (hopefully) not destroying essential details like the folds and edges of the Virgin's very filmy and transparent veil. (I'm interested to see the Virgin's ears showing so clearly through her veil. It seems a bit unusual to see her ears at all -- usually they're completely covered. Aren't women's ears supposed to be rather erotic at this period?)

One intriguing feature that I think I can see a bit more clearly in the Belgian black and white image is the drinking glass on the side table. It's something of an artistic challenge to paint a transparent object, and the details don't come through very clearly in the color image, which is rather small. The black and white version shows a bit more detail including -- I think -- indications that we have here a covered cup, not a simple goblet. The detail below shows where I've lightened the image to show the lid -- I'm obviously meddling with the image here, but I'm following original details that I think I can see in closeup view.

Apfel goblet

There's a rather better detail of such a covered glass here.

Additional links

Previous Christmas cards:
Christmas 2006
Christmas 2005

An article about another painting by van Cleve which was altered later to include a passion flower

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