THE MADONNA OF LOVE.

(THE MATER AMABILIS.)

Decorative Image

ndoubtedly the most popular of all Madonna subjects—certainly the most easily understood—is the Mater Amabilis. The mother's mood may be read at a glance: she is showing in one of a thousand tender ways her motherly affection for her child. She clasps him in her arms, holding him to her breast, pressing her face to his, kissing him, caressing him, or playing with him. Love is written in every line of her face; love is the key-note of the picture.

The style of composition best adapted to such a theme is manifestly the simplest. The more formal types of the enthroned and glorified Madonnas are the least suitable for the display of maternal affection, while the portrait Madonna, and the Madonna in landscape or domestic scenes, are readily conceived as the Mater Amabilis. Nevertheless, these distinctions have not by any means been rigidly regarded in art. This is manifest in some of the illustrations in Part I., as the Enthroned Madonna, by Quentin Massys, where the mother kisses her child, and Angelico's Madonna in Glory, where she holds him to her cheek.

Gathering our examples from so many methods of composition, we are in the midst of a multitude of pictures which no man can number, and which set forth every conceivable phase of motherliness.

Let us make Raphael our starting-point. From the same master whose influence led him to the study of external nature, he learned also the study of human nature. To the interpretation of mother-love he brought all the fresh ardor of youth, and a sunny temperament which saw only joy in the face of Nature. One after another of the series of his Florentine pictures gives us a new glimpse of the loving relation between mother and child.

The Belle Jardinière gazes into her boy's face in fond absorption. The Tempi Madonna holds him to her heart, pressing her lips to his soft cheek. In the Orleans and Colonna pictures she smiles indulgently into his eyes as he lies across her lap, plucking at the bosom of her dress. Other pictures show the two eagerly reading together from the Book of Wisdom (The Conestabile and Ansidei Madonnas).

The painter's later work evinces a growing maturity of thought. In the Holy Family of Francis I., how strong and tender is the mother's attitude, as she stoops to lift her child from his cradle; in the Chair Madonna, how protecting is the capacious embrace with which she gathers him to herself in brooding love. No technical artistic education is necessary for the appreciation of such pictures. All who have known a mother's love look and understand, and look again and are satisfied.

Correggio touches the heart in much the same way; he, too, saw the world through rose-colored glasses. His interpretation of life is full of buoyant enjoyment. Beside the tranquil joy of Raphael's ideals, his figures express a tumultuous gladness, an overflowing gayety. This is the more curious because of the singular melancholy which is attributed to him. The outer circumstances of his life moved in a quiet groove which was almost humdrum. He passed his days in comparative obscurity at Parma, far from the great art influences of his time. But isolation seemed the better to develop his rare individuality. He was the architect of his own fortunes, and wrought out independently a style peculiar to himself. His most famous Madonna pictures are large compositions, crowded with figures of extravagant attitudes and expression. The fame of these more pretentious works rests not so much upon their inner significance as upon their splendid technique. They are unsurpassed for masterly handling of color, and for triumphs of chiaroscuro.

There are better qualities of sentiment in the smaller pictures, where the mother is alone with her child. It is here that we find something worthy to compare with Raphael. There are several of these, produced in rapid succession during the period when the artist was engaged upon the frescoes of S. Giovanni (Parma), and soon after marriage had opened his heart to sweet, domestic influences.

The first was the Uffizi picture, so widely known and loved. The mother has gathered up her mantle so that it covers her head and drops at one side on a step, forming a soft, blue cushion for the babe. Here the little darling lies, looking up into his mother's face. Kneeling on the step below, she bends over him, with her hands playfully outstretched, in a transport of maternal affection.

Following this came the picture now in the National Gallery, called the Madonna della Cesta, from the basket that lies on the ground. It is a domestic scene in the outer air: the mother is dressing her babe, and smilingly arrests his hand, which, on a sudden impulse, he has stretched towards some coveted object. The same face is almost exactly repeated in the Madonna of the Hermitage Gallery (St. Petersburg), who offers her breast to her boy, at that moment turning about to receive some fruit presented by a child angel. There are two duplicates of this picture in other galleries.

The Zingarella (the Gypsy) is so called from the gypsy turban worn by the Madonna. The mother, supposed to be painted from the artist's wife, sits with the child asleep on her lap. With motherly tenderness she bends so closely over him that her forehead touches his little head. It is unfortunate that this beautiful work is not better known. It is in the Naples Gallery.