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Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Madonna of the Book

The Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan is currently hosting an exhibition on Botticelli entitled Botticelli in the Lombard Collections

One of the paintings which it owns and is exhibiting is The Madonna of the Book (below)


Sandro Botticelli (1445 circa – 1510) and Filippino Lippi (1457 circa – 1504) ?
Madonna col Bambino detta “Madonna del Libro” / Madonna and Child known as The Madonna of the Book
1482 -1483 circa
Tempera on wood
58 × 39,5 cm
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

The scene is lit by the natural light from the window. But the persons depicted seem to illuminate the scene from some inner light

The Madonna is with the Child. She is holding open the Book. The Book might be a Book of Hours. It seems to be open at two passages from Isaiah: two prophetic passages dealing with the conception and birth of the Saviour.

St Augustine said: "The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New”, (Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2, 73: PL 34, 623)

St Gregory the Great wrote: “what the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible; what the former announces in a hidden way, the latter openly proclaims as present." (Homiliae in Ezechielem I, VI, 15: PL 76, 836B)

Mary`s hand is over the words "Be it unto me according to Thy Word". Mary is depicted as the ideal reader of the ideal book. She is the medium by which the Logos is made flesh

For the medieval viewer, "God`s Book" was either Scripture or God`s Word made flesh in Christ

The painting contains prefigurations of the Passion. On the child`s left wrist appears to be an item of jewellery, rosemary resembling a Crown of Thorns. Less noticeable is that in the child`s left hand, he is holding three golden nails

On the table there is a beautiful maolica bowl holding fruit. The cherries allude to the blood of Christ, the plums to the sweetness of the love which the Virgin bears towards her child, and the figs to the Resurrection of Christ

Mary and the Word was considered by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini

He wrote:

"The Synod Fathers declared that the basic aim of the Twelfth Assembly was “to renew the Church’s faith in the word of God”.

To do so, we need to look to the one in whom the interplay between the word of God and faith was brought to perfection, that is, to the Virgin Mary, “who by her ‘yes’ to the word of the covenant and her mission, perfectly fulfills the divine vocation of humanity”.

The human reality created through the word finds its most perfect image in Mary’s obedient faith.

From the Annunciation to Pentecost she appears as a woman completely open to the will of God. She is the Immaculate Conception, the one whom God made “full of grace” (cf. Lk 1:28) and unconditionally docile to his word (cf. Lk 1:38).

Her obedient faith shapes her life at every moment before God’s plan. A Virgin ever attentive to God’s word, she lives completely attuned to that word; she treasures in her heart the events of her Son, piecing them together as if in a single mosaic (cf. Lk 2:19,51).

In our day the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God’s word.

I would encourage scholars as well to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. This could prove most beneficial both for the spiritual life and for theological and biblical studies. Indeed, what the understanding of the faith has enabled us to know about Mary stands at the heart of Christian truth.

The incarnation of the word cannot be conceived apart from the freedom of this young woman who by her assent decisively cooperated with the entrance of the eternal into time.

Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her. Mary also symbolizes openness to God and others; an active listening which interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life.

Here I would like to mention Mary’s familiarity with the word of God.

This is clearly evident in the Magnificat.

There we see in some sense how she identifies with the word, enters into it; in this marvellous canticle of faith, the Virgin sings the praises of the Lord in his own words:

The Magnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of her soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate”.

Furthermore, in looking to the Mother of God, we see how God’s activity in the world always engages our freedom, because through faith the divine word transforms us. Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us:

“devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith is of capital importance for bringing about in our day a concrete paradigm shift in the Church’s relation with the word, both in prayerful listening and in generous commitment to mission and proclamation”.

As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives.

Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all.

Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments."