Antoniazzo Romano (attributed to) (1430/5-1510)
Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (triptych, centre panel)
Oil on panel
55 x 32.9 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London
The infant John the Baptist gazes intently at the Christ child but with Love
Filled with Love, Mary gazes at the viewer and with her hand gestures the viewer to look on Christ and come forward to him
A Loving Christ gazes into the distance at someone and raises his hand in blessing
The background is gilded. The setting is Heaven
Mary and Christ both wear tunics of gold. However her veil and cloak is blue adorned with a star. His cloak is red, symbol of the Passion
John is wearing the sack clothes and ashes of his later years
Mary acts as the throne of Christ, a living throne
If one could go back two thousand years and looked at Mary, Christ and the Baptist, one would not see much to look at. Easily passed over and forgotten about
Without faith, one would simply see a Palestinian mother holding her child accompanied by another gurgling infant
With faith, the scene changes into a glimpse of the Divine and that is what Romano is depicting.
Hence what would have been a portrait painting becomes an icon
Pope Benedict XVI on 4th January 2012 explained in his catechesis on the Nativity of the Lord:
"God becomes so close that it is possible to see and touch him. The Church contemplates this ineffable mystery and the liturgical texts of this Season are steeped in wonder and joy; all Christmas carols express this joy.
Christmas is the point at which Heaven and earth converge and the various expressions we hear in these days stress the greatness of what has came about: the remote — God who seems very remote — has become close,
“The inaccessible wanted to be accessible, he who exists before time began to be in time, the Lord of the universe, veiling the greatness of his majesty, took the nature of a servant” St Leo the Great exclaimed (Sermon 2 on the Nativity of the Lord, 2.1).In that Child who needed everything as all children do, what God is — eternity, strength, holiness, life and joy — is united with what we are: weakness, sin, suffering and death.
The theology and spirituality of Christmas use a phrase to describe this event, they speak of an admirabile commercium, that is, a wondrous exchange between divinity and humanity.
St Athanasius of Alexandria says: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God” (De Incarnatione, 54, 3: PG 25, 192), but it is above all with St Leo the Great and his famous sermons on Christmas that this reality became the object of profound meditation."