Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)
The Madonna and Sleeping Child with the Infant St John the Baptist ('Il Silenzio')
Oil on canvas
51.2 x 68.4 cm
The Royal Collection, London
Mary enjoins silence from an Infant John the Baptist as the child Jesus sleeps
The atmosphere is subdued and the characters seem to come out of the shadows in the background
The seemingly simple scene prefigures the Passion.
Christ rests lying on a table, a kind of altar. In face he rests on a white sheet, remiiniscent of a shroud. Mary holds the lifeless child as she will do later in a Pietà
Cherries, the fruits of Paradise, and symbols of Heaven, lie near the grasp of the sleeping child
The centrepiece of the composition is the gesture of the Virgin putting to silence
Pope Benedict XVI once spoke of the importance of silence and Mary as the woman of silence
"Inward and outward silence are necessary if we are to be able to hear this word [of God].
And in our time this point is particularly difficult for us. In fact, ours is an era that does not encourage recollection; indeed, one sometimes gets the impression that people are frightened of being cut off, even for an instant, from the torrent of words and images that mark and fill the day.
It was for this reason that in the above mentioned Exhortation Verbum Domini I recalled our need to learn the value of silence:
“Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence” (n. 66).
This principle — that without silence one does not hear, does not listen, does not receive a word — applies especially to personal prayer as well as to our liturgies: to facilitate authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and of non-verbal reception."
Silence is also a favourite theme in the teaching of Pope Francis
In a talk to young pilgrims from Lithuania, he said:
"Another good way to grow in friendship with Christ is by listening to his word. The Lord speaks to us in the depths of our conscience, he speaks to us through Sacred Scripture, he speaks to us in prayer. Learn to stay before him in silence. to read and meditate on the Bible, especially the Gospels, to converse with him every day in order to feel his presence of friendship and love."
A witty Anglican clergyman once compared the Church to a swimming pool. He said that the most noise and shouting was at the shallow end.