Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Musing: Preti's "The Visitiation" and Our Search for the Infinite

When we rounded the corner to the left and into the Baroque room at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this morning, my eyes welled with tears. There it was; the painting I had visited the museum for, a painting called "The Visitation" by 17th century Baroque master Mattia Preti, a Calabrian and a protege of Caravaggian naturalism.

How fitting the painting first went on display here on Christmas Eve.

I was struck by vulnerability on the face of the Blessed Mother and even more moved by how Elizabeth's hands are touching Mary's belly, which is newly ripe with child. What a deeply human gesture. Elizabeth, who in old age is pregnant with her own child, realizes Mary, who took a perilous visit to see her, is to be the Mother of God.

Elizabeth realizes the word has become flesh.

It dwells among us to this day.

"This is one of the coolest things we've obtained recently," the docent standing near the painting told us.  My family chatted with him and some other museum visitors for a few minutes and then he suggested we check out the woodblock display around the corner.

It was the first time to this Richmond museum for my sons and me; Greg had visited 30 years earlier. The museum has an exhibit right now called Water and Shadow, which features the early works of Hasui Kawase , a Japanese landscape painter and woodblock print maker. In 1923, an earthquake in Japan destroyed most of his work.

As I toured the woodblock exhibit, I thought about how we are all born with a longing for Beauty, for the Infinite. I thought about how incredible it is that Preti's oil painting somehow survived through the centuries. How amazing the woodblocks survived the earthquake.

I thought about how Kawase's art also reflect the longing to capture the ephemeral nature of life.

In other words, artists attempt to memorialize our lives. But God-made-flesh gives us the possibility of disappearing forever back into the Mystery that made us. Elizabeth's moment of recognition is the reality reflected in Preti's powerful painting.  

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