Pr. Scott Bryte Berkeley Hills Madonna
Giclee Print of Oil on panel 16x20” Scott Bryte, 2016a.D.
The traditional image of the infant Jesus with his mother is known in western Christian art as a Madonna (Italian for “my Lady”), and in the eastern Orthodox tradition as a Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”). The earliest known example of this art form dates to 431a.D.
The Berkeley Hills Madonna acknowledges both of these traditions, with the gilded background and Greek lettering found in classic orthodox iconography, but with the figures of the infant Jesus and the virgin Mary rendered in the realistic style of the western renaissance.
While rooted in tradition, the Berkeley Hills Madonna is a re-visioning of the form, intended to proclaim the Gospel to people in the 21st century. A few features are worth pointing out:
The Greek text is from Colossians 1:16 - “All things were made through him and for him”
Mary is portrayed as in her mid-teens (yes, there is acne) and Semitic.
Traditionally, Mary is looking at Jesus, to direct the gaze and attention of the viewer on to the Lord. Here, Mary is looking directly at the viewer, inviting them to share with her in holding onto the One who gives life and meaning.
Jesus is shown with the correct proportions for a 3-4 month old infant, rather than as a miniature adult as is often the case.
In what might be the biggest departure from the expected, Jesus is smiling. His focus in on the world that was created through him and for him.
Jesus is holding the earth, and is looking specifically at the Holy Land. The earth is depicted as it is seen from space.
The white blanket that is wrapped around Jesus hangs down over the bottom of the image and breaks the frame. Jesus cannot be contained by our expectations, by religion, by history or by death.
The shape of the blanket hints at western church architecture, with arches, buttresses, etc. The way that Christ breaks through into the real world is through his body, the church.
The Berkeley Hills Madonna is located at Berkeley Hills Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh.