The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is a true gem of Indiana’s state capitol. When one thinks of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis, they do not typically think truly great art collections at a large and magnificent museum. However, it turns out that Indiana has a history of great art and the IMA is both a part of and a continuation of that history.
Immediately apparent are the dark tones, the bowed figure, and the instruments of Christ’s passion and death in the lower left corner. The description next to the painting at the IMA says, “In this work, the Virgin’s grief-stricken gaze is fixed on the shroud, crown of thorns, and nails in the foreground. This painting was probably intended as an aid to meditation on the instruments of Christ’s Passion.” (The full description can be read online here). In addition to it aiding meditation the painting also seems to depict devotion. This is accentuated by the posture of kneeling, the manner in which the hands are brought together, and the gaze of the Virgin. While there is certainly grief expressed on her face, it is not the grief of a mother who has just watched her son die and whose heart has been pierced by a sword. The expression rather elicits the sadness that comes with memory, of his passion and death made present again. While no one has experienced and, therefore, expressed the grief that the Holy Mother of God has, the face expressed above is not the face of the Virgin alone, but is rather the face of any millions of Christians who have meditated in loving devotion upon our Lord’s Passion and the instruments of that passion.
What immediately struck me though was the Virgin’s face. It is round, full, soft, and youthful. There is a theological meaning behind her face. It points to her purity and innocence, but it also points to her perfect love of God, her Son. What temptation our Blessed Mother must have endured in those days that her Son lay in the tomb! Her sorrow and anguish had to be great, but was there anger? Her Son was unjustly put to death in one of the most horrible and humiliating ways possible. Was she tempted to murder in her heart through anger? Regardless of whether she was tempted in this manner or not, the image above shows the reality: She did not sin. The depths of her sadness rather than being directed at others in rage and hate were directed to her Son in love. Always was her gaze upon her Son.