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Artwork of the Week

Artwork of the Week: March 13, 2023

Madonna of the Plane

Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929), 'Madonna of the Plane,' 1885, oil on canvas, 33 7/8 x 36 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Diane Husein, 2021. Featured in the exhibition Of Souls and Sacraments.

Dagnan-Bouveret portrays the Virgin and Child resting quietly in a simple carpenter’s shop. The Infant’s divine glow penetrates Mary’s veil and emphasizes His divinity. Jesus’ placement, nestled against her chest, suggests the notion that Mary kept her sacred, maternal insights about His identity in her heart, private but profoundly felt because of their intimate kinship. The two nails visible within Mary’s halo reference the subject of her contemplation: Christ’s mission and pending sacrifice. Thus, the artist depicts Mary as a modernized version of Mater Dolorosa, the sorrowing Virgin, whose own heart is pierced by those same nails because of her deep love and suffering. The surrounding hand planes – used to smooth and shape wood – drill pieces, and wood shavings allude to Joseph and Mary’s humility.

Images of the Holy Family’s lowly circumstances became common in the nineteenth century, as they conveyed Jesus’ understanding of life’s struggles and the burden felt by the lower classes, as well as the potential for all sincere followers to fulfill God’s work regardless of worldly circumstances.