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This article by Phyllis Maguire was prepared for the December 5,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Holy Mother and Child
You can go to a second floor gallery at the
Museum of Art to see Italian painter Lorenzo Costa’s small but
image of "Virgin and Child." Or you can simply go to your
mailbox. Costa’s painting, created circa 1490, is being featured this
Christmas season in about 800 million reproductions as this year’s
choice of the U.S. Postal Service for its holiday stamp.
The tradition of issuing a "Madonna and Child" postage stamp
for the Christmas season began in 1966, when a painting by Flemish
master Hans Memling was chosen for a first-class stamp — which
then cost five cents. The tradition has continued almost every year
since, with images of mother and child chosen from collections
American museums. The choice of Costa’s painting this year was
gratifying, says Joseph Rishel, the Philadelphia Museum’s curator
of European art, because the museum is also celebrating its 125th
The Madonna and Child genre grew out of a long tradition of
portraiture, Rishel explains. But in Byzantine art from earlier
Mary and Jesus were icons, with a mature-looking yet miniature-sized
Christ perched on his mother’s knee, the two of them posed
on ornate thrones and adorned with elaborate halos. The mood of
depictions was monumental, the divine magnificence of the paintings’
subjects rendered in a riot of precious gold.
That gave way in the Middle Ages to more natural-looking, if still
highly stylized, depictions. By the 1200s, the Mother and Child had
become exactly that — a recognizable young woman holding a
infant or toddler. The artistic shift away from iconography was
tied into the changing notions of women," says Rishel.
"Instead of this monumental formalism, you see the woman as this
central image, embodying all the importance of maternity," he
says. "It’s the whole concept of boys and their mothers, the
ability to protect and nurture — all of which becomes one of the
most powerful images in Western art."
But in early medieval paintings, Mary and her child are draped in
rich robes, set in complicated landscapes of turreted castles or
with blooming roses and lilies that symbolized the Virgin’s charity
and chastity. And the two are typically surrounded by a celestial
entourage, angels with harps and trumpets, or a gathered host of
saints, a divine gloss given to what often looks like a portrait of
a young aristocrat, posing among her court with her child.
The medieval period gave way to Costa’s era: that of the High
a time when artists chose to depict the full complexity of human
rather than the monumental or mannered. Costa has made his Mother
and Child (in close-up, no less) the only images in the painting.
All the material trappings — of wealth, power, majesty, and divine
consorts — have fallen away, while the subjects’ divinity is only
suggested by halos of the thinnest filigree.
Instead of celestial splendor, we are drawn into a painted snapshot
of a private, human moment. Mary’s unadorned blue cloak is set against
a dark background, while her strong hands support her baby as he
on a gray parapet. (This wall and the child’s lower legs have not
been included in the postage stamp). Although his right hand reaches
back to clutch the cloth around his mother’s neck, the baby’s solemn
gaze rests on something outside the frame, his attention already drawn
far from the circle of his mother’s arms.
Mary seems hardly more than a child herself, studying her son with
an expression that seems, in our Prozac-steeped age, to be a
that borders on depression.
"She is serene, but she is melancholy," Rishel confirms.
other tradition that has evolved by this time is that Mary is wise
and all-knowing. Even though it’s a sweet image, behind this innocent
moment is the horrible premonition that she knows her son is doomed.
The image of mother and child includes what is to come — the other
great image of Christianity which is the Crucifixion, where this baby
grows up only to be killed."
One of the enchantments of the High Renaissance, Rishel
continues, is "this wonderful poetic centering, this classical
moment in image-making and imagination that moves freely between the
religious and the secular." Another of the era’s delights is the
caliber of its artists, including da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
Yet the period lasted only one generation, from the 1490s into the
1510s, Rishel says. The Mother and Child artistic tradition later
swung back to the ornate in the Baroque period and the conspicuous
splendor of the Counter Reformation.
Although not in the same league as Leonardo da Vinci, Costa shared
his contemporaries’ sensibilities. While both da Vinci and
left Florence for Rome — "which was becoming the New York
of the time," says Rishel — Costa (who was born in Ferrara
in 1460) spent part of his career in Bologna. He later moved to Mantua
and worked as a court painter until his death in 1535. He is best
known for altarpieces, several of which remain in Bologna, for his
"Allegories" in the Louvre, and "The Concert" in
National Gallery. Philadelphia’s "Virgin and Child" is a rare
example of his work in American collections.
The painting is part of a collection created by John C. Johnson, a
Philadelphia legal luminary who amassed what Rishel describes as a
"great collection," including excellent contemporary paintings
as well as Renaissance works. Upon his death in 1917, Johnson left
more than 1,200 paintings to the Philadelphia Museum.
This is the second time that a work of art from the Philadelphia
has been chosen to grace an American stamp. In 1998, a detail of
Duchamp’s 1912 "Nude Descending a Staircase," which belongs
to the museum, became part of the Postal Service’s "Celebrate
the Century" program.
— Phyllis Maguire
featured at post offices everywhere. The Philadelphia Museum of Art
is located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street in
Admission is $10 for adults; $7 for seniors and teenagers; children
under 12 are free. For museum hours and directions, call 215-763-8100
or visit www.philamuseum.org.
to Abutilon Theophrasti et al," a show of ceramics by Connie
Gallery is open by appointment during school hours. To December 21.
Road, 609-924-6700. Weavings, ceramics, paintings, watercolors, and
woodcarvings by the artists of Mexico’s Oaxaca region. Home to the
Zapotec Indians. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Demonstration and sale Saturday, December 15.
"Gilada Africana: An Exhibition of Lap Quilts and Wall Hangings
by Mo Fleming." Open Sunday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To
"A Far Eastern Perspective: Windows to a Vibrant Culture"
featuring printmakers Susumu Endo, Margaret K. Johnson, Yoshikatsu
Tamekane, and Hamanishi Katsunori. Gallery hours are Tuesday to
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To December 22.
of Stone: Roman Sculpture in the Art Museum" and "Pliny’s
Cup: Roman Silver in the Age of Augustus;" to January 20. Open
Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free
tours of the collection every Saturday at 2 p.m. Also "Camera
Women," a selective survey of the history of photography from
the perspective of the woman photographer, organized by Carol
"Contemporary Photographs." Both shows to January 6.
609-258-3184. "Not for Myself Alone: A Celebration of
Writers," the debut show for the Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Collection
of Jewish-American Writers. A two-volume catalog accompanies the
Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. On view to April 21, 2002.
The exhibit ranges from the early 19th century to the present day
and includes Yiddish-language writers as well as writers in English.
The earliest writer represented is Rebecca Gratz; other 19th-century
authors include Emma Lazarus, Isaac Leeser, Nathan Meyer, Penina
Mordecai M. Noah, and Isaac Meyer Wise.
In the lobby: "The Japanese Print," an exhibit curated by
Alfred Bush. To January 31.
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Unlimited Possibilities: Jacob
Works on Paper, 1950 to 2000." Landau, who gave a gallery talk
on November 9, died on Saturday, November 24. Gallery hours are Monday
to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. To
Lawrenceville, 609-895-5589. "Leland Bell: Works from the 1950s
to 1991," an exhibition of works by the New York School artist
who died in 1991. "Bell was a powerful artist who clearly
the role of tradition in art, particularly contemporary art. Bell
strongly affected a younger generation of artists, many of whom became
his close friends," says curator Deborah Rosenthal. Gallery hours
at Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.
To December 11.
609-771-2198. "The Political is the Personal: Perspectives from
the Latin American Diaspora," images by Elia Alba, Edouard Duval
Carrie, Eugenio Espinosa, Marina Gutierrez, Gloria Rodriguez, Freddy
Rodriguez, and Juan Sanchez. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday,
noon to 3 p.m.; Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m. To
West Windsor, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "Object Values"
photography of MCCC alumnus Eric T. Kunsman and Princeton artist Susan
Hockaday. Gallery talk December 12. On view Tuesday to Thursday, 11
a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday 6 to 8 p.m.; Thursday 7 to 9 p.m. To
"Giant Exhibit of Miniature Art" features more than 200 works
by 25 artists and featuring Florida artist Peggie Hornbrook. Gallery
hours are Wednesday 4 to 9 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday mornings, and by
appointment. To February 1.
"Small Works, Perfect Gifts," a holiday show by gallery
Vivian Abbot, Jay Anderson, Marilyn Anderson, DF Connors, Heinz
Jay Goodkind, Ed Greenblat, Rhoda Kassof-Isaac, David H. Miller, and
Carol Yam. Open Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. To
Road, 609-921-3272. Benefit Holiday Sale of paintings, drawings,
photographs by the Creative Artists Guild. Open Tuesday to Friday,
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To December 23.
Also "Celebration in Paint" featuring artists of the Raritan
Valley Arts Association; to December 28.
Betty Curtiss, plein air paintings in oil of the barns and bovines
of the Skillman Dairy Farm. Also still life paintings from the
Princeton neighborhood, especially the fish market. Gallery is open
Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To
Branch Station, 908-725-2110. The 27th annual juried members show,
juried by Lynne Allen, director of the Rutgers Center for Innovative
Print and Paper. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m.
to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To December 21
Hill: Art from the Hill," an exhibition celebrating Mill Hill
residents and their artwork. Works in all media by a group that
Ann and Jim Carlucci, Victoria Cattanea, Peter Crandall, Andre
Lisa Fullemann, Pierre Jaborska, Lisa and Peter Kasabach, and many
others. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.
To December 15.
"The Three M’s: Marge, Marguerite, and Molly," featuring works
by Trenton artists Marge Chavooshian, Marguerite Dorenbach, and Molly
Merlino. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.;
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To January 6.
"249 Years of Sculpture," a theme show by school staff and
apprentices featuring works by Emily Fleisher, Jack Gibbons, LaRue
Harding, Dennis Peyser, Zachary Orcutt, and Clifford Ward. Monday
to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To December 13.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. Open Tuesday through Sunday,
10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission
is $4 Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10
Annual memberships start at $45. To February 24.
"George Washington and the Battle of Trenton: The Evolution of
an American Image," an exhibition that documents the historic
context of the American Revolution, the "Ten Crucial Days"
of the Trenton campaign that was the turning point, and the subsequent
commemoration of George Washington’s heroic image by American artists.
To February 24.
Also "American Indians as Artists: The Beginnings of the State
Museum’s Ethnographic Collection," to December 15. "Natural
Selections: Sculpture by Elaine Lorenz," to December 30. "Art
by African-Americans in the Collection," to August 18, 2002.
"Images of Americans on the Silver Screen," to April 14, 2002.
Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday
noon to 5 p.m. Website: www.njstatemuseum.org.
On extended view: "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The
Record"; "Delaware Indians of New Jersey"; "The Sisler
Collection of North American Mammals"; "Of Rock and Fire";
"Neptune’s Architects"; "The Modernists"; "New
Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and Iron"; "Washington Crossing
Winter Exhibition features Albert Bross Jr. and Vincent Ceglia.
hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To January 6.
"Crilley 2002," an exhibition of new oils by Joseph Crilley.
Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday,
noon to 6 p.m. To January 6.
Paintings of Italy, England, and Nova Scotia, as well as Bucks and
Hunterdon County, are included in the show. Many of the works depict
familiar country scenes, bustling local street scenes, and
landmarks such as the New Hope-Ivyland Train Station. Crilley’s new
non-objective paintings also bring a new element to his broad and
capable range of expression.
James T. Lang, lithographs, colographs, and mixed-media works on
in the Artworks Building. Gallery is open noon to 9 p.m. daily.
609-397-4978. "Apropos," Malcolm Bray’s seventh annual show
of innovative contemporary painting and sculpture. Artists include
Rachel Bliss, Malcolm Bray, Jacques Fabert, Michael Hale, Diane
Bonnie MacLean, Dolores Poacelli, Barry Snyder, Patricia Traub, and
Annelies van Dommelen. Hung upstairs above the antique showroom, show
is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., to December 31.
609-397-3349. Myles Cavanaugh, "The Cigar Box Theater," a
solo exhibit of wooden boxes depicting three-dimensional scenes with
mechanical, moving parts inspired by Calder’s Circus. Gallery is open
daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesday. To December 30.
Cavanaugh says he enjoys the interactive quality of these dioramas.
"The viewer becomes part of the story," he says, " by
manipulating the figures and creating relationships between the
That psychological element causes people to continue to think about
the pieces." His gritty urban settings include a seedy motel room,
a walk-up apartment, and a barber shop.
908-735-8415. "Degrees of Figuration," a diverse exploration
of the human figure by five artists: Bill Leech, Tom Nussbaum, Keary
Rosen, Linda Stojak, and Charles Yuen. Also "Frank Sabatino,"
abstract wall sculptures created from rare woods and found objects.
And "Karl Stirner," welded iron abstract sculpture. Museum
hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To January 6.
215-340-9800. "Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism in
Painting, 1950 to 2000," an exhibition featuring the work of
recognized realist artists and educators who were born and trained
in Pennsylvania, or who spent their professional careers there.
artists include Diane Burko, Sidney Goodman, Alice Neel, Philip
Nelson Shanks, Andy Warhol, Neil Welliver, and Andrew Wyeth. Open
Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m. $6. To January 6.
Also: "Taking Liberties: Photographs of David Graham." The
Bucks County photographer, sometimes called a
has worked for 20 years exploring the nation’s heartland with his
view camera, and lovingly recording the creative and offbeat ways
that Americans mark their territory; to January 27. "Bucks
Children," paintings, prints, collages, and sculpture by students
of Council Rock School District. To December 31.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Exhibitions include "Robert Motherwell:
Abstraction as Emphasis," to December 9. "Mother Goose’s
Original Illustrations for Children’s Books from the Rutgers
to December 9. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to
4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission $3 adults;
under 18 free; museum is open free to the public on the first Sunday
of every month. Spotlight tours every Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m.
Continuing exhibitions include "Japonisme: Highlights and Themes
from the Collection," ongoing.
& Johnson Plaza, New Brunswick, 732-524-6957. "Nature as
watercolor paintings by Princeton artist Nancy Lee Kern based on
motifs and classical Greek mythology. By appointment only. To December
Kern grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and trained at the Maryland
the Albright Museum, and the Art Students League, New York. From
and etchings to larger works based on vast terrain and dramatic skies,
Kern’s works have featured nature as a central theme. "Nature
has served me well as an inspiration and a passion," she says.
"This spirit continues to flow in the brilliance of
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