Parial’s paean to the Madonna and Child
By Ruben Defeo
The depiction of the Madonna and Child in the visual arts is a much-revered tradition for centuries now. From its initial appearance in the catacomb art of early Christians in the third century, it continues to evolve into several types of representation.
One of the famous and more popular depictions of the Virgin is known as the Panagia Nikopoia. It shows the Madonna seated on a throne holding the Christ Child on her knees, thus stressing her role as Theotokos or God-bearer. This image is commonly referred to as the Maesta.
In many paintings portraying the adoration of the three wise men, the Madonna appears as the Theotokos, usually with face upfront and in hieratic pose. Such depiction remained the standard over centuries. In the 13th century Italy, the tradition was relaxed when the more human and tender influence of the Franciscans gentrified the image. From a very formal depiction of the Virgin, the image, as favored by the Italian and then the French painters, tended to show the Madonna as the Theotokos Hodegetria, pointing to the Child sometimes seated on her lap, sometimes held on her left arm.
The Theotokos Hodegetria is the type of the “portrait of the Virgin” ascribed to have been painted by St. Luke. It is this same image believed to have been sent from Jerusalem to Constantinople in the fifth century, possibly by Empress Eudoxia.
The image is named after the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople where the original was kept at least from the 12th century onwards. Some accounts argue that it was destroyed after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Other sources claim, however, that the image is in St. Mark’s in Venice, as part of the loot from Venetian sack of the city in 1204.
As probably the most influential of the devotional images of the Madonna, it gave rise to variations each portraying a gesture of increasing tenderness. If the Virgin is portrayed as affectionate to the Christ Child, she is the Theotokos Eleousa. If she is embraced by the Christ Child, she is the Theotokos Glycophilousa. If she is shown suckling the Christ Child, she is the Theotokos Galaktotrophousa.
It is this gentler less formal treatment of the Madonna that many contemporary artists are heir to. From the revered hieratic icons of the medieval period to the more relaxed Renaissance specimens, this popular theme in the visual arts has been revisited and reinterpreted to produce countless variations of the genre.
Mario Parial, leading Marian painter in the country today, is no exception.
In, “Mother and Child (Bamboo),” Parial more than contemporizes the revered Maesta. He even indigenizes the theme by positioning the two figures against a phalanx of bamboo as backdrop. Parial infuses the subject with folk motifs that the once highly religious genre is magically transformed into a tender picture of a mother poignantly nurturing her son. The use of colors not conventionally associated with the Madonna and child like green and brown, helps in secularizing the theme.
The same visual attitude informs “Pasasalamat.” The image may apparently appear as a picture of a mother tending her infant. But the inclusion of the yellow star shining at the right hand upper corner of the picture field brings about glad tidings and joy that normally go with the celebration Christmas.
“Pasasalamat” is not just the title of the work but the solo exhibition that Parial is opening at the Galerie Joaquin on Dec. 19. The occasion is more than auspicious since it connects smoothly to the spirit of thanksgiving pervading during the yuletide season.
Indeed, Parial has many things to thank for.
Over the last two years, the works of Parial have been seen worldwide through their inclusion in two internationally circulated books on Marian devotion. His painting entitled “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” done in 2004 graces the pages of Charlene Spretnak’s Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2004.
As reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly, the book by Spretnak, a feminist Catholic and religion professor, “argues forcefully that while the ‘progressive’ (rational, modern) wing of Catholicism that initiated reforms in Vatican II made some very good changes, it was utterly wrong to ‘disappear’ Mary. Spretnak purposely uses this verb in the same manner as with the unexplained kidnappings and murder by Latin American junta: the Catholic Church, she says, took the Salve Regina out of the mass and removed her statues from the churches. But just as the families of los desaparecidos keep, their loved ones’ images alive through private memories and tributes, so too have millions of Catholics kept Mary in her former place as Queen of Heaven. Spretnak is not convinced that it is a more feminist position to reduce Mary to her Biblical role as a simple woman from Nazareth; she claims instead that it would be much more empowering to women to return to Mary to her cosmological office as a mediatrix and co-reedemer. The book is a nice blend of theological argument and reportage of popular piety, outlining a fissure within the Catholic Church between those who miss the old Mary and those who support her more limited status. Spretnak highlights the resurgence of Marian devotions and veneration, which have been privatized to the home (home shrines, the revival of the rosary) and even the garden (the resurgence of medieval Mary Gardens).”
Priya Hemenway’s Little Book of Mary published bv Barnes & Noble, includes Parial “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” done this year. The author, who is not a Catholic writer, writes more frequently about Eastern religion. As a tribute to Marian devotion, the book has been hailed a s a sound, objective view of our Lady, her archetypal imagery and the devotions associated with her.
Another reason for Parial’s joy is his inclusion in the anniversary auction this year billed as “Southeast Asian Paintings” at Sotheby’s. His “Nine Fishes” fetched a hefty sum and is now in the private collection of a Filipino based in Singapore.
This year 2005 has truly been a rewarding year for Parial. Aptly, this thanksgiving sentiment is handsomely depicted in “Masaganang Ani” to punctuate the exhibit. The work combines the Madonna and Child image and a resplendent rendition of the abundance of a local harvest.
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