I’m not big on the veneration of icons, even though I’m aware of this rich tradition within the Orthodox Church. I don’t think my lack of interest in icons is a by-product of having an Protestant Evangelical background, which is sometimes characterised by an erroneous conflation of veneration and worship in the context of icons and relics.
Nope, I simply looked at icons and couldn’t discern their appeal.
However, this weekend I came across an image painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau 1899 entitled: The Virgin of the Lilies
Here it is and do click the image if you wish to enlarge:
This image hit me in a surprising, unexpected, and powerful way.
It’s worth noting of course that this painting is not an icon painted by an iconographer. William Bouguereau was a French academic painter whose realistic genre paintings and mythological themes were modern interpretations of Classical subjects with a heavy emphasis on the female human form.
It was in noticing a Bouguereau image (The Madonna of the Roses) on the side of Stacy’s blog earlier, that gave me the courage to post about this one.
It’s easy to criticise the above painting for its Western bent; however, I must confess that’s part of the appeal for me, in that it gives me something familiar to take hold of. Moreover, having such a high Christology, coupled with the Catholic elevation of Mary, the Holy Family slipped out of my grasp briefly.
They felt so lofty and mystical as to be unapproachable.
This painting beautifully encapsulates the humanness of the Christ Child and His Mother and gave me a great sense of relief in remembrance that they were flesh and blood mired in this world as I am. I’m also awed by the vulnerability aspect.
This truly is an image I could venerate and pray in the presence of.