Saturday, March 9, 2013

Madonna Tickles Baby

My recent three day trip to Florence  was a delightful immersion in the great classics of the Renaissance. The main problem is, of course, knowing where to look - another Donatello or should we decamp to Santa Trinita or climb the Duomo or is it time for another espresso at Cafe Rivoire?

Such are the dilemmas when you are free and in Florence. Our visit to the Bargello was an obvious highlight: early in the morning we were the first arrivals and had Donatello's and Verocchio's Davids all to ourselves.With no one else in the room except for a couple of guards, I got so close to Donatello's David, I could see my breath momentarily stain his boots.

But of all the magnificent frescoes and paintings, great and small, it was this painting, in the Uffizi that struck the deepest cord within me.

It is a very small painting, probably by Massacio - the Tickling Madonna.  Somehow the intimacy of the gesture, for me at least, was wholly unexpected.  During this period, when humankind became the measure of all things, even the divine is brought down from the high heavens and made human (and the human is made divine). And here we see the divine, in the form of the Blessed Virgin and the infant Jesus involved in a gesture that signifies something that humans, but also other animals, engage in - play; the mother playfully tickles her child.

Your mother did it to you and even the Mother of God, the Queen of the Heavens, did it to her divine son. As she touches him gently in the folds of his neck and he grasps her hands, she gazes down at him lovingly, yet with sadness.

Jesus was tickled by his mum, that's the message that Masaccio unexpectedly revealed to me from across the centuries, one sunny winter's morning in the Uffizi Gallery.

Forgive the pun, but this painting touched me.