If you cannot be an art historian, one of the best things you can do in life is have loved ones in your life who are. I count this as a great blessing! These friends have patiently helped me learn how to “read” some of the works of art around me. I am so grateful for the quiet moments I have spent learning about some of the most beautiful things in the world thanks to their patience and generosity of knowledge and insight.
And while it is probably a signature move of a non-expert, I am going to admit that I have a favorite painting. I do. The painting is in Rome and I have been thinking about it a lot this Christmas season. I am writing about it today because it has helped define the past few months for me.
In the Sant’Agostino Church in Rome, on an unassuming street not far from the famous Piazza Navona, stands the Madonna di Loreto. There are scores of smart Caravaggio experts who have written about it. This painting, like so many by this artist, is filled with interesting backstory and gossip and some scandal. That’s only part of the reason why I find it fascinating. (You can read more here and on this clever blog called “Caravaggista“).
I love this scene of two eager pilgrims visiting baby Jesus and Mary. These are not the images of people far removed from reality. They are people that might have been found among their contemporaries in Baroque-era Rome. The pilgrims’ feet are bare, and appear well worn from hard work and long travels. They are people who are seeking the Christ child, not because they are elite, but because they are like everyone else. And they find him, not on a distant throne, but at the doorstep in a neighborhood that could be around the corner.
This painting resides in a quiet, and mostly dark corner of this beautiful church. There is not a lot of fanfare associated with it, and I have rarely found anyone waiting in line to see it. Visitors are required to deposit a Euro coin if they want the activate the lights. But the painting never ceases to teach me a lesson about light. It reminds me that light appears when we humble ourselves to serve others. The painting seems to suggest that any of us can find Christ if we seek Him, serve and love. The people in the painting are not glamorous, but they certainly are beautiful. Their beauty comes from the light of the scene and the holiness they seek in their lives.
So I am sharing this painting with people I love this Christmas. We are all pilgrims. We are all seeking light. Just because our feet are worn or our clothes aren’t pristine, it doesn’t mean we cannot seek and find peace. We are imperfect. But that doesn’t mean we cannot, or should not, seek Christ this Christmas.
O Come Let Us Adore Him. All of us. Especially those of us who are riddled with flaws and weakness. Let’s find a friend and seek Him. Merry Christmas.
P.S. There are so many reasons to love this painting. If I had the means, I would bring everyone I love to Rome to tour the Caravaggios. It must be said that the baby Jesus in this painting reminds me of the very baroque-bodied Sherinian infants that we have in our family. The way Mary’s fingers cradle the chub of that baby remind me of the heft (and joy) that a child can bring into a home or community. (photo credit: Caravaggista – thank you!)