"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful", Pope Pius IX
How does one actually put something into a picture what words cannot fully express and that no eye has seen like the Immaculate Conception? With painting the challenge is always to present something of the mystery in the simplest possible manner. The only way is to use symbols and attempt to weave them seamlessly together without drawing the viewer away from the whole. It is in this way that images can teach. Not in a didactic way, but through assimilation. First, we are struck by beauty, but if we remain, the image’s emotional power, meaning, and symbolism unfold before us and we can drink it in.
What do we see in this painting? Mary is standing over the world. Christ, with arms outstretched, spreads a golden mantle over her. Below is the world with the serpent coiled around it. In the background, fire surrounds the world and as we gradually move up the painting we see golden clouds and the light of day.
Mary, here, is depicted as the woman of Revelation. ‘A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman* clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (Rev 12:1) You can see the crown of stars around Mary’s head. In this painting, however, Christ, himself is the sun who drapes His grace over Mary preventing her from any stain of original sin. Her head is close to His heart; the heart that brought forth all of creation. I wanted Mary to seem almost like a column. She stands firm on top of the world, and is that neck, that mediator of grace between us and Christ. The golden mantle is the symbol of this singular grace merited by Jesus Christ. His hands display the wounds of the cross, the sign of his victory over death, and they bleed onto the mantle. Below, Mary crushes the head of the serpent foretold to Eve in the prophecy in Genesis. “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Gen 3:15). Mary is our hope. Though the world is ensnared by the enemy and covered by the darkness of sin and death, through her seed, Jesus Christ, we are assured that the victory is already won. Mary, preserved from sin, assumed body and soul into heaven, and crowned as Queen of heaven and earth is our model for what we hope in, that one day day we too shall be resurrected body and soul and look into the face of God.
Immaculate heart of Mary our mother,
Pray for us.
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