27 June 2017
BLUE VIRGIN & CHILD
I drew this using dark blue calligraphers’ ink applied with a metal-tipped dip pen. The Bristol board is 4 1/8" wide, cut to a pentagon that is 8 7/8" tall at its higest point.
This drawing was begun as a study for a larger work in the style of Ming art. When developing the concept for that project, I looked to one of the early missionaries to China, the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci. Some time in the very early 17th century, Ricci gifted four European prints to the Chinese publisher Cheng Dayue: one was an engraving by Anthony Wierix reproducing the painting of the Virgin of Antigua in Seville Cathedral. Master Cheng copied these images into his Ink Garden, a model book of illustrations and calligraphy. Ricci saw this as a good opportunity to disseminate lessons in Christian doctrine and morality among the Chinese population.
The Virgin and Child in my drawing are Sinicized, but have the same posture and attributes as the figures in the painting in Seville; the Virgin holds a flower, and the Christ Child a goldfinch. Next to Mary, I drew a roundel with a Chinese ideograph for goodness. This refers to another of Ricci’s efforts in his mission to China, his introduction of the classical mnemonic method expounded by Quintilian to members of the Ming bureaucracy. This is the fourth of four characters used as examples in his treatise; he divides it vertically into two separate characters, one signifying woman, and the other child, and attaches to it the mnemonic image of a young woman holding a child in her arms and playing with him. The resonance of this character with the image of the Blessed Virgin is obvious.
Tien Chu is a transliteration of the Chinese words for Lord of Heaven; this is the title of God used by the missionaries.
The original drawing is available for sale. See this web page for more information.