Featured card of the day: Virgin and Child / An Mhaidean agus and Leanbh

Today’s featured card is C20 (English) / C21 (Irish), Virgin and Child / An Mhaidean agus an Leanbh.

This seems to be one of the last Christmas cards that Sr Paula designed, when her interest was turning more towards iconography (to which she eventually dedicated her artistic life completely).

It shows a Virgin and Child in icon style, probably influenced by e.g. the icon known as the Virgin of Tenderness. Characteristics of the icon style which can be seen here include:

- the adult face of the child Jesus. This image invites us to a relationship with an adult Christ, whose penetrating gaze meets ours and asks us to stay, to remain in relationship with him.

- both the Virgin and the Child look towards us, not at each other. They engage with us, their concern is us, that we not only look on an image of them but meet them in a personal encounter.

- The Virgin’s hands point to Christ, indicating that he is the important one, and that her desire is to lead us to him.

- The way the Child has his arms placed around his mother’s neck is very tender and gentle. He is not clinging to her as a baby clings to its mother out of need, but touching her with divine love and care. He offers us the same tender love.

- The Child’s halo contains within it the symbol of the cross. In iconographic symbolism, only Christ’s halo contains a cross, indicating his passion; the haloes of the Virgin and other saints do not have this element.

Features in this card which differ from typical icons are

- the standing pose of the Child. Usually he is represented sitting on Mary’s lap; his pose here is more reminiscent of a statue than of a traditional icon.

- the Virgin’s hair is visible, not covered by her veil. Thus we see only one of the usual three stars on her garments: the three stars represent her virginity “before, during, and after the birth” of Christ. Usually two stars appear on her cloak, one on each side, and the third on the veil on her head. Here there is only one star visible, since the figure of the child obscures one arm, and her veil is not visible.

There is no Christmas without Mary. She gives us Christ, gives birth to him at Bethlehem but also continues to offer him to us today, showing him to us and leading us to him.

This beautiful card is worth contemplating not just at Christmas, but at any time of year.

The greeting inside reads Wishing you a joyful and happy Christmas (English); Go raibh solas Chríost i do chroí agus i gcroí gach duine atá ag cuimhneamh ort an Nollaig seo (Irish).

It is available here (English) and here (Irish).

Thanks to Clare McReynolds for her help with this reflection.

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