Thursday, March 11, 2010

Behold Thy Mother, Knitting

"During the Fourteenth Century, paintings of the Madonna and Child began to introduce imaginative suggestions of the domestic background of the Holy Family. A few of them show Mary knitting."

So begins an excerpt from A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt, that is featured in the spring edition of Knitting Traditions. This publication overflows with wonderful articles on historical knitting. I especially enjoyed the story of a 16th-century glove that was knitted by a princess and given as a token to her true love. But "A Mother's Care: The Knitting Madonnas" is my favorite. It is illustrated with a stunning photograph of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's "The Holy Family", taken by Christoph von Virag.

The copy below does not come near von Virag's quality in depicting the painting's rich color. It also does not show the top of the frame, which forms a gable over the Holy Family's home.

The Holy Family by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, c. 1345
Abegg-Stiftung Collection, Riggisberg, Switzerland
"Mary knitting in the round with four needles."

I longed to see all the examples that the author mentions. Here's what I found:

Madonna dell'Umiltà by Vitale degli Equi, c. 1353
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan
"Mary is shown knitting a floral pattern in two colors, three or more needles."

Altarolo by Tommaso da Modena, before 1349
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna
"Mary knits in the round on five needles."
According to the museum's English translation, the knitting Madonna is the third scene in the central area of the piece. See a detail photo here.

The Buxtehude Altar by Master Bertram of Minden c. 1400,
It's from the right wing of the altarpiece painted for the Benedictine nuns of Buxtehude.
"Mary is knitting a crimson shirt on four needles."

Seeing these Knitting Madonna paintings reminded me that Mary is not only our Mother, she is our model for domestic happiness as expressed so perfectly in this poem:

The Housewife's Prayer

by Blanche Mary Kelly

Lady, who with tender word
Didst keep the house of Christ the Lord,
Who didst set forth the bread and wine
Before the Living Wheat and Vine,
Reverently didst make the bed
Whereon was laid the Holy Head
That such a cruel pillow prest
For our behoof, on Calvary's crest;
Be beside me while I go
About my labors to and fro.
Speed the wheel and speed the loom,
Guide the needle and the broom,
Make my bread rise sweet and light,
Make my cheese come foamy white,
Yellow may my butter be
As cowslips blowing on the lea.
Homely though my tasks and small,
Be beside me at them all.
Then when I shall stand to face
Jesu in the judgment place,
To me thy gracious help afford,
Who are the Handmaid of the Lord.

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