I visited the Cloisters in New York for the first time. The Cloisters is like a medieval castle on the top of a steep hill in the northern part of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson. The museum is filed with medieval artifacts.
I have never thought deeply about medieval art or culture. I have not– until my visit to the Cloisters– appreciated the power of the period’s artwork.
I have a Mary portrait on my wall that Beth Nardella made. It is a cyanotype-colored photograph of a Mary statuette in a cemetery. I have always loved the image. Artwork has come and gone in my home, but I always have Beth’s Mary hung somewhere. Mary has always been there, in a sense.
At the Cloisters, there are several Pietas that really affected me. One is roughly hewn from naked wood. Mary and Jesus are stiff and misshapen. The heads are too big. The proportions are all wrong. It reminds me of American folk art. In spite of the formal problems, the piece is powerful. Jesus’s body draped across Mary’s lap is smaller than it should be. I always read the text posted in a museum about the artwork– at a museum, I always need to read the guides posted by the artwork– and it explained (I paraphrase) that Jesus is deliberately smaller because as Mary held her son she remembered holding him as a child. It made perfect sense to me. When I think of Miles, I often think of him as a boy. Our walks. Our pizza shop and comic store visits. I think of him as the boy I guided and took care of, whom I protected and helped grow up. This primitive Pieta made total sense to me.
There is another Pieta in the same room. It is so different. It is beautiful in its detail and realism. Mary’s despair and the emotion of those around her is so touching and palpably tragic. I could have studied it for hours. I took a picture of each of them and I look at them often.
I fee like I understand Mary now.