Monday, 11 December 2017

Monday 11th December: Virgin of the Lilies

Flipping heck it's cold here!  I know it's winter but it was about 10 degrees a day or two ago and now it's zero!  I am now constantly attached to a hot water bottle and it seems a perfect moment to bring you the following frosty painting...

Virgin of the Lilies (1899) Carlos Schwabe
The Virgin and child follow the parade of lilies in a snow-strewn landscape, their twin halos providing moonlight, further illuminating the glistening white snow.  The lilies seem to stand in for a choir of angels, singing their praises to the heavenly couple.  They also could be taken for a heavenly staircase, their stems looking like banisters.  In sharp contrast to all the white light, the sky and foreground is deep, dark blue, making the whole seem slightly sinister.

Detail of Death and the Gravedigger (1890s)
Not that Schwabe was averse to a bit of sinister-ness in the snow.  Possibly his most famous image is Death and the Gravedigger, with the angel of death (modelled for by Mrs Schwabe) striking down the elderly chap in the handily open grave.  Mrs Schwabe modelled for his angels and virgins and so was both the angel of death and probably the Virgin in the Lilies. Schwabe was a Symbolist and participated in the Salon de la Rose + Croix, six festivals of the arts, in 1890s Paris, and his works featured allegorical female figures, and visions of life and death.

The Annunciation (no date)
Schwabe's Virgin of the Lilies above is in contrast to his rather more traditional Annunciation.  Other than the weirdly purple shrubbery, the glowing angel-cloud that has appeared to a jolly looking Mary is rather sweet looking and not at all creepy.  It's another painting where Mary seems to be a flower in the garden, a lavender lily in the mauve garden.

Virgin of the Lilies (1912)
He was obviously partial to a tall lily, was Mr Schwabe, especially when it came to the Virgin Mary.  There is a sense that Mary has become a woman spontaneously from one of those tall stems, like a reverse of the myth where the gods turn a woman into a plant, a sunflower or a laurel.  Here we have a pure white lily made flesh, the only thing pure enough to give birth to the magical baby who will save us all.  Schwabe envisioned her in a landscape of night, a dense mauve garden and a sprawling landscape of fresh green fields, with the host of lily-angels flanking her.  For the Symbolist artist, Mary and Jesus exist as part of a garden, among and almost imprisoned by a forest of lilies, their purity keeping them apart from the world.  Schwabe sees his Virgin as resplendent but distant from us.  She might have our saviour in her arms but she has to get past the lilies first...

See you tomorrow...

No comments:

Post a comment

Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx