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Crowning: Mary giving birth to Jesus

Crowning by Sara Star

The Crowning – by Sara Star

Any words I say could too quickly detract from rather than add to this image. I am grateful to my e-friend, Rev. Scott Gunn, for pointing me to it on Christmas morning.

The original is in acrylic paints and 23 kt gold leaf on a 5ft/1.5m hand-built, wooden-frame canvas.

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38 Responses to Crowning: Mary giving birth to Jesus

    • For those of us who have given birth this kind of an image is powerful, beautiful, and reminds us how sacred it is when we sacrifice our bodies and safety to bring life into the world.

  1. Merry Christmas, Bosco.

    Thank you for posting this image. I confess my first reaction was to feel a little unsettled. (I think I blame the haloes) But I’ve spent some time thinking. I wonder if one of the “problems with Christmas” is that the art which has fueled our religious imagination is so far removed from the physical reality of the pain and exhaustion of childbirth; the waking up every two or three hours, the crying and the sopping wet swaddling clothes. … There is no incarnation without the carnal.

    So I’m glad for the image and all it speaks to.

    Have a great New Year, Bosco.

    Lou Poulain,
    Sunnyvale CA USA

    • Thanks, Lou. My reaction to the image when I first saw it sounds like similar to yours. There it was. And unlike so many images I skim over, I just looked and looked. [No – for me it wasn’t the haloes]. It just touched me so deeply (and as you say – not easily) I just knew I had to share it with the community here. And without overlaying it with my verbal response/interpretation. Christmas season blessings.

  2. I don’t think this is trashy at all. What’s wrong with this picture? Why is it that we see pictures of Mary and Jesus in the Nativity but we can’t think that the most natural thing that happens to most of us by natural birth and or ciserian section people would take offense to it Jesus just didn’t appear in the manger his mother Mary have birth to him like this picture.

    • Perhaps we can also get an icon of Jesus at 13 taking a crap in the family outhouse.

      And at 16, when he perhaps discovered masturbation.

      In my opinion, we are dealing with sacred myth here, not historicity, so I don’t feel this level of realism is necessary.

      • The power of this particular “sacred myth” is that it transforms without distortion and without discarding the truly human aspects of the Incarnation. So yes, taking a crap and discovering the pleasures one’s body can provide through masturbation would also be suitable topics for art of the Incarnate Christ–but only if it’s done, as it is in this painting, through showing the sacred in the ordinary, not in a voyeuristic way. For all these things–childbirth, bowel movements, masturbation and sex, are private, but not shameful. So I don’t really want a picture of any of these things on my living room wall, but I there are places where such images would be suitable–in birthing rooms, or bathrooms, or bedrooms, or shared when teaching our children about the humanity of Christ (and of their own).

      • Once, on a meditation retreat, I had the powerful realization that “EVERYTHING is a prayer.” (I specifically recall, thinking this while sitting on the toilet.)

        Everything praises God. Or seeks his Mercy. Everything reflects God’s Glory and resounds with his Grace.

        Peace be with you, dear Brother.

      • And yet such mystics as Julian of Norwich wrote about God’s presence when “taking a crap.” If God is with us, then at times we need to step back from the pious layers of our devotions and get to “the bottom line.” i appreciate your feelings on this picture, I hope you can appreciate those that may differ. It is a powerful reminder to me, anyway, that he “was like us in all things but sin.”

  3. This is a powerful image–and so real. As a woman who has given birth four times, I appreciate the celebration of the truth and power of the event. We don’t just magically appear–a woman endured 9 months of pregnancy with it’s many discomforts–and joys. And then a woman cooperated with the natural impulses of her body to push a new human out into the world. She rejoices in the release and then embraces the responsibility of nurturing this helpless babe into fuller life. The swollen breasts and nipples signal her readiness for this next phase of motherhood. Thanks for sharing this.

    • The painting takes me right back to the moment of the birth of my daughter. There was a point just before my daughter was born when in heart I thought my wife was dying, although my head told me no. Then suddenly there was life for both of them.
      And I love the double-meaning of crowning. In every baby we should recognise Immanuel.
      Blessings

    • Good discussion and hope it keeps up. Stay open to one another’s perceptions and something may come of our diversity. I personally like the painting and even more the sentiment behind it. But that doesn’t stop my wanting to know what other – even in contradiction – think of it.

  4. I _hate_ this painting.

    Okay, not every artist can be an El Greco when painting the Holy Family, so I’m not going to comment on the painting in any technical sense, but the painting is appalling in a theological sense. Mary’s virginity is perpetual, Christ passed out of His mother like light through a glass. This painting is an affront to Mary’s dignity and her virginity, and I say that as a woman who has given birth four times.

    Even if you don’t believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary, what about the dignity of her body? It’s wrong to paint the intimate body parts of the Madonna. Can’t we just leave the Immaculate Conception a bit of privacy and give her our respect. I’m a great fan of Maria Lactans art, but I’m not at all happy about Maria “Vulva” – it’s a presumption on the part of the artist.

    • Thanks, Tess, for your comment, and for your suggestion that the painting is a denial of the Roman Catholic understanding of Mary’s perpetual virginity (“before, during, and after”). Could you explain how physically “Christ passed out of His mother like light through a glass”? And how would you image that? (The painting is obviously not to be taken literally). And how do you hold at the same time being “a great fan of Maria Lactans art”, but do not regard Mary’s breasts as “intimate body parts of the Madonna”? What do you think of the art that has Mary breastfeeding St Bernard? Christmas season blessings.

      • I don’t know how Jesus was physically born, the closest analogy I have is the one I gave you, light through glass. It’s a mysterious and miraculous thing, like the conception of Christ, like Christ turning water into wine, or walking on water, or raising the dead.

        As for breast feeding being intimate, it’s not in the same league as a woman with her legs splayed. If you saw a woman breast feeding in public, would you regard that differently to a woman lying on the floor with her naked legs wide open?

        Breasts have been sexualised in our culture to a ridiculous degree. Many cultures have women with bare breasts but often the area from waist to knee is covered. Breasts are a source of motherly comfort, food and snuggles.

        Also, just to be pedantic, the baby isn’t crowning.

        • Thanks, Tess.

          Yes – the image of “light through glass” is indeed an old one, but certainly not going back to the early church. And since we are being frank with each other the essence of your image is that Mary’s hymen was not broken:

          Mary is a “virgin” because, speaking in very plain terms, the closure of her virginity (i.e. her hymen) has never been ruptured [I know it is a bit difficult to speak of such things in regard to our Mother, but we must be clear and there is no other way around using the biological terms].

          So tell me whether spending energy on such reflecting, discussing, and imaging the state of Mary’s hymen is more appropriate than the painting presented here?

          Yes, you are correct, there are cultural differences. And some people object energetically to public breastfeeding. It is cultural and individual. You are drawing your individual line differently to others.

          Would you be OK “If you saw a woman breast feeding in public” and the one she was breastfeeding was an adult male? Or an adult male on one breast and a child on the other? Those are standard images in our Christian canon of art.

          As for your pedantic point, you are merely reinforcing the point I made to you: The painting is obviously not to be taken literally.

          Christmas season blessings.

          • Yeah sorry, I’m not ever going to equate the intimacy of breastfeeding with the image of Mary’s legs splayed. Mary is our mother and feeding her spiritual children is her gift to us.

            As to discussing Mary’s hymen, you brought that up, not me. I’m fine to say “light through glass” and leave it at that. I’m really quite happy leaving it at the level of a mystery and a miracle and drawing a nice privacy curtain around whatever human details there are of Our Lady’s body.

          • It seems to me, Tess, rather than there being any objective justification, your own lines are drawn rather randomly on a personal “ick factor” sensation. A grown man publicly with his mouth at a woman’s breast you find is fine (is the image of a grown woman publicly with her mouth at a woman’s breast fine?), but this painting, clearly not literal, cannot be taken to image Christ’s birth for you as like “light through glass”.

            And no it was not I but you who raised Mary’s hymen. You said, “Mary’s virginity is perpetual, Christ passed out of His mother like light through a glass. This painting is an affront to Mary’s …virginity.” As my quote indicated, like it or not, that is what your sentence means. Can you suggest what else your sentence means? We can euphemise things like “going to the bathroom” or “sleeping with him” – but if someone uses other words that are less euphemistic than such terms it is no response to say “you brought that up, not me”.

            Christmas blessings.

  5. The image is disturbing. But that gives it Power! For what else is God doing but forever the disturbing our conventions, our limitations, our desire to place the unfolding Love of the Trinity within bounds of our own making? God transcends all our human categories on the one hand and makes use of them all on the other.

    I love this!

    Placed alongside the powerful Icon of Mary with Jesus within her Body/Heart (click my name above and scroll down to the third Icon) we gain not only a powerful understanding of the Incarnation but also of the Church, of Theosis (Christ being born – and borne – in our hearts), of Suffering, Dying, Rebirth/Resurrection).

    As I wrote above in response to Brother David’s comment the fact that the image is disturbing makes it all the more powerful.

    Crowning… Makes me think of a crown of thorns as well. There is so much here!

    • Thanks, Mary Ann. That was my experience, as I commented. The image is not an easy one, that I skimmed over, like so many images I see. It stopped me. An aside: a few days ago I realised the Hebrew words for bear – born – borne do the same as that English cluster. Bearing and giving birth are somehow connected deep in our human (divine?) life. I came to this as I explored this image alongside lectio. It is an understanding I need to explore further. Blessings.

  6. I objectively object to the heresy of this image. And I think we need to embrace our conscience when it reacts with an “ick” to something.

    I certainly feel no “ick” when I see birth, by I believe it is wrong to display Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, Mediatrix and Mother of God in such a fashion.

    God bless.

    • Thanks, Tess.

      I don’t think I am being pedantic (since you are now moving into accusations of heresy) when I point out that you can object to objective heresy, but I’m not sure that it makes much sense to “objectively object to heresy” as you are doing. That having been clarified, I am not at all convinced that this image cannot be read in a perfectly orthodox manner.

      As to “embracing our conscience when it reacts with an “ick” to something” – that approach to discussing the ever-increasing complexity of contemporary moral issues will never do, IMO.

      Blessings.

  7. If the point of an icon is to add dimensions and minutiae on which to meditate, then no thanks. I do not see a redeeming feature beyond the decision to be rather unsubtle.

      • From limited experience of iconography, certainly, but somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that one was supposed to meditate on them, for which spotting details and wondering why the artist did certain things tends to help.

        • Thanks, Tim. I think we could head down a discussion about the variety of ways that Christians use the word “meditate” – and the confusion that this word, hence, causes amongst us because of this imprecision. Details in an icon certainly may help us to meditate on the mystery that the icon is a window to, but many icons are simple, without many details. And what you describe could become a distraction to meditation rather than a help. Blessings.

  8. Hello, all! As we approach the Feast of the Incarnation again, I went looking for images and was thrilled to find you had posted this image here. I found this icon a few years ago, myself, and was very thankful to find that an artist had depicted the Incarnation in this way… finally. It’s been far too long that we have shamed the human body for simply doing what it was created to do – by God. “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) This icon displays this truth so beautifully. If it pushes people’s buttons then, I’d venture to say, that they are probably buttons that need to be pushed.
    Thank you for posting it – even if it was a year ago. Merry Christmas!

    • Thanks, Michelle. I clicked back through to your site, and see you have posted it also. I’m pleased you could find this post through a search for incarnation images. I would hope that much that I’ve posted throughout the years is still finable and of value. Christmas Eve blessings.

  9. I’ve come to this image late and accidentally. I am completely taken by it, so real, so powerful. It awakens Luke 2 for me like never before, the incarnation portrayed so intensely. I may have to meter out my meditation on it. I could lose a day (more probably a life) in this piece. Thx for sharing it.

  10. Beautiful picture. Not trashy at all. Her genital area doesn’t show, the child is in the way. And as for the post re Mary’s perpetual virginity-really??? I’ve tried to contact the artist to get some kind of print of both this and the study she made for it. (On which, by the way, the babe is actually crowning!)

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