This polychrome bas-relief in stucco (a mixture of lime and powdered marble) was executed by Donatello around the year 1430.
Mary and Jesus, looking deep into each other's eyes, embrace so intimately that their two faces seem almost to merge into one within the oval formed by the Child's left arm. The artist has rendered them so closely, one might say they were absorbed in one another. Eye to eye, they search one another as though their lives henceforth hang on nothing but the gaze of the other.
By contemplating each other in this way, heart to heart, Mary and her Child share their most secret intimacy, uniting the sublimity of their beings and communing in their fated apotheoses. Their ineffable gazes tell volumes: they speak infinitely of what words cannot express. Two gazes immersed in one another wherein each contemplates an original, unique mystery reflecting its own: For so many marvels I thank you; a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders! (Ps 139:14).
If we could read the gaze of others, we would have no need to search for a meaning to life. For, in the look of each person, we can contemplate all the infinite beauty of their resemblance to God — to the point of exclaiming: Truly, the Lord is here, although I did not know it! (cf. Gn 28:16). To look one another straight in the eye is like, in an admirable exchange, beholding one another through the eyes of the Creator, who, at the dawn of creation, looked at the man and the woman, the fruit of his benevolent design, and pronounced very good! (Gn 1:31).
Alas, in an inextricable jigsaw of splinters and beams, this transparency allowed, for better but subsequently for worse, all sin's sway over our souls to be read in our eyes. Because of this, to look deep into the gaze of another has become something of a disturbing act of indecency. Let us then admire with what power Donatello manages to communicate the scope of the challenge that Mary and her Child issue to sin when, eye to eye, they find grace in the contemplation of their immaculate hearts.
Pierre-Marie Dumont. "An Admirable Exchange." Magnificat (May, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
The AuthorPierre-Marie Dumont is the Founding Publisher of the monthly magazine Magnificat. He is a married layman and the father of a large family. Copyright © 2017 Magnificat
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