I must admit, in the past I have not really enjoyed medieval art. In the Met in New York, the medieval section was just an area to walk through as quickly as possible. Never did I feel the urge to linger and gaze upon medieval art there. It always felt too dark, too sombre. The human figure was not as exact as in later Renaissance art. Medieval art seemed to be very expressionless to me.
The Prado in Madrid was a completely different experience. Maybe it is because Spain was the world power during medieval times. Maybe medieval artists working in Spain were more skilled at their craft. Maybe it’s because I am a different person now. The medieval art in the Prado was my favorite section of the museum.
Beautiful canvas after beautiful canvas in deep, rich colors celebrated the life of Christ and other religious figures. The paintings provided an opportunity for me to speak to my children about scripture stories, the story of Christmas, and the importance religion played in the history of Spain. The rich visual material piqued their interest. While I’m glad that the scriptures are now available for all to read, I appreciate how these vivid depictions of scriptural content sparked conversations and learning opportunities.
What really spoke to me personally in the medieval art, were the many paintings of Mary nursing baby Jesus. Since I am currently nursing a baby boy, it makes sense that I would have a more personal connection with the subject matter. What really impressed me was the gentleness and tenderness that was portrayed in the relationship between mother and child.
Painting after beautiful painting showed the loving bond shared by mother and child. I have always thought of medieval times as somewhat austere and stern. In some ways, they probably were. But the natural relationship of mother and small baby was regarded as natural and beautiful. It drew me in and touched me. What a beautiful thing it is to care for and nurture a child! It can be daunting, frustrating, tiring, and sometimes monotonous. But tender moments bring joy greater than any of the negative feelings that sometimes come.
So hooray for medieval art and the Prado! If you don’t go, you will be missing out on a beautiful visual treasure.