Intimate depictions of the family under the aegis of sacred motifs

When Ivan Meštrović and his wife Olga started their family, of four children in all, depictions of the Virgin or Virgin and Child became more intimate, identifiable with the motif of motherhood. The sculptor immortalised everyday moments of maternal love (Mother Teaching Child to Pray), and sometimes elevated the motif to the level of a religious interpretation (Virgin with Children). In 1925 he spent quite a long time in the USA, separated from his family. In his works he shows a nostalgic longing for the idyllic life of the family, at the same time embodying in it his greatest values: love, tradition and faith. Meštrović assigned the prime roles to woman – mother and protector of the faith.

Virgin with Children

New York, 1925
marble, 103 x 82 x 70 cm
owned by the Meštrović Gallery in Split, inv. no. GMS-3

Virgin with Children, which in western Christian iconography implies a depiction of the Virgin, the child Jesus and St John the Baptist, is a consummate Meštrović work carved in Carrara marble. We can read his drawing on Renaissance models in the iconographical source, the pyramidal composition model and the manner in which material is worked. The mastery of the material can be seen in the soft passages and the finely polished surfaces that come to the fore in contrast with the roughly worked background. Although the title (literally: Mother of God) would suggest a religious theme, the sculptor was inspired to this composition by his wife Olga, daughter Marta and new-born son Tvrtko. The intimate family moment can be recognised in the mild maternal smile, in the firm grouping of the figures and their interwoven arms. The natural, intimate and close are caught in the moment of the boyish kiss and embrace, the softly formed idealised female figure is the personification of tender mother love.
(Z. J. Š.)

Mother Teaching Child to Pray

New York, 1925
bronze, 64 x 50 x 47 cm
owned by the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb, inv. no. AMZ-196

During his several-month-long stay in the US, for the sake of preparing for a number of exhibitions that would be held in several American cities in the next two years, the sculptor lived away from his family. The manner of life in the busy American metropolises was neither pleasant nor familiar to him , and his thoughts went back to his family. Nostalgia for his home, the need for permanence and to belong somewhere would give shape to works in which the holy and the intimate were interwoven. And the act of prayer thus becomes one of the most common motifs; woman as spiritual guide and guardian of moral values has a key role in the upkeep of the tradition. The connection and spiritual union of mother and child in prayer together is marvellously depicted in the bronze sculpture Mother Teaching Child to Pray. The position of the mother’s hands clasped in prayer with her gaze directed to the sky, which is repeated identically in the rendering of the child in her lap, makes this work one of the finest depictions of parental love and the continuity of the traditional code.
(Z. J. Š.)

Woman in the Rapture of Prayer (Hope)

New York, 1925
plaster, 59.5 x 51 x 34 cm
owned by the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb, inv. no. AMZ-35
displayed in the Meštrović Gallery in Split

As well as motherhood, in Meštrović’s work woman embodies purity, goodness, innocence and holiness – ideals that can be ascribed to his conception of woman as the Ewig-Weibliche. In the experience of woman as mother, Madonna or angel, sometimes contradictory impressions will be interwoven: the holy and profane, the chaste and the sensual. Such an example can be seen in the work Woman in the Rapture of Prayer. The parallel title of Hope indicates not only the act of prayer indicated with the clasped palms but also the profound faith in and hope for salvation. But if we look at the work from a different angle, we will note the delicate formation of the graceful face and the long neck, brought out by the position of the chin raised high, in order to emphasise the sensuality and beauty of the female model depicted. Beauty is truth, and life and faith are linked in an unbroken continuity.
(Z. J. Š.)

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