When I was six weeks old, my parents crossed half the country to show me to my mother’s grandparents. I remember my mother telling me – years later – that the journey was quite a challenge. Not only was she still recovering from giving birth, but until then I had been a cry baby.
Seeing The Cottage Madonna (c. 1867) by Jozef Israëls I am reminded of that tale. Presumably mother and child are the main theme in this painting. There is only a short space between these two figures and us as the beholders. This way our attention is drawn to the scene as it were a film still. We can easily imagine that only a moment ago this woman was preparing milk to feed her newborn, it is like we stepped right into their lives.
The intimacy of this art work seems to be even more intense because of the absence of outspoken colors, while the artist emphasized the working of the light. This is what suggests a warm and cozy feeling. This lady figure we suspect to be the mother seems to be full of love, as if there is nothing else in the world that is important enough to get her attention. She has only eyes for her baby.
You could even say that Israëls put this mother on a pedestal, with her feet up on a feet warmer and feeding her baby nothing but love.
As you can see on the photo made on that mentioned day when I was six weeks old, the three ladies were glad to be pictured with me. I was quite a heavy newborn and therefore my mother was told at the clinic to ration my milk. It was my great-grandmother who told her this was ridiculous, given the fact that I cried so much.
That afternoon she herself gave me an extra bottle and I was quiet all afternoon. Or so the story goes.
Me, with my mother, grandmother and her mother
The Cottage Madonna (c. 1867) by Jozef Israëls
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This post is also available in: Dutch