I first saw this picture, The Newborn Child by Georges de la Tour, in this book of daily meditations.
I was first struck by the sense of stillness and peace in the picture, and the thoughtful way that Mary was looking at her newborn infant. I have been planning to write something about it for several months.
When I posted it last night, I realized that Mary is not looking at Jesus, but seems to be intent on her own thoughts, and perhaps those thoughts are not so peaceful. Look at her hands, especially her right hand. This is hardly the loving caress of a peaceful mother. I wonder if de la Tour is implying that she is having some premonition of what is to come.
And who is that woman on the left? You can see above that the picture in the book has been cropped, and I originally thought it must be an angel, but in the full picture, you can see that she has no wings, and appears to be just an ordinary woman. Also, it looks very much as is the light is emanating from the child, but if you look very closely, you can see that the woman is holding a candle, the flame being hidden by her raised hand.
I read on a Smithsonian website that experts question whether or not this is a Nativity scene. Perhaps it is not, de la Tour did paint secular images, but he painted a lot of religious subjects. I think that the picture below gives credence to the idea that it is a Nativity scene.
I originally saw this painting denominated as St. Anne with the Virgin in Linen, but now I see that the Art Gallery of Ontario, where it resides, calls it St. Anne with the Christ Child, which makes me wonder if the woman in the first picture is supposed to be St. Anne.
I also found this painting, The Angel Appears to St. Joseph in a Dream, in which the angel has no wings, so perhaps the mystery woman is supposed to be an angel.
I love poking around in these old masterpieces and trying to discover what the artist is trying to portray, and what the people in the paintings, the real people, must have been thinking and experiencing. I am not very good at all with the kind of meditation that involves putting myself in a scriptural narrative, but I find that a sort of visual meditation accomplishes the same purpose for me.
I don't know whether or not de la Tour conceived his painting as one of Mary and Jesus or not, although I strongly suspect that he did, and that perhaps the main motive for doubting this is that the experts in question would just rather that it not be. Even if he did not though, it only shows that Mary is the quintessential image of motherhood. We see in her the very form of a mother, and we strive to imitate what we see. And what mother has not sat holding her infant and sensing that faint chill of future peril to her child?