Henri Matisse's Chapel of the Rosary, Part 2
by Mary Elizabeth Podles
Matisse next turned his hand to the Ave mural, an image of the Madonna, to whom the rosary is addressed. He tried out images from the Litany of Loreto, which is generally recited after the rosary and evokes the Virgin in lyrical terms ("Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, House of gold, Ark of the covenant, Gate of heaven, Morning star"). One drawing, illustrating the phrase "Vessel of honor," makes a curious vase shape of Mary's dress; Matisse abandoned that design as unsuccessful. In the end, he settles upon "Queen assumed into heaven," at first surrounded by roses, but in the final version by clouds.
Matisse was deeply impressed by his first plane ride, and it has been suggested that these clouds are a memory of that flight. Within the clouds, Mary presents the infant Jesus to us like a baby standing proudly for the first time, but also in the pose of the Crucifixion, so that the mystery of the Incarnation also includes that of the Passion. Yet it is a visionary and eternal image, like that of St. Dominic, levitating without ground lines or perspective.
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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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