Christian Iconography

By Karen Parr-Moody


Christian iconography, ever strong, becomes more pertinent at this time of year as one Christians experience their holiest of holidays. The images of Mother and Child are among the most ancient, and the most widespread, dating to the second or third century A.D. At GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall, many such beautiful items make great Christmas presents.


The beautiful hand-painted porcelain plaque, seen here at right, is a copy after the manner of the Renaissance artist Raphael ($495; B-225). It depicts Mary holding the baby Christ; the original painting is called “Madonna della seggiola” – it literally translates to “Madonna of the chair” – and is housed in the Palazzo Pitti collection in Florence.  In that piece, a young John the Baptist is shown watching the scene unfold.


Yet another of the many copies of Raphael’s famous Madonnadella seggiola is seen here at left. This medium is done in the Vienna Art Plate style, which a color lithograph affixed to a tin plate ($58, Booth B-106). Issued between the years 1905 and 1915, Vienna art plates featured ads for products and various commercial enterprises on their reverses. They were often given away as special promotions by firms such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser Busch, baking companies, and even furniture or shoe stores.


At the right is a copy of another of Raphael’s Madonnas, known as the Small Cowper Madonna ($89; Showcase B-225). The original painting was oil on wood, done around 1505. Images of the Madonna and Child were popularly given as wedding presents, so often a painting was duplicated many times by the original artist. The Small Cowper Madonna has a graceful turn of the head and a wistful expression, and both figures look out at the viewer. Their interlocking gestures were inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s style of painting.


The sweeping lines on this celluloid Holy Family are simply beautiful (photo, left; $85; S-104). Celluloid, first used as a replacement for ivory, was created in England in 1855. But it wasn’t until American John Wesley Hyatt acquired the patent that it began to achieve the true look of ivory, which is what you see here with the creamy white color of this Holy Family. The broad use of celluloid predates Bakelite.


While there are many prints and paintings of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, the one at right in particular shows the man in a state of acceptance and calm in comparison to others, in which he seems agitated or fretful (print, framed, $45; S-104). This scene can get dramatic in certain hands, and rightly so: It was there that Jesus Christ prayed the night before his crucifixion, according to scripture. This print definitely shows the inspiration of Maxfield Parrish, the American painter and illustrated who popularized a dreamy, neo-classical style.


This lacquered and signed Russian icon box, left, is perfect for the smallest of treasures, such as prayer remembrances, petitions, or even rosaries or jewelry ($89; Showcase B-225). Russians are famous for their distinctive style of iconography, as with the depiction of the Madonna and Child seen here. Many of these lacquer boxes may also portray fairytales, or other religious symbols. At the bottom right of the box it says “Smolenskaya” in Russian, meaning it most likely originates from the city of Smolensk.


While the artist of this painting, right, is unknown, it is gorgeous nonetheless (antique painting, Mother Virgin Mary, $995; Showcase B-225). This Mary has a pensive demeanor, which befits the mother of the Christ. And true to other depictions throughout history, she is enshrouded in a blue veil. Blue is the color most often associated with the Virgin Mary. It symbolizes truth and clarity, and is also the color of the sky … hence, it is a symbol of heaven. As with many versions of Mary, especially Eastern Orthodox ones, the Mary here wears a touch of red; this symbolizes the lifeblood of her motherhood.


These items are only a small sampling of the Christian iconography available at GasLamp. The halls are full of small and large statures, shrines and garden ornaments, and items both personal and public. The best way to discover them is to peruse the many halls of GasLamp. 

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