Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

A contemporary Hodegetria icon

June 22nd, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Continued from Variations on the Mother of God Hodegetria Icon

also from: Mother of God Icons: The Virgin Hodegetria

and from: Icons of the Mother of God

In the last post of our little introduction into the Icon type titled the Virgin Hodegetria we looked at some Western variations from the 15th and 16th centuries. While researching this series I ran across an image that is a contemporary interpretation of the basic Hodegetria Virgin (loosely based on the Hodegetria type). It is an illustration for a Christmas card by an artist who seems to specialize in fantasy imagery. I’ll let the artist speak for himself:

This is a Christmas card that I was contracted to do…   The point of the card was to create an image of Mary and Jesus while adding an Irish taste in the vein of the Book of Kells. I’ve always liked traditional Christian art, so I wanted to try to do an “old meets new” kind of thing. The card was supposed to have gold leafing with the halos of Jesus and Mary, but that didn’t happen, much to my dismay.     … I hope you enjoy the picture and have a very merry and blessed Christmas!!

Christmas Card Design by Parker Fitzgerald*

Can we examine this image from the standpoint of a Virgin Hodegetria icon? Does it convey the Madonna as “the one who knows/shows the way?”  Is Christ’s humanity and divinity suggested? If so, how is it suggested differently than in the prototype? Are we drawn into a relationship with Mary? How does she appear to us and what is our reaction?

Finally (getting to that “whole other” subject), would this image work as a liturgical work of art? Why or why not? Could it function above and behind the altar or perhaps somewhere else in the church? Should it be in a church at all?  If not, what would we have to change to make it work?

*The artist’s website: or ninebreaker


Book suggestion: Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy by Denis McNamara, (Hillenbrand Books)

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7 Responses to “A contemporary Hodegetria icon”

  1. Richard says:

    Forgive me Blesses Mother but that image reminds me of a “babe” with child. There is no dignity in it. She appears like some lost child of the current era.

  2. Vox Clara says:

    It’s a pretty cool image, if you ask me, but I think there’s something to the notion that it makes Mary look a bit jaded or lost. It might suit a young mother in the process of a radical conversion better than the immaculate Mother of God?

  3. Grandma 2 says:

    As my mother used to say “Get that hair out of your eyes!” Now I know what she meant. It’s annoying!

  4. Mike D says:

    Hm. I’m torn. As an amateur comic book artist, I really, really like this picture. But as a Catholic, I feel like it’s . . . lacking. It’s very well drawn, but Mary needs to be drawn more like, well, Mary. There’s a certain level of refinement and dignity needed for a piece of Mary and\or Jesus art. I don’t think the artist intentionally left this out, as it is incredibly difficult to do right, but I don’t think it’s something appropriate for a church. (I don’t think a comic book-style picture would automatically be disqualified from that, but it would be incredibly difficult to do right.)

  5. Bernie says:

    Thank you, all, for your comments. You have, in my opinion, detected a basic challenge that faces any artist who attempts a sympathetic interpretation and presentation of a Christian subject. “Dignity” comes close as a descriptor of what is needed. Unfortunately, many artists do not understand the truths of the faith. Like the artist of the Christmas card, they seize upon the visually superficial (e.g. the visual characteristics of Celtic art) for they have not absorbed the meaning of the Incarnation. I’ll try to explain in a near future post.

    (I don’t want to appear unfairly critical of the illustrator of the Christmas card. In art criticism we must always consider the intention of the artist. His expressed intention was limited to visual interest and a limited seasonal sentiment and nothing more. The card is certainly visually interesting with luscious colors and rich patterns in a Celtic style. It was not meant to be an icon for pious meditation much less liturgical celebration. I posted it as a way to introduce thinking critically about liturgical art –the “whole other subject.”.)

    P.S. Did anyone notice the positioning of the dragon/monster/creature on Mary’s robe, at the baby’s feet?

  6. Richard says:

    The Blessed Mother is not only the fairest creature on earth but she is the one to crush the head of Satan. Through her intersession, the Moelems were defeated at the battle of Lepants. Looking at this image does not give me a sense of awe the I should receive when looking at images of her.

  7. WabiSabiLass says:

    Unlike other commenters here, I do not find this image lacking in any way. Looking at this Mary, I see something more important than perceived dignity, and that is humility. To me the image conveys Mary’s humility and patience, her calm grace, and her perfect trust in God and submission to His will. She looks young and sweet. Her hair is loose and unbound, in keeping with the Celtic style, and her gaze is peaceful, yet steady and unwavering, and somehow knowing, as if she has some inkling of the hardship and suffering ahead for her and her Son, yet is prepared to give up all for the sake of her Lord. Looking at this image gives me a sense of God’s profound, limitless love and providence. I would certainly use it as a focal point in a home shrine.

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