The Icon of the Tender Mother

By Br. Andre Love


This icon of the Tender Mother is based on a prototype which tradition holds to have been painted by St. Luke at Ephesus. In this version, which was modeled after a 19th century rendition from Italy, the image of the Mother and Christ Child is cropped close to allow the viewer to participate in the intimate relationship between the two. One is drawn to the eyes of the Virgin Mother and led to contemplate, as St Bernard describes, the perfect harmony of “a creature’s adoration of her God and a Mother’s love for her only Son.” Thebeauty of the Christmas season is illustrated by Mary’s hands. Her left hand holds the Christ Child close to her bosom in a nurturing embrace as her right gently caresses His cheek, inviting the faithful to behold the innocent Lamb of God. She is presenting Christ to the world as a gift from God the Father. The fulfillment of this immeasurable gift is indicated by the adornment of the sleeve of the hand making the presentation. The dark crimson mantle with which the Virgin and Child are enveloped symbolizes both the mystery of the Incarnation and the blood that was shed for the redemption of the world. The way Mary’s mantle is draped over the brilliant gold-gilded vermillion of Jesus’ garment invites the viewer to ponder how the magnificence of God’s divinity could be shrouded humbly within the confines of human flesh. As it flows over her arm it encloses Jesus in a way similar to the halves of a seashell. Truly this gift, given by God through Mary’s generous acquiescence, is a pearl of immeasurable value. This icon was written by Brother André Love, O.S.B., a monk of Mount Angel Abbey.