Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our Lady of the Trees

"I saw St Jude's on BBC Songs of Praise.

I was amazed to see a painting in the church like one I have at home . . . I've been trying to find out about the artist and the title - do you know? It has prompted me to visit your church - I live in North Warwickshire and will be at the 10.30 am service on the 7th February.

Kind regards, Susan."

Susan indeed visited us on Sunday and was able to consult our resident art historian and lay canon about the painting which is on the Lady Chapel altar. The picture is a reproduction (only, I am afraid) of the Madonna of the Trees by Giovanni Bellini (c.1430 - 1516). It is a panel, and the first known work by Bellini to bear a signature (in Latin) and date: IOANNES.BELLINUS.P[ixit = painted this]. / 1487. The original is in the Accademia in Venice.

The two small trees on either side of the Virgin, which give the painting its name, may allude to the Song of Solomon or, in contrast with the dead bushes next to them, to the Old and New Covenants.

We have no record of why this particular image was chosen for Our Lady's altar in St Jude's. The angels on either side are by Starmer and it is possible he intended eventually to replace the reproduction with a Madonna of his own. Alternatively the Bellini, which appears to be a copy rather than a print, could have been a gift to the church.