Mother and Child 2 – feet apart
1910 by Eric Gill
National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Gill, as well as experimenting with rather more sensual depictions of love (postcard ninety-four), was also transfixed by the tender intimacy between mother and child, one that he felt should be re-portrayed in the ultimate pair: the Virgin and Christ. Gill made many attempts to capture this infamous pair, this sculpture being one of them, determined to present them for their natural relationship rather than their deity. Gill strips them of their usual overly ornate clothing, Mary has no blue and Jesus no halo, and presents them naked in his usual honed stone, smooth and white in its simplicity. The softness Gill gives to his sculpture is truly manipulated here, all features are unobtrusively rounded from Mary’s face to feet, her right arm and hand a perfect curve to cradle her baby, who, unlike many depictions, is truly baby in size, all rounded arms and legs he turns to look at mother, not us. What particularly drew Gill to the Mary and child was the sacred act of breastfeeding which, though so often shown in this pair, in his opinion was never properly approached. Instead of the usual round breast simply ‘shown’ to indicate the ritual, Gill looks to the emotion involved, and thus to the true relationship between mother and baby; indeed her hand holds the breast to her child, her gaze held by him. With soft curves and unity of material Gill creates a circle of intimacy between the two, holding them together compositionally in order to demonstrate, and celebrate, the bond.