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I saw a photo this week that caught my eye.
This is an old black ink drawing of a woman with curly hair, wearing a loose dress with a baby balanced on her lap. He also has curly hair and the curls make his tiny head look almost like an aura of the sun. The child stands on two plump little legs, and the mother presses him against her right arm, stabilizing her buttocks with her left hand.
The curly-haired woman is smiling. Not like she doesn’t care about the world, but like all that really matters to her in this world is the child in her arms.
The child holds a flower in his left hand and looks at the world we cannot see, beyond the loving embrace of a mother’s shoulder.
Mother and child sit on what looks like a weathered wooden ledge amid tall, sparse, wild grass. Those razor-sharp, unruly blades of grass have reminded me this week of the increase in infections and the tumultuous time we hold firmly to those we love. But we are all sailing against what Shakespeare called our “sea of turmoil”.
I read on to see that the sketch is from Albrecht Dürer, the great German artist, who called it “The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bench”. It is believed to have been drawn around 1503 as a study for a later painting. Five years ago, it sold for $ 30 at a real estate sale. The seller thought it was a reproduction.
Art experts quoted in news reports believe this rare original sketch by Dürer could sell for $ 50 million.
But at $ 30 million or $ 50 million, I found the true value of “The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bench” in the sheer delicacy of her soft features and imagery. In Dürer’s art, Mary and the baby Jesus are not seen as icons, but as a mother and her child. The love in their looks and arms and hands reminds me of mothers and children I have seen around the world in almost the same pose on park benches and playgrounds, in war zones and refugee camps, and on subways and buses.
A child and a mother who, like all of us, do not know what is going on or what lies ahead. So we’re holding on to each other now.