Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Cautionary Tale, Italian Style

I’ve seen the below scene in a few paintings here in Italy (the below is from a small church in Anghiari, and I’m not even sure who painted it, honestly):
and have to admit being somewhat struck by it (not struck like with a cudgel, but it always makes me stop and think). As a basic overview, and since the photo isn’t, well, elegantly lit or anything, here’s the scoop on the players: there’s a kid, his mom, Mary (the Virgin Ma, that is), and the devil. The fable behind the painting goes like this: the kid (I was going to name him, but didn’t want to call out any kids I know, so we’ll keep him “the kid”) is out raising heck, throwing stones at dogs, yelling, tearing leaves off trees, and generally causing kid-like mayhem. His mom, after having just more than just about enough, says something like “I wish you’d go to the devil” or “the devil take you” or “jeez, I wish a guy with horns in a red suit would come relieve me of your presence.” Then, boom, flash of light, smell of brimstone, the devil shows up, and says “well, you asked me to take him—so I am” and starts to take the kid. Mom, realizing that maybe she went a little too far, and realizing that sons in Italy are cherished and that her mom will go nuts if the kid is gone, prays to Mary for assistance. And, low and behold, Mary shows up and convinces the devil to give the kid back. Now, the lessons here are many (never throw a stone or anything at a dog, be careful what you wish for, the devil is shorter than expected), but what I like best is Mary showing up and bringing the stick. She’s not going to plead, cajole, or win the kid back with grace, she’s going to kick some red devil butt. She’s so often pictured as a placating figure, accepting destiny, placid, calm. Here’s she’s like an early version of Wonder Woman (or vice versa). Go Mary, go!

1 comment:

  1. Go Mary indeed! It has been so funny to see the different takes on this idea!