As the most perfect subject for painting I have already specified inwardly satisfied [reconciled and peaceful] love, the object of which is not a purely spiritual ‘beyond’ but is present, so that we can see love itself before us in what is loved. The supreme and unique form of this love is Mary’s love for the Christ-child, the love of the one mother who has borne the Saviour of the world and carries him in her arms. This is the most beautiful subject to which Christian art in general, and especially painting in its religious sphere, has risen. The love of God, and in particular the love of Christ who sits at’ the right hand of God, is of a purely spiritual kind. The object of this love is visible only to the eye of the soul, so that here there is strictly no question of that duality which love implies, nor is any natural bond established between the lovers or any linking them together from the start. On the other hand, any other love is accidental in the inclination of one lover for another, or,’ alternatively, the lovers, e.g. brothers and sisters or a father in his love for his children, have outside this relation other conceI1l8 with an essential claim on them. Fathers or brothers have to apply themselves to the world, to the state, business, war, or, in short, to general purposes, while sisters become wives, mothers, and so forth. But in the case of maternal love it is generally true that a mother’s love for her child is neither something accidental just a single feature in her life, but, on the contrary, it is her supreme vocation on earth, and her natural character and most sacred calling directly coincide. But while other loving mothers see and feel in their child their husband and their inmost union with him, in Mary’s relation to her child this aspect is always absent. For her feeling has nothing in common with a wife’s love for her husband; on the contrary, her relation to Joseph is more like a sister’s to a brother, while on Joseph’s side there is a secret awe of the child who is God’s and Mary’s. Thus religious love in its fullest and most intimate human form we contemplate not in the suffering and risen Christ or in his lingering amongst his friends but in the person of Mary with her womanly feeling. Her whole heart and being is human love for the child that she calls her own, and at the same time adoration, worship, and love of God with whom she feels herself at one. She is humble in God’s sight and yet has an infinite sense of being the one woman who is blessed above all other virgins. She is not self-subsistent on her own account, but is perfect only in her child, in God, but in him she is satisfied and blessed, whether. at the manger or as the Queen of Heaven, without passion or longing, without any further need, without any aim other than to have and to hold what she has.
In its religious subject-matter the portrayal of this love has a wide series of events, including, for example, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth, the Flight into Egypt, etc. And then there are, added to this, other subjects from the later life of Christ, i.e. the Disciples and the women who follow him and in whom the love of God becomes more or less a personal relation of love for a living and present Saviour who walks amongst them as an actual man; there is also the love of the angels who hover over the birth of Christ and many other scenes in his life, in serious worship or innocent joy. In all these subjects it is painting especially which presents the peace and full satisfaction of love.
But nevertheless this peace is followed by the deepest suffering.
Mary sees Christ carry his cross, she sees him suffer and die on the cross, taken down from the cross and buried, and no grief of others is so profound as hers. Mary’s grief is of a totally different kind. She is emotional, she feels the thrust of the dagger into the centre of her soul, her heart breaks, but she does not turn into stone.