Saturday, March 13, 2010

Creativity and the Bambinello

A key idea that informs my fiction is that of creativity, creativity in the forms of writing, painting, and biology. This idea has led me to contemplate images of the Madonna and child, focusing sometimes on the black virgin. The black virgin has a strong presence in my 2010 novel Child of the Twilight, as has the image of the baby Jesus.
In the 1987 story “The Woodpecker Toy Fact” there is a toymaker named Jack Frost. The narrator of the story recalls her childhood perception of him and his work. “At Christmas he used to make wooden peepshows of the crib. You closed one eye and looked through the hole in the box. Inside, in an unearthly light, were first the shepherds, then the animals, and further back the baby like a sugar mouse in his mother’s arms. The angels were in the far distance, wings sharp like the wings of swallows.” The narrator makes up a lie, telling people Jack Frost told her he made the original of the statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, but nobody takes any notice of her.
At the end of Child of the Twilight a wedding takes place in the church at Woodpecker Point where there is a statue of the Infant of Prague, and there is also a fresco of a black virgin that is a portrait of an indigenous Tasmanian woman. This novel examines the issue of human fertility, presenting to the reader some babies who are the result of accidental couplings, some who are the result of IVF or ART, where science meets biology, and some who are the result of miracles outside science and beyond biology (notably the birth of Jesus).
The images of the black virgin that are venerated in churches, principally in Mediterranean countries, are signifiers of the fertility of Mary, and are frequently found where ancient fertility cults flourished in pagan times. The statues themselves are often the self-same statues that once were venerated as the black goddess. This dark aspect of Mary is deeply attractive to women in particular, and is acknowledged at a visceral as well as a spiritual level.
The statues themselves frequently come with stories of miraculous appearances in streams or caves, and are associated with water, the giver of life. The black virgin presides over birth and motherhood, and church hierarchy and patriarchy have over the centuries attempted to suppress devotion to her, fearful and suspicious of her pagan origins, and probably her dark female arts. You will find her steadily going about her business in such places as Montserrat and Saragossa as well as hundreds of less famous centres. She is good for tourism too.
In Child of the Twilight two are characters who collect facsimiles of the many statues of the black virgin, and one of these characters becomes involved in the search for a miraculous statue of the baby Jesus that has gone missing from a church in Rome. He was fashioned in the fifteenth century by a Franciscan, in the manner of Pinocchio, from a piece of olive wood grown in the garden of Gethsemane and was called the Bambinello. He was painted by angels, lost at sea, and ended up in a glass case in the church of Santa Maria in Araceoli, until he was stolen in 1994.
The role this image plays in the fertility of the characters in the novel brings together the miraculous, the scientific, and the biological, as well as locating the interest in the world of art, not to mention crime as well.
I have written at length on the subject of creativity in connection with the written word (Writing the Story of Your Life; Dear Writer; Not Now Jack) In my fiction I can also trace this preoccupation, specifically via the imagery of the mother and child, in Christian iconography, as well as in the frequent emphasis on the mother, and the child, in my the stories.

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