You can imagine my excitement when I received the request from a patron in Texas for a new Madonna for his private residence. As you know, portraiture is a love of mine. And whose portrait would I rather attempt than that of my heavenly Lady, the Mother of God! For a Catholic artist, this is an honor and a dream. I have depicted the Virgin Mary before, but never had such an opportunity to focus on a Madonna painting and produce to the best of my ability in her honor.
The intention was to execute this painting this spring. Coordinating was a bit of a challenge (much like all endeavors these days), with no ability to make advanced plans and everything uncertain. Fortunately, I was able to work with a local model and the other artist friend joining me in the studio is very close by as well — so when the moment arose that all parties were available, we were able to act quickly! The model’s time was very limited and I was under deadline on my latest children’s book illustrations, but we managed to squeeze in a good number of hours in the studio in one week’s time.
My patron had indicated a desire for something along the lines of the Italian baroque images below. The goal was also to capture a Mary with a very youthful look.
A makeshift canopy-type structure from cardboard served so that the shadows would be intense behind her while also allowing the natural light from my window to fall directly on her face, causing a strong compositional contrast and highlight. With this in place, I was able simply and immediately to achieve one of the main elements of these reference paintings: a deep background and very light foreground.
On the Saturday before the modeling week, we all gathered in the studio to set up and Deirdre came to help drape the model so I could set the style for our Marian pose. With the above paintings as my inspiration, I was looking for a color palette and style that was both rich and simple, while also working with the very fair skin tone of the model.
We landed on the combination of white and red with the traditional blue mantle. The white wimple is a fine, beautiful linen-wool blend fabric — the same blend (as we learned from the friend who loaned the fabric to us for this purpose) that would have been reserved for priests’ temple rituals in the ancient Jewish tradition.
After the week’s worth of work with the live model, the halo was the final touch still lacking. After considering a fine, tilted gold ring for the halo, I ultimately landed upon this glow to gently emphasize the holiness of the Virgin. A few subtle changes to the face served to idealize and distance the image from the model’s actual look.
Altogether, the process was rapid-fire due to the constraints of working in the midst of cultural crisis! But all went very smoothly. It was an absolute honor to do this work.
From the beginning of the project, my patron and I had discussed back and forth about the right frame style for this image. That conversation concluded, the choice was a vintage gold frame which arrived here just days ago and with which I’ll be finalizing the painting this coming week before it ships to its final destination.
So, without further ado, I offer you my Morning Star Madonna, an initial contribution to the massive and venerable tradition of Marian oil paintings. My profound thanks to the collector who made this endeavor possible by his patronage! I hope it will be a significant enrichment of his home.
Please stay tuned as I will be offering a very limited number of giclée prints of this image in the coming weeks, exclusively to my newsletter subscribers. It will be my great pleasure to be able to offer high-quality reproductions to a few purchasers so that we can further spread the work enabled by this commission.
Hello there, I'm John H. Folley, an oil painter in the Boston School tradition. Thanks for visiting the Beauty Advocacy Blog, where it's my job to help you become a more discerning art appreciator.
Connect with John: