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Medieval Madonna with Wild Strawberry from the Żywiec Municipal Museum

08.08-10.09.2017 Medieval Madonna with Wild Strawberry from the Żywiec Municipal Museum
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The Madonna with Wild Strawberry from the Żywiec parish of the Holy Virgin Mary, while sticking to a convention in Marian iconography that was widely popular in the Middle Ages, is not a piece typical for its day. Apparently, it is just another majestic representation of an enthroned Madonna with Child on her lap and angels around her.

Painted probably between 1465 and 1477 and exemplifying the Maesta type of Madonna, which evolved from early medieval painting, the representation is associated with a style of Gothic distemper painting on wood board (panel painting) practiced in the region of Małopolska. Though clearly hieratic, it is unstripped of certain rare charm or even lyricism, and additionally carries important meanings. Two attributes have a major role in that.  One is a leaved wild strawberry held by Mary, the other – a bird perched on the Christ Child’s arm. The wild strawberry may stand for the Virgin’s chastity as well as for the garden of Eden (or the food of the saved in Paradise). The plant’s trifoliate form was also a reference to the Holy Trinity. The bird, which may be interpreted as goldfinch, alludes to Christ’s future sacrifice and resurrection.

The symbolic accents and the entire medieval image were long hidden underneath a completely different, devotional painting dating back to Baroque. It was not until all-out conservation work carried out thirty years ago and again recently that the unique Gothic painting, most probably brought to Żywiec from Krakow by canon Andrzej Kozatius in the early 17th century, showed from under a layer of overpaint – for us to see it in its full glory.

Autor: Filip Chmielewski

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