Friday, October 3, 2014

The Madonna of the Lilies (William-Adolphe Bouquereau)

The Madonna of the Lilies
William-Adolphe Bouquereau (1825-1905)

We are struck immediately by the steady gaze of the Christ-child. He is no longer an infant, but perhaps 18 months of age, and His blue eyes are focused directly upon us. There is no trace of timidity, but rather calm recognition as He looks out, into the world, into us. His head is adorned with a crown of curly, golden locks. His arms are held aloft, as if ready for an embrace. The thumb and first two fingers of His right hand are extended in blessing. He is naked, clad only by the supporting hands of His Mother.

The Blessed Virgin holding the Child is seated on a throne, ensconced between gracefully carved high arms of white stone, before which stand two bouquets of white Easter lilies. She is facing us, but her eyes are cast downward. Her coif, which leaves her neck exposed, is of the purest white, and her veil is a deep and velvety blue trimmed with gold, as are the vermilion sleeves of her upper garment. This is not the humble homespun of a poor virgin from the countryside, but rather the finest of rainments, fit for the Queen of Heaven. 


  1. Forgive me, but there is something intrinsically wrong with this picture. The Christ Child is completely nude. I believe this style is used to portray that Our Lord was born into the world as a poor child, with nothing to call his own.

    But I think this sends a false message. First, Our Lady bound her Child in 'swaddling clothes' which would have covered Him completely. This is written in Scripture for our edification, and instruction, no?

    Second, Our Lady is fully covered, as is fitting for a woman completely pure. That she would expose her Child does not make sense.

    Third, this Holy Child is a model for ALL. Nudity is inappropriate as an image for any child.

    Our Lord was stripped of all his clothing on the Cross, but all artists portray Him with modesty with at least a loin cloth to give Him some protection. This stripping was to humiliate the crucified person. But we adore the Christ Child. He should not be shown nude as this is a posture of humiliation.

    Your description of Our Lady states that she was not clothed with the humble homespun of a poor virgin, but with rich garments as befitting her as Queen. Should the artist have used the same logic for clothing the Christ Child?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Barbara. Indeed, Bouquereau has chosen to portray the Christ-Child in the nude, as He has been portrayed countless times by great artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and many more, all of them faithful Catholics, and many of them under the patronage of the Church. I think I understand your concerns, but wonder if they are not overly colored by our modern preoccupation with nudity. That is, I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with such a portrayal. While the stripping of Our Lord was an act intended to humiliate, I think the devoutly Catholic Bouquereau was here underscoring the perfect health and absolute purity of Christ - recalling the innocence of our first parents - and as well as making an allusion to the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, the Blessed Virgin is clothed in rich garments befitting of the Queen of Heaven. But, by the same token, what cloth could possibly be fitting for Our Lord? I am reminded of the Gospel of St. Matthew: "And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these!" Perhaps the passage was not far from the thoughts of Bouquereau, given the name of the work: The Madonna of the Lilies.

    With that being said, I apologize if you felt in any way scandalized by the image. I'll take your concerns into consideration in the future. Pax et bonum!


  3. Thanks for your response. No, I was not scandalized! On the other hand, because Our Lord as a Babe has been portrayed nude thousands of times doesn't make it correct. As well, Catholics often are mistaken in their actions until someone points out another idea.

    Anyway, I really like your blog. And YOU certainly come across as a thinking, faithful Catholic, and I'm glad about that.


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