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I saw a photo this week that caught my eye.
It is a drawing in old dark ink of a woman with curly hair, in a loose dress with a baby balancing on her lap. He also has curly hair and the locks make his head almost resemble an aura of the sun. The child stands on two thick, small legs and the mother pushes him against her right arm and holds his buttocks firmly with her left hand.
The woman with the curly hair smiles. Not as if she has no care in the world, but as if all she really cares about in this world is the child in her arms.
The child holds a flower in his left hand and looks out to the world we cannot see, beyond the loving clasp of a mother’s shoulder.
The mother and child sit on what appears to be a weathered wooden ledge amid tall grass, mottled and wild. Those sharp and unruly blades of grass reminded me this week of increasing infections and heady weather that keeps us clinging to the ones we love. But we all run into what Shakespeare called our “sea of trouble.”
I read on to see that the sketch is by Albrecht Dürer, the great German artist, who called it “The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bench.” It is believed to have been drawn about 1503 as a study for a later painting. Five years ago it sold at an estate sale for $30. The seller thought it was a reproduction.
Art experts quoted in news reports think this rare original Dürer sketch could sell for $50 million.
But for $30 or $50 million, I found the real value of “The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Couch” in the simple delicacy of its gentle strokes and images. In Dürer’s artistry, Mary and the baby Jesus are not seen as icons, but as mother and child. The love in their looks, arms and hands reminds me of mothers and children I’ve seen all over the world in almost the same pose on park benches and playgrounds, in war zones and refugee camps, and on subways and buses.
A child and mother who, like all of us, do not know what is there, or what lies ahead. So we’re holding each other now.