The seven sorrows of the virgin

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In December 2011 the Municipality of Casoria, within a project promoted by the Department of Culture in the person of Mrs. Luisa Marra, commissioned to Marco Chiuchiarelli a cycle of works with a sacred theme intended for the Basilica di San Mauro. The theme chosen was the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, a theme which the artist had always been interested in. Through it Marco had the opportunity to narrate Christ’s human experience as seen by a woman’s eyes, his mother Mary. ‘The seven sorrows of the Virgin’ were an old devotional practice; they were usually included under the name of Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrows) and symbolized the image of the Virgin Mary holding her heart pierced by seven swords. The technical reference was the Via Crucis painted by Marco himself some years before.

The neutral, grey background allows exclusively focusing on the main theme, as it doesn’t divert observer’s attention with distracting pictorial elements. Jesus doesn’t appear or, if he does, he is not in the foreground: his mother is the main character. Each panel, as always in Marco’s art, expresses much more than it can be seen. The first three panels, respectively entitled ‘Presentazione al tempio’ (‘Presentation in the Temple’), ‘Fuga in Egitto’ (‘The Flight to Egypt’) and ‘Il ritrovamento al tempio’ ‘The Finding in the Temple) represent a pain only announced and predicted. The son is still alive and unaware of his fate, and the mother can only feel a sorrow to come, though not less dreadful, which now she receives more softened through Simeon’s prophecy (panel 1) that predicts her the pain she will be given, the anguish due to the flight (panel 2) where the face of the Virgin, a forced refugee, hides her divine child behind her clothing to protect him from the world, and (panel 3) the liberating tears following the terror for having lost her child who is found while discussing with the doctors.

The second lot of paintings, according to the evangelical tradition showing Jesus, after meeting the doctors, as an already adult man, immediately comes to the point. The prophecy announced to Mary comes true. ‘Incontro sulla Via Dolorosa’ (Meeting along the Via Dolorosa’) (panel 4) ratifies the beginning of suffering in all its cruelty. Christ, though oppressed by the patibulum, manages to touch his mother’s fingers one more time, maybe the last time. She is following him along the Way of the Cross, as she has done during all her life, more caring for her beloved son’s pain than for hers own. And she will watch over him until his last breath and even further, endlessly offering him her protection. Her life as a gift for her son’s life, accepting God’s plan. In ‘Ai piedi della Croce’ (‘At Cross’s foot’) (panel 5), Mary is the symbol of woman’s love for her children, for whom she comes to bend to the ground, clasping her fists, respectfully taking part to her son’s pain and choices, never interfering even when her son feels the extreme pain, transfiguring her face into a grimace of sorrow for us not understandable. During the deposition Mary’s body shows all her compassion (panel 6) in receiving again in her womb Jesus’s body that she had given birth to in a stable years before. Her son’s face is hidden by his mother’s warm womb, covered by Mary’s blue mantle protecting his dignity, far from the eyes of betrayers. Mary’s hands hold Jesus’s hands tight, those hands now marked by the nails that had kept him on the top of the cross. She keeps on looking after him once more, in order to hold him tight to her for the last time.

Instead, it will be in the ‘Sepolcro’ (The Grave) (panel 7) that Mary, now dazed by pain but always maintaining her dignity as mother of God, will give her son to eternity by sweetly guiding his feet, as if it were a new birth, but this time to the eternal life. Mary’s figure contains, embraces everything, even the grave is included in the perimeter of her mantle, her silence.

Mary’s path of suffering, started with Simeon’s prophecy, is a path traced by the mother of God with a serene dignity, always marked by her constant love of a mother who puts her son’s life before hers own, thus fulfilling a will that she recognizes as a supreme one and that does not allow any defection. Mary was called directly by God to carry out his plan, God’s plan for man’s salvation. However, she will see this plan only accomplished when her son will be dead, and at the cost of the most dreadful sorrow.