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A Mother’s Day Gift Book

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 12, 2010

With Mother’s Day coming up in a few weeks (it’s May 9th this year), you may be wondering what to get your mom or your wife that goes beyond the usual chocolate or flowers. How about a book with over 200 paintings (and other works of art) depicting motherhood from the great artists of every civilization, but with a focus on the great Western tradition—with the Virgin Mary at its core? Even better, each painting is accompanied by a quotation about motherhood drawn from either the world’s literature or famous people, from major philosophers to movie stars.

This lovely offering, first published last year in Italian, has been published in English this year by Getty Publications, sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. A small thick hardback, measuring about 5” wide, 6” tall and an inch-and-a-half thick, The Art of Motherhood is a delight to page through as one reflects on the beautiful and striking images while reading the quotes, which are often surprisingly good. In addition to natural reflections, there is a spiritual awareness here, with quotes taken from Scripture, several popes, and even the Litany of Loreto.

I’ve reproduced seven of the paintings I like best below, along with their accompanying quotations. (If I had picked the quotations separately, I could have selected favorites for those, too, but this will give you a better feel for the book. Thus, you’ll learn more about my taste in art than my taste in words.)

I particularly recommend this as a gift from young husbands to their wives when they’re still fairly new at raising children. It can help convey the wondrous regard in which a good man holds the mother of his children, and it can also help remind frazzled moms of the essence of their calling. Write a heartfelt inscription; leave the book on your coffee table over the years so that your kids will see both the art and the inscription. However, the appeal is not limited to the young: the book is appropriate for all mothers. Considering the fine binding, glossy paper, and beautiful color reproductions, it is also a bargain at about $15.00.

Simone Martini, Christ Discovered in the Temple, 1342

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.

— Honoré de Balzac


Simone Martini
Christ Discovered in the Temple

Raphael, Virgin Mary with the Christ Child  and Young St. John, 1513-1514

What are Raphael’s Madonnas but the shadow of a mother’s love, fixed in permanent outline forever?

— Thomas Wentworth Higginson


Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and Young St. John

Murillo, Saint Anne Instructing the Virgin, late 17th century

A good mother makes a good daughter.

— Henry Ward Beecher


Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Saint Anne Instructing the Virgin
Late 17th century

Vigée-Lebrun, Madame Vigée-Lebrun and her Daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise, 1789

O daughter, more charming than your charming mother.

— Horace
(Quintus Horatius Flaccus)


Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun
Madame Vigée-Lebrun and her Daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise

Leslie, Allice in Wonderland, 1879

I had a Mother who read me things
That wholesome life to a child’s heart brings—
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh that every Mother were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be.
I had a Mother who read to me.

— Strickland Gillilan


George Dunlop Leslie
Alice in Wonderland

Cassatt, Young Mother Sewing, 1901

The relationship of parent and child...remains indelible and indestructible, the strongest relationship on earth.

— Theodor Reik


Mary Cassatt
Young Mother Sewing

Sharp, Little Boy Picking Daisies, 1925

When you were born
A garden was born,
The flowers were of all kinds;
The scent carried a long way
Especially the jasmine.
If you knew how much I love you
You’d light a little campfire
In the middle of the sea,
You’d make garlands of flowers,
And you could never stand to be
Without your mother.

— Italian nursery rhyme


Dorothea Sharp
Little Boy Picking Daisies

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