Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Chiaroscuro in Motherhood

Entombment of Christ, Caravaggio
Chiaroscuro. In Italian, the word means "light dark." I first learned this word while studying Caravaggio. While I studied in Italy, I tried to see every Caravaggio in the city of Rome (and I almost managed - I saw every painting except one. The very last day I was in Roma, I tried to visit and the church was closed for siesta. Because churches take naps. That's Roma for you). Chiaroscuro is a technique of contrasting a dark background with figures emblazoned in light in the foreground. The effect is striking, dramatic.

How does art history play into my vocation in motherhood? It's been one of those weeks here that the house, my appearance, my disposition all appear to be shell-shocked. The baby is teething and would prefer to be as close by as possible, preferably held or nursing at all times. My son has a stomach bug. This week has been a bit dark feeling, a little overwhelming.

And then the sun comes out from behind the cloud. My son spontaneously reads a word without prompting (surprising himself as much as us!), gets exciting about making a handmade rosary for his nana's birthday, giggles uncontrollably when the baby wants to hold his hand the whole car ride. My daughter finally stops touching me to go build with duplos and proceeds to wave "Hi" with the tiniest little voice to every bird, squirrel, cat, and dog to walk past the house. My heart melts.

The interesting thing about chiaroscuro is the background is easily forgettable in contrast to the well-lit action in the forefront. Without the light, the darkness would overwhelm the painting in shadows and incoherent details. The darkness acts as a foil to highlight the beauty of the light. I'm not saying that I would not be able to recognize the grace of the everyday without the chaos, but it certainly makes me appreciate the laughter, smiles, hugs, and snuggles more. The beauty of childhood shines in contrast to the hard nights of teething, sickness, and silent prayers for sleep. Today maybe a study in chiaroscuro, but tomorrow will be something different. Maybe we will enter the neoclassicism era. My kids do enjoy being naked.

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