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    abstract blues and browns

    Covering the Cover: Pain and Passion

    An eloquent sculpture evokes the themes in this issue: the redemptive nature of suffering, and the hope implicit in the Easter story.

    By Rosalind Stevenson

    February 25, 2023

    The conversation surrounding this issue’s cover centered on the questions that pain raises. Why do people suffer? And can any good come of it? As this is our Spring issue, coming out at the beginning of the Lenten season leading up to Easter, it seemed clear that the artwork should be derivative or allegorical of the Passion of Christ. After floating various concepts – including Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes with crosses, saints and martyrs, stigmata, and Easter imagery such as thorns, spear, or cross – we found ourselves returning again and again to the powerful image of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Madonna della Pietà. This eloquent marble sculpture brings together the themes of physical pain (Christ’s crucifixion and death), compassion or “suffering with” (Mary holding her son), the redemptive nature of suffering, and the hope implied in the story of Easter.

    face of Michaelangelos Pieta

    Michelangelo Buonarroti, Madonna della Pietà, 1498–1499

    Two representations of this image stood out: one, a detail of the statue showing Mary’s face as she looks on her son, reflecting his pain. This appears on the back cover, along with an excerpt from the “Stabat Mater,” a Christian hymn from the thirteenth century that speaks of Mary’s suffering as she beholds Jesus crucified and asks that we might share in the suffering of them both, and so share in the victory of the cross:

    Eia, Mother, fount of love,
    Make me feel the power of sorrow
    that I might mourn with you.

    For the front cover, we chose Daniel Bonnell’s 2018 painting Pieta Meditation #1. This semi-abstract oil painting depicts a silhouette of Michelangelo’s statue, surrounded by darkness with light breaking through. The sorrow of Mary with the broken body of her son is still there, giving shape to the form – but through it, a glimpse of the hope that lies beyond.

    front cover of Plough Quarterly No. 35: Pain and Passion. abstract silhouette of the Pieta in blues and browns


    Another View

    Edvard Munch was born in 1863 in a farmhouse in Løten, Norway. When he was five, his mother died of tuberculosis, and he lost his sister nine years later to the same disease. The family was poor, and his father suffered from mental illness, as did some of his siblings. Confined to his bed by sickness for much of his childhood, Edvard would occupy himself by drawing. By his teenage years, art had become his primary focus. He enrolled in a technical college for engineering, but dropped out due to poor health and his wish to pursue art. His childhood influenced his approach to art; as he wrote in his diary: “In my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”

    painting of two horses and a field

    Edvard Munch, Spring Plowing, oil on canvas, 1916

    Contributed By RosalindStevenson2 Rosalind Stevenson

    Rosalind Stevenson is the magazine designer for Plough. She lives at Fox Hill Bruderhof in Walden, New York.

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