"Innocence" by William Bourguereau, 19th Century, France
This ethereal painting graces the mantle of our cottage. A gift from a friend, it is and always will be one of my most treasured possessions. Our Lady, in all her pure radiance and loveliness, turns away from our gaze, so absorbed is she in her sleeping infant. Her expression of loving devotion and contemplation beckons us to look, not upon her beauty, but upon her beloved Son. She embraces Him with tenderness, but with the firm grasp of a mother who wishes, as I often do, that she could hold onto her Child and the moment forever. To the right, also in Our Lady's care, is a lamb, the symbol of innocence and sacrifice. Our Lady embraces the Lamb unreservedly, but her eyes and countenance turn away from it, almost as if she cannot bear to contemplate the sacrifice that her blameless, blessed babe will endure.
Seeing a lamb in Our Lady's arms also brings to mind my first child, Agnes, whose name means "lamb," while the sleeping baby with the downy head and milky shoulders looks quite a bit like little Maureen. I have often gazed at this picture envisioning Our Lady holding both my eldest and youngest children, and, in so doing, symbolically cradling all of my young ones. She is, after all, their mother too and loves each one dearly. They need only to go to her, and she will take them gladly in her loving arms and present them to her Son. This painting never lets me forget that.
I am not usually one for decorating, but "Innocence" formed the central inspiration for all the other colors and furnishings in the cottage. Our muted green walls and sepia-toned floral fabrics, with hints of ivory and pink hue, were all taken from the colors in this piece of art. We have soft rose vines hand painted round it, to represent Our Lady, the Mystical Rose. The vines draw the eye to the gilded frame bordering the picture, while the frame draws the eye to the Blessed Mother, and the Blessed Mother draws all eyes to Her Son. In this way, as in reality, Our Lady is the frame for Our Lord. I like to think that, through these furnishings and decorations, Our Immaculate Mother Mary has symbolically permeated the cottage, in the same way that her influence and guidance must permeate our lives and our hearts.