These are the emotions I experience each time I walk into an Early Childhood Waldorf classroom.
Beautiful colors and details seem to mingle together, and I get the feeling that I am not only in a playspace, but a place that is very much like a home.
Reverence for all things contained in the room...
Guardian Angel by Marjan Van Zeyl
Imagery does so much for me; evokes so many sensations and memories.
I imagine what imagery does for a very young child, and I believe that it effects children in a very powerful way.
This past week, I have been researching and considering the image of the Sistine Madonna.
The Sistine Madonna by Raphael, 1513
Often, we find this image placed within the Waldorf Early Childhood classroom.
It's made me more than curious.
Is it appropriate? What does it mean?
The Sistine Madonna is one of many images within Waldorf Kindergartens and Nurseries that evoke a sense of motherly love....but it is certainly the one which has struck me the most. The image is thought to have healing qualities, or is even described as a "Yantra". (an image that works on a person on many levels, even by its mere presence!)
"Natalis" ("Natal Day" or "Day of Birth") by Marjan Van Zeyl
The image makes me feel peaceful and perhaps, as a mother myself, even powerful.
But it wasn't until I researched the details of the painting that I began to understand why this image means so much to so many....
Consider the man and woman below Mother and Child...
The man is Sixtus II, a pope who was widely admired for his magnanimity and benevolence. In short, he transformed his power into peace during a time of dire conflict.
He seems to be gesturing to us, the viewers, while he looks on in deep recognition and reverence at the Mother and Child. He also places his hand to his heart, which makes me think of truth and sympathy.
The woman is Saint Barbara, a beautiful woman who was locked up in a tower by her father who feared she had become a Christian.
She maintained her faith and suffered violence which left her disfigured for the rest of her life. Saint Barbara lived into her late seventies and was known for her caring and loving deeds for the poor and ailing.
Here we have 2 powerful archetypes: power turned to peace, and the sacrifice of beauty turned into spiritual love. A wise choice by the artist, I believe!
The two cherubs at the bottom of the piece are a well known image. To me, they represent a delightful childlike innocence. I also consider a child literally looking up at the piece, and this being the closest image to them...there is some significance there! The emotions involved with pondering so much about the vast world they are waking up to ate captured so beautifully here!!
The Madonna and Child eminate the strongest emotions for me. The Child is so robust and awake...and he is about the same size as my son at this time. He appears so aware and present! This vignette brings me into the realm of motherhood; the ultimate feminine quality...
How I feel when I hold him in my arms and nurse him..
How I feel when he reaches out to me in his sleep..
How he is instantly comforted by my touch; his eyes roll back and his body softens...
W and I, Spring 2010
All of the classrooms I have personally visited who have decided to display this image use a "cropped" version of solely the Mother and Child. The image is displayed on the wall in a simple fashion. I had questions for the classroom teacher I visited this past Fall....
"What's the siginifcance of this image in your classroom?", I asked.
"It's the archetypal mother," she replied. Plain and simple. "The image moves many people..."
We all know by now that Waldorf schools have been "accused" of operating as secular schools. They've been brought to court over it, and this is one of the small details in question. To a first time visitor in a Waldorf classroom, the image may suggest religious undertones in the classroom and teacher.
River Valley Waldorf School
I feel that a gentle and simple conversation (much like what I experienced) would be effective in explaining the significance of the piece. At the time, I wasn't religious by *any* means, but I still understood. As I walked closer to the print, I gazed at the Mother figure. Yes, I got it. I felt the magnitude. In fact, I now feel somewhat energized each time I look at an iconic representation....
Saint Martin, brave and kind...
Also noteworthy is the decision to display the piece in simplicity and reverence, not sentimentality. Draping the painting with cloth, surrounding it with flowers and candles in an altar-like fashion would be inappropriate in a Waldorf Kindergarten, not to mention overly suggestive and somewhat deceiving to families new to a school community.
Rudolf Steiner mentions The Sistine Madonna often in his lectures and teachings. It's pretty complicated, and I don't think I have a deep enough understanding of Anthroposophy yet to reflect upon it in this space. But worth mentioning is the advice which he gave mothers-to-be...."Look upon Raphael's painting of The Sistine Madonna often...."
I've made the choice to display the piece in my home, in our playroom. As a mother and hopeful Waldorf early childhood teacher, I draw sensation and potency from the archetypal mother. Isn't that what an early childhood teacher is: an archetypal mother? Someone who strives to move about the day emanating love, gentleness, and a model worthy of imitation? Some young visitors to our playschool recently noticed it, and exclaimed...."Look! That's like me and my mom!"
That's the most all encompassing and powerful explanation I've come across yet.
....I'm interested in your initial thoughts of the paining.
....How do you feel about the placement in a Waldorf classroom?