Devon Artist Recreates Exeter Cathedral Painting to Show Realities of Parenting
A Devon artist has recreated one of Exeter Cathedral’s religious paintings of Mary and the infant Jesus as a photo pastiche, as a way of showing the realities of modern motherhood.
Anna Grayson is one of the first artists to exhibit at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), in Exeter, which has just re-opened after lockdown.
The former BBC science journalist and broadcaster from Teignmouth studied art in Exeter after retiring and started making “updated” copies of famous works of art using photography.
She says she noticed the painting of the Mary, the infant Jesus, and John the Baptist, when she was doing a drawing exercise in the Cathedral.
Her version, titled “Our Lady of Lewisham” features her niece and great nephew and niece.
“My Madonna has been up all night. The original in the painting looks like she has had some sleep and fed her rather chubby baby!
“You can see the motherly love, but you can’t see the suffering very clearly, with mine you can.
“I have portrayed the Virgin Mary as a real mother. I wanted to show her love and her relationship with Jesus as human beings.
“I also wanted to show Mary as someone who gave comfort.”
The Exeter Cathedral painting is a copy of the Madonna of the Chair by Raphael. The original was painted in oil on a wooden panel in about 1513–1514, and is at the Palazzo Pitti Collection in Florence, Italy.
It was controversial at the time of painting as the Virgin Mary was portrayed with a turban rather than the usual blue veiled head. The Cathedral said it did not know how it came to have the copy.
Anna said she was “absolutely thrilled” with her RAMM exhibition, The Photographic Art Thief, which was originally meant to take place in July 2020 but was postponed by the pandemic.
Her work has been exhibited in the Royal Academy and featured on Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel Four.
“I haven’t done many religious paintings but those I’ve done I’ve had to do with absolute sincerity, “She said.
“Even though there’s a funny side to the photographs, I have to get the theology right for me.
“I do hope it inspires people to look more closely at the two pictures and to reflect on them.”
She said depicting paintings like the Madonna and Child, one of Adam and Eve and a Gospels-inspired altarpiece “in the Celtic style of Iona” had helped her own faith.
“It’s made me think about what faith means to me now and it’s still there – so I shall be asking for a Christian funeral in an actual church if that’s all right!”
Anna said she was now keen to photograph a new version of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper.
She said it would feature ‘disciples’ from the West Country with a special local twist.
The Photographic Art Thief exhibition is available to view at the RAMM until 18 July. Exeter Cathedral is now open to visitors every day.