Stuppach Madonna – where is Bethlehem?

Again, a dislocated image, and dislocated in so many ways:

this panel, separated from the wings that once flanked it
in the ‘Snow Chapel’ at Aschaffenburg’s Stiftskirche,
celebrating both the miracle of summer snow
that indicated the location for Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore
and the miracle of snow that regularly whitens our mountains,
is also a picture of the Virgin dislocated from time and place.

In place of agricultural functionality, German Gothic magnificence,
in place of a humble Palestinian village,
many-storied half-timbered lodgings,
store houses, municipal elegance, mercantile bustle;
a basilica, not a synagogue,
a vaulted, buttressed, rose-windowed loftiness,
not a flat mud roof.
Angels pouring out from a ruptured heaven
upon snowy, Germanic hills.

In place of peasant garments,
a jewelled, brocaded refinement.
A pale, auburn, Western Madonna
in a medieval European town – what utter dislocation.

And yet, Grunewald protests,
why should not the rainbowed, smiling wonder
of heaven-on-earth
shine as brightly on the streets of Aschaffenburg or Strasbourg
as on the plains of Judah?
If God dislocates our banal expectations
with such a dramatic coming,
what kind of barrier is mere time or place?

[Matthias Grunewald’s Stuppach Madonna of 1517-19 reproduced courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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