Art in Focus – September 2022
Adoration, from the series Nossa Senhora (Our Lady) Palácio de Belém, Lisbon
Paula Rego, a Portugese-British artist, died in June this year. So much more than the ‘feminist artist’ she is usually described as in the press, Rego brought to her works a solid realism, using everyday characters to bring legends, stories and situations vividly to contemporary life. When the President of Portugal invited her to create a series of religious works for the chapel of the Palácio de Belém, in Lisbon, Rego admits she was scared, but also excited. Having spent time immersing herself in the Western tradition of religious art, as artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London, she felt ready – and privileged – to take on the task. In doing so, she asked herself the question, ‘How can I update this story?’ Her solution was a masterful series of works exploring the life of Christ but seen through the eyes of his mother, Mary. The Adoration belongs in this series. Traditionally the manger scene depicts shepherds visiting the Christ child. Rego gives us three everyday people looking with wonder at the baby, held in the arms of the young Mary. But there is a tiger’s head rug on the floor and a snake winds around Mary’s clasped hands. Is this in recognition of the tradition that Christ represented the birth of the spiritual, rising above the animal in our nature? Is the snake here an ambivalent symbol associated with evil but also with salvation? There is always more to Rego’s paintings than first appears.
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney
This article was published in the September 2022 edition of Reform