Romancing the Stone

It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture: two figures, slightly larger than life-sized. A lovely young woman, kneeling as if to pick up the jar she has apparently just dropped, gazes up over her shoulder at a man standing beside her.

He is a step away from the woman, gazing back at her with his hand extended, perhaps beckoning or reassuring. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything practical like giving her a hand up or offering to help pick up the jar. It looks more like he’s encouraging her to look at him.

True, he’s well worth looking at. His thick, curly hair is a bit much, but he’s handsome, with an interesting face and the kind of toned, muscular body that comes from regular visits to the gym. This is obvious to the most casual observer, because the only thing he’s wearing is a strategically-placed piece of drapery.

The electricity between them fairly crackles. The piece is like the cover of a romance novel captured in stone.

Jesus-MaryM-Statue-crop

Of course, maybe romance, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. The kind of love the artist intended to portray is open to question. Because this sculpture, by Bruce Wolfe, (there’s a better picture here) is in the mission church in Santa Barbara, California, and represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It depicts the moment he speaks to her, after she has come to his tomb and found it empty.

Maybe the intensity between the man and woman is religious. But my guess is that any fan of The Da Vinci Code who believes Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married would find supporting evidence in this beautiful artwork. Or maybe Mr. Wolfe was just following a venerable tradition, going at least as far back as the Renaissance, of using religious themes as a vehicle for portraying the human body with a minimum of covering. Just think of Michelangelo’s “David,” or all those images of Adam and Eve with and without their fig leaves.

On a side note, the first time I saw actual fig leaves on a tree in Turkey, I was surprised. They’re large, all right, but their shape doesn’t lend itself well to modest covering. They look almost like hands with the fingers spread apart. fig leafThere’s a lot of open space in a fig leaf. It would take several of them, layered carefully, just to create a fig-leaf Speedo.

But fig leaves and draperies aside (don’t we wish), I saw this sculpture recently in the company of another woman who, like me, is respectable and responsible and old enough to know how to behave in public. And we came close to getting the giggles like a couple of 13-year-old girls at a Mr. Universe contest. We had to move on to another section of the church before we embarrassed ourselves with our whispered but decidedly non-religious comments.

But not before she summed up our reaction. “Wow. That’s a hunky Jesus. I’d follow him.”

Hmmm. As a strategy for religious conversion, that just might have its merits.

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