Madonna and Child 1943-44 (LH 226)


Parish church of St Matthew

Northampton Central Museum

Hornton stone
height 149.9cm

photo: Errol Jackson

When I was first asked to carve a Madonna and Child for St Matthew’s, although I was very interested I wasn’t sure whether I could do it, or whether I even wanted to do it. One knows that religion has been the inspiration of most of Europe’s greatest painting and sculpture, and that the church in the past has encouraged and employed the greatest artists; but the great tradition of religious art seems to have got lost completely in the present day, and the general level of church art has fallen very low (as anyone can see from the affected and sentimental prettinesses sold for church decoration in church art shops). Therefore I felt it was not a commission straightway and light-heartedly to agree to undertake, and I could only promise to make notebook drawings from which I would do small clay models, and only then should I be able to say whether I could produce something which would be satisfactory as sculpture and also satisfy my idea of the Madonna and Child theme as well... There are two particular motives or subjects which I have constantly used in my sculpture in the last twenty years; they are the Reclining Figure idea and the Mother and Child idea. (Perhaps of the two the Mother and Child has been the more fundamental obsession.) I began thinking of the Madonna and Child for St. Matthew’s by considering in what ways a Madonna and Child differs from a carving of just a ’Mother and Child’ - that is, by considering how in my opinion, religious art differs from secular art... It’s not easy to describe in words what this difference is, except by saying in general terms that the Madonna and Child should have an austerity and a nobility, and some touch of grandeur (even hieratic aloofness) which is missing in the everyday ’Mother and Child’ idea. Of the sketches and models I have done, the one chosen has, I think, a quiet dignity and gentleness. I have tried to give a sense of complete easiness and repose, as though the Madonna could stay in that position for ever (as, being in stone, she will have to do). The Madonna is seated on a low bench, so that the angle formed between her nearly upright body and her legs is somewhat less than a right angle, and in this angle of her lap, safe and protected, sits the Infant... The Madonna’s head is turned to face the direction from which the statue is first seen, in walking down the aisle, whereas one gets the front view of the Infant’s head when standing directly in front of the statue... In sculpture, which is related to architecture, actual life-size is always confusing, and as St Matthew’s is a large church, spacious and big in scale too, the Madonna and Child is slightly over life-size. But I did not think it should be much over life-size as the sculptor’s real and full meaning is to be got only by looking at it from a rather nearer view, and if from nearby it seems too colossal it would conflict with the human feeling I wish to express.

Henry Moore quoted in Church of S. Matthew, Northampton, 1893-1943, St Matthew’s Church, Northampton 1943