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Mary, Seat of Wisdom

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Mary, Seat of Wisdom. Oil on canvas. 124cm x 94 cm. Commissioned by and in collection of University College Dublin Chaplaincy.

I wanted the painting to be somehow contemporary and traditional at the same time. The inspiration and model is my wife, Annette, sitting in our kitchen, but naturally, this is not a portrait of her, but a starting point to something else. I tried to give the image some elements of Mary’s being and life: the profound and the everyday; wisdom and simplicity; contemplation and activity; suffering and peace; beauty and depth; tradition and everyday life. She is sitting by a table, where cooking and other work take place, as well as where the family share food, experience and hospitality.

I originally thought of Mary holding a book, but in the end settled on her holding a scroll, symbolising reading and wisdom. Behind her on the dresser are a mortar and pestle, an orange and a lemon. In traditional Christian painting, the orange symbolises purity, chastity and generosity, and the lemon shows fidelity in love. There is also a view of the outside, including a watering can, plant and a view beyond, showing Mary’s place in a holistic world.