This utterly GORGEOUS piece of work by the impossibly talented William Bouguereau is titled "Le Charite."
A couple weeks ago, I saw someone on Facebook erroneously draw the conclusion that this was Our Lady cradling aborted children.
I'm as pro-life as they come, but this piece has exactly zero to do with abortion. This is NOT the Blessed Mother, and Bouguereau (who had painted plenty of BVMs over his career) never once chose to depict her breastfeeding (which is another entry for another time).
I get super agitated whenever someone usurps unrelated content to fit a narrative... even if that narrative is one I happen to agree with (abortion is a terribly grave and unjust sin against innocent life).
I responded to the public FB post with a relatively brief explanation as to what this painting was and what it was ACTUALLY representing. Because so many Catholics were sharing the erroneously captioned message, it felt like I was chasing my tail dropping my "Guys, guys, guys... this isn't the Blessed Mother and those aren't aborted children!" everywhere.
I posted to Twitter as well, and then realized that I missed explaining art. So here I am, back in the saddle...
The woman is the personification of Charity. These are not aborted children, but personifications of all who seek charity. She is bare-breasted and wearing red (the color of martyrdom), indicating her willingness to nourish others with the fullness of herself.
There is an overturned jug of gold at her left foot. This indicates that no cost is too great for the fulfillment of charity in the service of others.
She also has books at her right foot; she is both wise and generous with that knowledge.
She has purple columns on either side indicating both sacrifice and royalty ("and the greatest of these is Charity"). She's seated on white marble, an architectural & art medium known for being lustrous, strong, & pure. The children are not hers biologically, but clearly belong to her. Charity accepts all.
The children exemplify various things Charity can provide. Clockwise from 11 o'clock:
Interestingly, these children are placed at roughly the same places we would see the Wounds of Christ: two in her hands, two at her feet, and one at her side.
Charity is seated upon an altar of sorts, flanked by sacrifice, draped in martyrdom, and enshrined in divinity (the gold behind her, creating an almost halo-like effect). She mirrors the Sacred Wounds and configures herself wholly to Christ, welcoming and sacrificing for all.
Important to note is the fact that she is veiled with downcast eyes, indicating humility. Charity is never boastful; she is only concerned with those she is in service of.
TL; DR - this is not Mary, these are not aborted children, and while art is certainly open to interpretation, that interpretation should be honest with its motives and at least somewhat knowledgeable with the artist/history & circumstances in which it was made.
Please don't ever be like the guy below who got my eye all twitchy. Inevitably, there will be folks who know the truth, and no matter HOW well intentioned your message, it becomes tainted. Don't taint the pro-life message, please... especially not with a Bouguereau.
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