On Viewing 'The Assumption of the Virgin'

Alyssia MacAlister

 

I

The viewer always stands too close
and cannot fully see through
reflections that come from the halogen bulbs
and spot out and blot out parts of the painting
but show off the brush strokes very well

II

At the point of Mary’s assumption
the disciples all appear transported from wherever
not to say goodbye but to witness Mary
to witness the miracle because miracles
must be seen or what is the point

III

Mary’s bed becomes a sarcophagus
with the moon-blue tomby lid slid back

IV

Mary’s body bursts into lilies
which spill out to open their death sigh

V

Mary has gone to where seraphim
with their sass wait and many biblical celebrities
chatter like an audience in pantomime season
before the show starts and it’s all fairy godmothers
and monks and cherubim robbed of ferocity
suspended on invisible string as floating torsos
or just as heads wrapped in blue or red silks
they are celestial and beyond bodies now

VI

Mary looks older than she would have been
she would have been young to us
she would have been young to us
the viewer scribbles in a pocket book
and thinks, you don’t talk much, Mary

VII

He tilts his head forward,
points up though there is no higher
no embrace from the son
Mary’s face implores
but He does not make eye contact

VIII

The viewer knows Mary is initiated
light is absorbed by heaven through osmosis
for Mary is the Silent Mother now
Mary is Our Mother

IX

Meanwhile, a tiny horse
rears on the outskirts of Florence
on a road on the edge of the of the painting
where everyone without a name
has been shunted unaware
of the candid peripheral they’ve become
and the viewer likes this
much more than all the gold leaf
so the viewer puts her thumb nail
next to the figure
and a guard ushers her away

The Assumption of the Virgin, about 1475-6 Francesco Botticini, about 1446-1497 Tempera on wood, 228.6 x 377.2 cm The National Gallery, London Seen 18th March 2016

The Assumption of the Virgin, about 1475-6
Francesco Botticini, about 1446-1497
Tempera on wood, 228.6 x 377.2 cm
The National Gallery, London
Seen 18th March 2016


Alyssia MacAlister has a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Durham. Alyssia writes poetry, prose and non-fiction and is nurturing a found-text poetry project with the working title Proper Gander. When she’s not cutting up newspapers, Alyssia spends most of her time reading trauma theory research and saving insects from life-threating situations. Contact at macalistera2020@gmail.com