Upon entering the lobby of the parochial grade school that I attended, one was accosted by a large nondescript wall, the middle section of which was paneled with wood strips stained a dark brown in keeping with the taste of the mid sixties. One spring morning at assembly we were told that a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, the namesake of our school, was being carve in Italy for that blank wall. An italian sculpture being shipped to Burlington Vermont! My fertile fifth grade mind went into overdrive. Would it be like an early Michelangelo, sad and refined with maybe an arm or a foot left unfinished while the rest of the gleaming white carrara marble was polished to perfection, evidence that the sculpture was abruptly taken away from the carver to be transported to our school? Or maybe it would be Berniniesque with piles of torrid drapery and undulating rapturous folds. I secretly drew pictures imagining possible permutations.
The fateful day arrived. Something stood against that naked wall beneath a sheet, pregnant with expectation. We were all ushered from our classrooms and silently (for grade schoolers) filed into the lobby to face the sheet. With prayers and a great flourish, the sheet was yanked away from the wall and with it my heart collapsed as it deflated to the floor. There, attached to the wall was a wood carving somewhat painted. Not so much polychromed so as to have that syrupy verisimilitude of the saints and martyrs gazing down upon me at church, but rather like some paint was applied, then wiped off. More like a stain. The much anticipated drapery hung stiffly in lines that I guess were meant to describe folds. Disappointment reigned supreme in my heart that day, and not the Queen of Heaven.
I had long forgotten this episode, until the other day when I was walking down via dei Cestari, here in Roma, and in a store window for arte sacra, there she was. Mater Christi.