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This Exquisite Translucent Marble Sculpture Is A 'Perfect Gem Of Art'

As a teenager, I didn't quite get why the kids in Ferris Bueller's Day Off went to the art gallery. I mean, they went for an epic lunch posing as the sausage king of Chicago, they went to a Cubs game, they crashed a parade, it was all kinds of fun. But art galleries don't tend to be fun, and it didn't look like they were having fun, so I didn't quite buy that high school kids would go there on purpose.

Of course, now I get it. Life is empty without art, and that flick is about seizing the day and living life to the fullest. You can't do that without art.

For such a masterpiece, not much is known about Giovanni Strazza's most well known work, The Veiled Virgin.

Wikipedia | shhewitt

It's believed that Strazza carved The Veiled Virgin while working in Rome around the 1850s, using the Carrara marble famously employed in many classical and Renaissance works.

Other than that, well, history's a bit murky.

But the work is a decided masterpiece, depicting the Virgin Mary with her eyes closed and her head tilted down, either praying or grieving.

Facebook | Michelangelo via Basilica of St. John the Baptist

And while her expression is perfectly realistic, it's the veil that steals the show. You can clearly make out the braids in her hair and those perfect facial features through the veil.

Veils were a common feature in sculptures during Strazza's days in Rome.

Unsplash | Taylor Heery

Being able to create the illusion of translucency or transparency through solid stone is a mind-boggling display of skill and talent, so sculptors have always seen it as a challenge.

You can find veils and wet drapery in works of art much, much older than The Veiled Virgin.

In the case of The Veiled Virgin, the veil carries more with it than merely showing off Strazza's skill with a chisel, however.

In 1850s Italy, well, Italy wasn't even Italy yet, at least not as we know it today. During that time, there were many Italian states undergoing unification.

Images of veiled women in art were symbolic of Italy itself, "in the same manner in which Britannia symbolized England, Hibernia symbolized Ireland, and Lady Liberty symbolized the United States," according to Heritage Newfoundland & Labrador.

Yeah, that might be the most unexpected part of The Veiled Virgin's story, the Newfoundland connection.

Strazza's masterpiece isn't where you would think it would be. It's not in Florence, or Milan, or Rome, or even anywhere in Europe.

It's in St. John's, Newfoundland, population 108,860.

The Veiled Virgin has been out in the eastern extreme of Canada since well before it was even part of Canada.

Unsplash | Neil and Zulma Scott

The sculpture arrived in Newfoundland way back in December 1856. We know, because both the bishop, John Thomas Mullock, and the local paper, The Newfoundlander recorded the momentous occasion.

Their descriptions of the event are worth a read through.

In his diary, Bishop Mullock couldn't help gushing over The Veiled Virgin.


"Received safely from Rome, a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in marble, by Strazza," he wrote. "The face is veiled, and the figure and features are all seen. It is a perfect gem of art."

The local paper was even more enthusiastic than the bishop in its write-up.

"To say that this representation surpasses in perfection of art, any piece of sculpture we have ever seen, conveys but weakly our impression of its exquisite beauty," the article reads. "The possibility of such a triumph of the chisel had not before entered into our conception. Ordinary language must ever fail to do justice to a subject like this – to the rare artistic skill, and to the emotions it produces in the beholder."

h/t My Modern Met