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Sculpting Our Lady of Cana

Monday, August 05, 2019

Sculpting Our Lady of CanaSculptor Cody Swanson explains the creation of the central statue for the new Rosary Garden.

The Choice of Material

The statue was modelled in a semi-­refractory clay from Vicenza which was fired to 1100 degrees Celsius. I chose this material because it has a unique yellow paglierino colour, very similar to the weathered English stone used throughout Saint Dominic's priory. The material was suggested on economic grounds, as stone would have been much more expensive; though, ironically, this clay, when fired, is significantly more durable and resistant outdoors.

The Design Process 

The drawing phase took a month and the modelling, drying, and firing process required four months. Disegno is the foundation of sculpture, painting, and architecture, so the drawing is essential for transmitting the idea with immediacy and flexibility.

Initially the request was to combine the iconography of Our Lady, Patroness of the Order of Preachers with Our Lady of Cana – which brought me to develop the composition with an upraised arm with mantle in hand. Based upon this sketch it was decided that the hand be outstretched, imploring us to go forth and 'do as He tells you'.

From the drawing a small clay bozzetto was modelled as a proportional reference, which I then enlarged using a traditional three-dimensional pantograph; and in this case, it allowed me to model the final work hollow, for firing.

Sculpting Our Lady of Cana

Spiritual Inspiration

The intercessory role of Our Lady at the wedding feast of Cana in the Gospel of John was the centre of my prayer and meditation, and I found this particular commentary by J.A. Loarte very inspiring, especially in the context of the Rosary Garden:

John stresses that Mary's presence at the beginning and at the end of Jesus' public life corresponds to a divine plan. The name our Lord uses to address her in Cana ('woman', rather than 'mother') seems to show his intention to form a family founded, not on the bonds of blood, but on faith. This is the same way God addressed Eve in Paradise, when promising that from her progeny would come the Redeemer (Gen 3:15). In Cana, Mary realises that her maternal mission does not end on the natural plane: God is relying on her to be the spiritual Mother of his Son's disciples.

Sculptural Inspirations and Precedents

Bernini addressed the Royal Academy in France by stating that they 'should possess casts of all the great sculptures of antiquity, and they should be taught to draw after these classical models to form a conception of the beautiful which would serve them their entire lives. […] for if their imagination has nothing but nature to feed on, they will be unable to put forth anything of strength or beauty; for nature itself is devoid of both strength and beauty, and artists who study it should first be skilled in recognising its faults and correcting them.' [Paul Fréart de Chantelou, Diary of the Cavaliere Bernini's Visit to France. Princeton University Press, 1985; p. 106.]

How does this relate to this sculpture of Our Lady of Cana? I believe the fall of man is directly manifest in our naturalistic imperfections and it is therefore highly inappropriate that the Mother of Our Lord – who was preserved from original sin – be depicted with a naturalistic face, bearing the likeness of any one individual. I'm convinced she should be depicted idealised and perfect, without proportional or compositional blemish, in continuity with the past while also universal.

With regard to inspiration I always look to the ancients for guidance and in this particular work the idealisation of Praxiteles along with the grace, nobility and balance of Raphael.

I would like to offer my sincere thanks for having been bestowed the honour to develop this statue for Saint Dominic's priory; it was a labour of love for Our Lord and Our Lady in service of the Church, and I pray it will help encourage the faithful to 'do whatever He tells you' for generations to come.

We welcome visitors to the Rosary Garden.

Cody Swanson's work may be viewed here.

Main photo: Fr Chris Eggleton OP, Promoter General for the Holy Rosary, visited London for the inauguration of the new Rosary Garden.


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