Art

A gift for the pope

Taos artist Kimberly Webber's painting 'Pia Mater' honors the Divine Mother

By Ariana Kramer
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 3/20/19

Somewhere in Vatican City is a new rendering of the Divine Mother named "Pia Mater," a personal gift by Taos artist Kimberly Webber to His Holiness Pope Francis.

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Art

A gift for the pope

Taos artist Kimberly Webber's painting 'Pia Mater' honors the Divine Mother

Posted

Her face holds eternity. Many are her names. She has been immortalized by artists across millennium and across the world's cultures. In the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic Church, her image is all-enveloping. Her presence emanates from Michelangelo's stone "Pieta," Raphael's "Sistine Madonna," Caravaggio's "Madonna and Child with St. Anne" and Pope Francis' personal favorite, "Salus Populi Romani," a recently restored Byzantine icon dating back to the year 590.

Somewhere in Vatican City is a new rendering of the Divine Mother - painted this time by the skillful brushstrokes of a woman -- with traditional, pure mineral pigments, including azurite, lapis, manganese violet, malachite, mica, marble powder and pure 24-karat gold. She is named "Pia Mater," a personal gift by Taos artist Kimberly Webber to His Holiness Pope Francis.

It took Webber a year to complete the painting, and an international team of ambassadors, filmmakers, clergy and many others a few months to make arrangements for her to bring her gift to Rome. Webber met the pope on Feb. 20 in the one-on-one portion of his papal audience and presented him with "Pia Mater" to express her gratitude for the depth of his sincerity and efforts to bring compassion and comfort to a suffering world.

"It felt really incredible to hand it over to him," Webber said. "I knew this would be an appropriate gift to him because of his love and devotion to Mother Mary."

"Pia Mater" was created at Webber's primary studio in Ranchos de Taos as part of her new "Eden" series of paintings. The adobe compound was originally part of the historic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church plaza. As she was working on the piece, Webber would often walk to the church with her dog and visit the statue of Saint Francis.

When Webber began the charcoal sketch of what would become "Pia Mater" in 2017, she could sense something was different about the image.

"I had the feeling even at that time that it was unusual. She felt so classic - she had a different energy," Webber recalled. "It just flowed out … and it kept having that feeling all throughout its creation."

As a finished piece, "Pia Mater" holds strength, simplicity and incredible beauty. The 80-plus layer painting is a 24-by-18 inch rice paper, earth pigment, encaustic and oil on panel. The painting's custom frame was made by the Golf Leaf Frame Makers of Santa Fe. It is hand-carved and gilded with 22-carat gold, then burnished and sealed with beeswax.

The face of the Divine Mother is draped in purple cloth, the Tyrian purple of ancient times, a nod to the Renaissance painter Raphael. The purple folds like the petals of an old rose over her heart. Her throat is uncovered, a mark of tenderness. She is crowned with a golden orb, reminiscent of both sun and crescent moon.

"The figure is life-size in that small frame, so you really feel her presence in the room with you when she's hanging on the wall," Webber said.

The name "pia mater" is a medieval Latin term meaning "tender mother." Webber explained that it is also the anatomical term for the delicate innermost membrane covering the brain and spinal cord.

On the night prior to her meeting with Pope Francis, Webber stayed up with the painting in a hotel that was a converted monastery. From the windows she could see St. Peter's Dome and watch the full moon bathe the land. She meditated and prayed, preparing herself for what was to come.

After a 4 a.m. wake-up call, Webber and the team that made the journey possible made their way to the Vatican.

Webber presented her tickets for the "Baciamano" where the pope meets visitors one-on-one. Then, she listened as Pope Francis made an introductory speech. Following this, the pope began greeting the line of visitors.

When she described the moment of meeting Pope Francis, Webber's voice softened. "It was just really, really sweet," she said. "He was looking at me before he got to me, which I thought was very unusual. We locked eyes."

"When he got to me, he took my hands, and we were looking into each other's eyes and it was just very sweet. I thanked him for everything he's doing. He's really courageous. I thanked him, and he asked me to pray for him."

"I said, 'That's what this is. I made this for you to support you, so you can feel the support and the love of the mother.' He turned and he looked at the painting, and he blessed it … Then he turned back to me and he said it again.

"He said, 'Please pray for me.' He was very serious."

"I am," Webber told him. "We are."

Webber said she does not know the exact whereabouts of her gift, or what life it will have now that the painting has been given to Pope Francis.

"I'm hoping he keeps the painting with him, at least for now," Webber said. "That would honestly be my hope - that it would hang with him in his quarters, and be a source of love and comfort and beauty in his world."

Webber is hopeful she might hear at some point where her painting lands. But, she understands the fate of her work is out of her hands. She feels satisfied knowing she has done her part to set it out into the world. "It has its own destiny now," she said.

Made of the earth's precious minerals, draped in purpled majesty, framed in gold, bathed in moonlight and blessed - "Pia Mater" will find her way.

High-quality prints of "Pia Mater" and originals and prints of Webber's "Eden" series paintings are available through Untitled Fine Art, 133 Kit Carson Road, Taos. Call (575) 758-3969 or visit untitledfineartgallery.com.

The Spanish version of this story is here.

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