ON A COPY OF A RAPHAEL IN THE SACRED HEART BASILICA, TIMARU
Above the portal of the southern transept
facing the altar of the star-crowned Queen of Heaven
in a gilt, nineteenth-century approximation
of the baroque, is a very good copy of Raphael’s
Madonna della seggiola, the Madonna of the Chair.
She looks down at the old women saying their Rosary
as if reflected in a circular black eye,
self-assured in her eternal tranquillity, though perhaps
the apple of her cheek is more Bouguereau wax fruit
than the son of sunburnt Urbino’s brush would permit.
She smiles, enigmatic, beatific, her arm
a logarithmic spiral, a snail shell vortex protecting
the plump-limbed Christ-Child more her’s
than God’s, while John the Baptist
gazes on his aunt and cousin in rapture.
Inwardly as a child I used to tremble,
gazing on that great dark eye
instead of the chanting priest, half-stoned
on frankincense, seized by Raphael’s cunning whirlpool
second-hand, unconsciously fearing it might snap shut
with the crash of the Endgame of good and evil.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I became
an art historian.