In a floral symphony, a sweet group of siblings offer their devotion to an adorable curly-topped toddler. And adorable is just what this child is in the true sense of the word: for this is Jesus, seated on the lap of his mother, Mary of Nazareth, recognizable by her timeless clothing. It is a charming scene, but some will argue that this Adoration is more like an old-fashioned holy card than a work of art. Yet a closer look at the painterly skill of this canvas reveals why Giuseppe Magni (1869–1956) has always been regarded an artist of quality. Observe the fine rendering of the flowers, the folds of cloth, the flesh, and, above all, the way the pose of each of the figures manages to evoke a singular spiritual attitude. Enter into the spirit of this genre scene in which naïveté, far from a weakness, is a deliberately cultivated quality. For, while Western civilization may have lost the grace of childhood, as the Gospel speaks of it, this artist still believes in us; he believes we are still capable of perceiving the beatitudes discernible to the soul of a child.
Contemplation of this Adoration allows us to gauge to what point our new social “values” have succeeded—ironically speaking—in uprooting the virtues of Christian childhood: virtues celebrated here by Giuseppe Magni; virtues which, deeply rooted in the soil of love, blossom naturally from the heart of the joy of Christian family life; those virtues our mother taught us from the cradle; those we saw our father practice. And first among these virtues is piety, that family piety which truly nourishes the personal spiritual life of a child. If, today, I am still a Christian, still faithful, is it not because, at the age of ten, tucked in bed, my parents having blessed me as they traced the sign of the cross on my forehead, I would fall asleep with hands folded over my heart as I said my prayers?