Jean Francois Millet eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 69 pages of information about Jean Francois Millet.

The baby meanwhile lies on the other side of the lamp in the shadow.  His little mouth is open, and he is fast asleep.  We can almost fancy that the mother croons a lullaby as she sews.  There is a pathetic little French song called La Petite Helene, which Millet’s mother used to sing to him, and which he in turn taught his own children.  Perhaps we could not understand the words if we could hear it.  But when mothers sing to their babies, whatever the tongue in which they speak, they use a common language of motherhood.  Some such simple little lullaby as this, which mothers of another land sing to their babes, would doubtless interpret this mother’s thoughts:—­

  “Sleep, baby, sleep! 
  Thy father watches the sheep;
  Thy mother is shaking the dreamland tree,
  And down comes a little dream on thee. 
  Sleep, baby, sleep!

  “Sleep, baby, sleep! 
  The large stars are the sheep;
  The little ones are the lambs, I guess: 
  The gentle moon is the shepherdess,
  Sleep, baby, sleep!

  “Sleep, baby, sleep! 
  Our Saviour loves his sheep;
  He is the Lamb of God on high
  Who for our sakes came down to die. 
  Sleep, baby, sleep!”

When we remember that the ancient Romans had lamps constructed somewhat like that in the picture, it seems strange that so rude a contrivance should be in use in the nineteenth century.  But this is only the practical and prosaic side of the question.  For artistic purposes the lamp is just what is wanted in the composition.

You can see how a lamp with a glass chimney and shade would spoil the whole effect.  We should lose that strange beautiful halo surrounding the wick, and the light would fall only on the work, instead of glorifying the face of the mother.  These wonderful impressions of light add much to the artistic beauty of the picture, and explain why artists have so greatly admired it.

The picture naturally recalls that other Mother and Babe, Mary of Nazareth and the holy Child Jesus, who for so many centuries have inspired the imagination of artists.  Often a painter has drawn his first conception for this sacred subject from some peasant mother and child such as these.

In order to give religious significance to their pictures, artists have tried in many ways to suggest the supernatural.  They have introduced halos about the heads of Mary and Jesus, and have made the light seem to shine mysteriously from the child’s body.  Now our painter Millet, representing only an ordinary mother and babe, has not used any such methods.  Nevertheless, without going beyond strict reality, he has produced a mystical effect of light which makes this picture worthy of a place among the Madonnas.  The glow of the lamp transforms the familiar scene into a shrine of mother’s love.



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Jean Francois Millet from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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