In Russia, a gallery security guard on his very first day at work, added eyes to the blank features of Anna Leporskyas’ painting entitled ‘Three figures’.
Fortunately, he used a Biro rather than a permanent marker, which meant the damage was reversible. While I have had to remove Biro and worse from antique statuary, I still have some empathy for his desire to improve a banal painting showing faceless humans. Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul, after all.
Importance of the human face
Studies by Italian Psychologist Francesca Simeon showed that a baby’s ability to recognise a human face is of paramount importance for its survival. Her team discovered the human brain is equipped with specialised neural circuitry for processing faces. It was all in God’s design then, that a baby fed at the breast is advantageously placed for observing the face of its mother, because in this way the baby associates nurture with the face of its ‘care-giver’.
In the pamphlet ‘Innocence, Protector of children and childhood’, penned by the psychologist Dr. Louise Eichoff, the argument is made that this attribute of humans to ‘look up’ in order to find nurture ‘becomes inseparable with life-sustaining goodness and purity’.
She contrasts this with the lower nature of the animal kingdom, whose young are generally fed in a way where the face is not in plain sight. If humans are hard wired to see each other’s faces in order to survive, could it be that by hiding our faces from each other we would become less empathetic to others needs; and perhaps more like animals?
Familiar faces In the T.V. series “Long Lost Family” there is a precious moment of healing when a long lost brother or sister meet their true families. By recognising their shared facial features they gain a sense of belonging, and their “tears have turned to joy”. Faces of the statues of saints should also turn our tears to joy. Because our true family home is in heaven. Their appearances should reflect this. Blessed statues are sacramental objects to be treated with respect, and properly maintained. I am mindful when restoring a saint’s face that it appears pleasing to the viewer so that they might feel more connected with that saint; and thereby facilitate deeper prayer.
The story of the Russian guard who inadvertently added eyes to Anna’s figures made a poignant if unintended point. He expressed a deep seated need that humans have to connect with other human faces. After two years of hiding our faces behind coverings, many people have become disconnected with each other and their communities.
There is hope though, as the pause in normal life has been a time for reflection, giving us a clearer view of the faults of our present culture. It seems that the further society turns away from God, the uglier our surroundings have become.
When the Canadian truck drivers and the crowds supporting them joined hands and prayed the Our Father, against their oppressors, it was a sign that there is in hearts a longing to return to Christian values.
'And if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.' 2 Chronicles 7:14
see more statues of Our Lady restored