Following yesterday’s post where we saw a candlelit Mary Magdalene, today’s advent offering focuses on another New Testament Mary – Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder (also known as Madonna of the Spindles, c.1501). As as a keen knitter, the title of this painting fascinates me. The yarn winder (also known as a niddy noddy to modern yarn crafters) is used to gather spun yarn into tidy skeins before it is knit or woven.
Da Vinci’s painting shows the infant Jesus holding tightly onto the yarn winder and gazing at its cross-like shape with both fascination and some tenderness. He has wriggled away from his mother’s grasp, giving his full attention to the object he holds, suggesting perhaps his awareness and acceptance, even at this young age, of the inevitable events that await him later in life. Mary, meanwhile, raises her right hand in a gesture that conveys some alarm – does she want to take this cruciform object away from her infant son, sparing him the horror of its significance? Yet, her face is calm and also a little sad; looking gently at the boy, perhaps she, like him, realises that the future is destined and that her son’s story – his beginning and his end – has already been spun, wound, and woven into human history.