“Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, copyright 1986. Courtesy of Trinity Stores www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)Solidarity with homeless people is embodied by a black Madonna in “Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz. The icon expresses Mary’s message in the Magnificat, the hymn that she sang while carrying God’s child: “My soul magnifies God… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46, 52-53). The icon was created by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan brother and world-class iconographer who is famous for his innovative icons. Here he builds on the medieval tradition of the black Madonna to draw attention to the contemporary problem of homelessness. Lentz explains in the text he wrote to accompany the image: “Each year, larger numbers of homeless people live in the streets of modern cities. These people may be jobless workers, battered women, the untreated mentally ill, or simply those too poor to get by. They tend to be ‘invisible’ to the rest of society, but they are a real presence of Christ, the Suffering Servant, in history.” Many of the millions who experience homelessness on U.S. streets are African American, so Lentz apparently found inspiration for his Mother of the Streets in the black Madonna tradition. The mother and child may look like African Americans, but the black Madonna motif dates back before there were any African Americans. Most black Madonnas are medieval or copies of medieval European figures, made between the 11th and 15th centuries. Some have suggested that the black faces were caused by candle soot and discoloration due to aging, but research has shown that some of the black Madonnas were originally made from dark materials. Medieval motives for creating black Madonnas are uknown, but there has been much speculation since the late 20th century that they are related to pre-Christian earth goddesses or rooted in African traditions. Lentz is a world-class iconographer who began creating innovative icons in San Francisco during a period of years away from monastic life. He makes an ancient art form relevant—and sometimes controversial—by applying it to modern “saints” such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California. His grandparents came to America from tsarist Russia. Lentz grew up on stories of saints and labor unions instead of fairy tales. Icons covered the living room walls in his Russian grandmother’s home. When he was old enough, he studied Byzantine iconography. He spent the first eighteen years of his adult life in Orthodox and Roman Catholic monasteries. Lentz left the monastery in 1982 and began painting icons full-time in San Francisco. At first he was shocked to meet openly gay men and lesbian women, feminists, anarchists, undocumented immigrants, and many others unlike the people he knew in cloistered life. Within a few months, he was making icons that expressed the holy passion for justice that he discovered on the streets of San Francisco. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 4: “Black Madonna - Mitochondrial Eve” by David Hewson _______ Other icons by Robert Lentz appear in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry. The book is filled with color images by 11 contemporary artists. Five artists from AltXmasArt are featured in the book. The artists tell the stories behind their images and a lively introduction puts them into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom.