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The Madonna of the Cat (after Federico Barocci ‘La Madonna del Gatto’) (2022)

Ali Cherri

installation of a display case containing a taxidermy goldfinch and a porcelain hand

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry

© Ali Cherri. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

Details

Classification:

Installation, Taxidermy

Materials:

Wood, Porcelain, Feathers

Physical Object Description:

The bird references the goldfinch clutched by John the Baptist, the baby Jesus Christ's cousin, in the painting by Federico Barocci, The Madonna of the Cat (La Madonna del Gatto), probably about 1565 (NG29). The bird is a traditional symbol of the Passion (Christ’s torture and crucifixion) because of the legend that it acquired its red head from a drop of blood that fell as it drew a thorn from Christ’s brow on his way to the Crucifixion.

Dimensions:

147.5 x 81.2 x 40.5 (display case) cm

Credit:

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society through the special partnership with the 2021 National Gallery Artist in Residence programme, with the support of Anna Yang and Joseph Schull, 2022/23

Ownership history:

Purchased from Galerie Imane Farès, Paris by the Contemporary Art Society, in special partnership with the 2021 National Gallery Artist in Residence programme, with the support of Anna Yang and Joseph Schull, 2022; presented to The Herbert (Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry), 2022/23
Ali Cherri explores the meaning of the built environment and its histories, often using archaeological relics and sites as a starting point. Through different artistic media he traces archaeological processes and correspondences between political and geographical disasters in his native Lebanon and neighbouring territories. He uses them to show how the construction of nation states often relies on archaeology.

In 2021, Ali Cherri became the second Artist in Residence in its current programme at The National Gallery, London. Whilst researching the archive, Cherri uncovered accounts of five paintings that were vandalised whilst on display. He was struck by the emotional response of the public, and the urge to ‘heal’, through correcting and hiding the damage. He created a series of installations, one for each vandalised painting, which recalled aspects of each painting to imagine its life following vandalism. By translating each damaged work into a series of strange objects, Cherri reminds us that we are never the same after experiencing violence.

The work has a strong resonance with Coventry, where the city and cathedral endured the violence of bombing during the Second World War, the traces of which can still be seen today, particularly in the ruins of the destroyed cathedral. This experience eventually led to the city becoming an international advocate for peace and reconciliation and The Herbert reflects this story in a permanent Peace and Reconciliation Gallery which, like Cherri’s work, considers how we understand legacies of trauma through museum and gallery collections. The Herbert has built a significant collection of artworks on themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation, which includes works by John Piper, Peter Kennard and Gustav Metzger, and Cherri’s work will complement this.

As part of the residency, Cherri spent time in Coventry, familiarising himself with the history of the city and viewing the museum collections in storage with the curators. The acquired work features a taxidermy goldfinch from the museum’s Natural Sciences collections. It is referencing the goldfinch clutched by John the Baptist, the baby Jesus Christ's cousin, in The National Gallery's painting by Federico Barocci, The Madonna of the Cat (La Madonna del Gatto), probably about 1565 (NG29). The presentation of the work in a traditional dark wood and glass showcase reflects the way objects were often presented in early ethnographic displays and cabinets of curiosities. It will be displayed in The Herbert’s gallery of European paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries, where the paintings are hung as if in the grand home of a wealthy collector. The display includes a modern replica cabinet of curiosities featuring objects from the collections, such as Chinese vases, coins, fossils and fragments of Ancient Greek carved stone. Cherri’s work will introduce an intriguing and thought-provoking element to this gallery.

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