Madonna of Evolution (Simian Vanitas) by Chris Shaw, 2013

The Madonna of Evolution (Simian Vanitas)
60″w x 84″h
Acrylic on Canvas

Living in the modern world means accepting that occasionally we need to evolve some of our concepts about how things work, we live in an age of great discovery and innovation. Long ago when it was “discovered” that the Earth is not a flat plane centered in the middle of the Universe, after some controversy, the new model was accepted. Discovery of gravity, the elements, and relativity (among others) were pivotal moments in the understanding of our world and brought about great change. While the rift between science and religion isn’t as wide as it was, some widely accepted scientific facts continue to be deeply controversial.

The Madonna of Evolution Layout

The subject behind this painting is Darwin’s Evolution. For me, its a compelling fact of nature and one without any personal spiritual debate. I believe in fossils and don’t have a problem with monkeys. The theory is elegant and a great subject for a modern icon.

I bluntly appropriated the image from Ambrogio de Predis’, “Girl with Cherries”, a 15th c. Italian painting with a beautiful triangular composition. The triangle now represents evolution in the sense that triangles are directional and have an apex. To adapt the original, I replaced the cherries with a human skull and added an ape’s skull in the manner of a classic vanitas portrait. In a vanitas, the subject often holds a skull as a symbol of contemplation of one’s existence and the fleeting nature of life. As a large painting and center of a loose triptych, the perspective was also adjusted so the subject looks across to the Madonna of the Microscope and down to the viewer.

Within the image I included helixes as a reference to DNA, some easier to spot than others. The color DNA of the piece is created from 4 main color components, made from carbon, nickel, chrome, and titanium pigments. Liberal use of metallic golds, silvers and deep glazing creates deep, color changing hues enhanced by a matte background.

Chris Shaw
April 2013

The Madonna of Evolution and other work by Chris Shaw, cur­rently on exhibit at The San Fran­cisco Museum of Mod­ern Art — Caffe Museo, until June 2013. 151 Third St., San Fran­cisco, Ca. Open every­day except Wednes­days. Cafe exhibit is free.


16 Responses to The Madonna of Evolution (Simian Vanitas)

  1. Sam says:

    It’s a great picture but evolution isn’t directional and doesn’t have an apex. There’s no end goal to evolution and the idea that humans are ‘top of the evolutionary ladder’ is just human chauvanism. Single-celled organisms are just as evolved as we are, and in terms of numbers, there’s more of them.
    Sorry to nitpick, I love the icons series and hope you’ll do more of them.

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