The cover of the month

The Grace of Spiritual Childhood by Pierre-Marie Dumont

This work by the Venetian painter Roberto Ferruzzi (1853–1934) dates from the late 19th century. It is contemporary with another famous work by the same artist (and probably repeats the face of the same model): the famous Madonnina (1). It is worth relating the story of it succinctly.

Roberto Ferruzzi noticed on the street a little girl from a poor family, Angelina Cian, who was carrying in her arms her little brother, still a baby, and taking care of him. Moved by this touching tableau depicting the ordinary life of the humble, he started to paint it. The artist was to that point self-taught and completely unknown.... And yet his canvas, when presented at the Biennial Exhibition in Venice in 1897, won first prize!

The Alinari brothers, famous photographers, bought the rights to reproduce it and made it a devotional image that went on to have incredible success: to this day it adorns most Italian homes, both in Europe and in America. Now everyone called it La Madonnina [The Little Madonna], and it became more famous even than the Madonnas by Raphael. The original work was purchased for a princely sum by the American ambassador John George Alexander Leishman, who sent it by boat to the United States. It never reached its destination and is considered to be definitively lost.

Commentators imply that at first, when the artist took Angelina Cian and her little brother as models, he had no religious intention to depict a “Madonna of the streets.” As far as we can tell from the reproductions made at that time, the very composition of the work and the treatment of the draperies clearly disprove that hypothesis. And the contemporary painting of a Little Girl at Prayer, which adorns the cover of this issue of Magnificat, bears eloquent witness to the artist’s deeper intentions.

Year of the death of Thérèse of Lisieux

As for us, let us meditate on the fact that this work was painted in the same year as the death of the Little Flower, Thérèse, Doctor of Spiritual Childhood. In this regard, allow me to confide in you. Being a member—no worse and no better than the others—of a generation that lost its faith in droves, I sometimes wonder why I am one of the exceptions who, by the grace of God, still remain faithful. And then, I remember that every night between the ages of eight and twelve, by the grace of God, I used to fall asleep with my hands folded over my heart, saying my prayers. And since then, spiritually speaking, it looks like I have not grown too old!

May the contemplation of this charming little girl at prayer inspire us to storm Heaven with prayers for all the children of the world whom nobody teaches to pray nowadays, for all the children of the world who never pray, for all the children of the world who at the moment when they fall asleep have never felt their heart burning with a subtle presence which for the rest of their life will be their reason for being.

For their sake, throughout this month of July, let us carry our rosary in our pocket each day, as little Bernadette used to do. And, when we recite one decade or another, we can modify the wording of our prayer slightly, to say:


Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for all the children of the world who never pray,

now and at the hour of their death. Amen.

Pierre-Marie Dumont

Little Girl Praying, Roberto Ferruzzi (1853–1934), Museum of Fine Arts, Sevastopol, Ukraine. © Arthotek / La Collection.


(1) La Madonnina, Roberto Ferruzi (1853-1934). Image DR.