This stark image provides a counterpoint, even a contradiction, to the Magnificat. It is a self-portrait of a miscarriage, painted on a metal panel in the style of a Mexican ex voto. Such votive tablets commonly used tin sheets for economy and were painted in a primitive style. They would often depict a terrible event, and were offered up in gratitude for deliverance from it.
In Frida Kahlo’s case there has been no salvation. Instead of a crucifix hanging in the air there is an unflattering representation of the foetus whose life has been cut short. The sacred overtones of the medium nevertheless give the work the sense of a life offered up, if perhaps in reproach rather than praise. Kahlo lies exposed on the bed, offered up as a sacrifice of human experience to a clinical procedure, represented by the medical images that surround her.
While the opposite of Mary’s song of joy, this painting also illuminates the hinterland of grief that lies behind the Magnificat. It reminds us that the lowly are only lifted up because they have first been laid low. Mary’s joy is so powerful precisely because it emerges out of generations of pain.
The closest Hebrew Bible source for the Magnificat is Hannah’s prayer of praise on bearing a son after years of infertility (1 Samuel 2:1–10). In cultures where infertility is punished with derision and censure, grief is compounded by oppression, shame, resentment, and rage. In Hannah’s case this lends an almost vengeful tone to the celebration of God’s marvellous work of reversal. Mary’s song transforms this anger into a hope that is not just for her alone or even for all women, but for all those who have suffered.
46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
56And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.