Pauline Perdrau was a thirty-year old Religious of the Sacred Heart who painted a portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a young girl. In 1845, the year she painted Mater, she wrote:
‘We were living at the Trinita dei Monti in Rome, where Mother Barat was expected to arrive on January 23…I was a postulant at the time and worked in the Junior School.
Among my little students, several girls really helped me with my fresco of ‘Mater Admirabilis.’ They helped in a hundred little ways that are really necessity for painting a fresco; for the fresco painter, perched on a scaffolding, cannot possibly have on hand all the things required. It may be a lump of color steeping in a tumbler of rain water … or it may be a paint brush that has fallen to the floor…or again, the second palette, prepared overnight with the colors of the lily and the distaff might be needed.
Two attentive ‘handmaids’ were always at hand waiting for a sign to dart forward to get the object that was required. Everything was understood by a mere sign, and even the names of the colors, according to their technical names were becoming familiar to each little girl.’
When Pauline finished the work, she thought that the colors she had painted were way too bright, so she put a cloth over the work to hide it.
A few years later, the Pope came to visit the convent and pulled the cloth aside. In the years since they were painted, the colors had dried and stabilized; they had become paler and more beautiful. Upon seeing the work, the Pope stated “Mater Admirabilis!” (Mother most admirable!) The painting became so beloved that copies hang in every Sacred Heart school in the world.
If you go to Rome, you can visit Trinità dei Monti, where the painting hangs in a chapel in the school next door to the church.
Below, you’ll see a recent photo of the original painting of Mater in the chapel at Trinità dei Monti in Rome, the painting’s permanent home.