Traditionally, parents choose godparents to sponsor their child's religious education and to assume responsibility for raising him or her, should the parents be unable to do so themselves. But Leonora Carrington's The God Mother (1970) stands for the non-traditional godparent.
Since medieval times, Themis (justice), the feared godmother, makes her appearance in fairy tales to create havoc: she is the one who, uninvited to the celebration of the birth of the long-awaited-for princess, arrives unexpectedly. Although entitled, somehow she has been forgotten, either because she retired to a tower so long ago that people eventually stopped thinking about her; or because there were not enough golden plates for all the special guests, so it was decided to leave her out; or worse, when she arrives, rather than being served in a golden plate and goblet, she is sat facing an ordinary place setting. Furious, she places a death curse on the newborn, rather than giving her the customary blessing. As the story unfolds, the curse will be softened by a kind fairy godmother that will provide the means to undo it.
The God Mother's square format and frontal composition enhances the brutality of the work. Like a wraith suspended in midair, she irradiates an angry red aura and her open mouth bares teeth into a silent scream. Disregard has unleashed her revenge.
Leonora Carrington's interest in fairy tales is neither with the prince and princess, nor with their struggle so one day they may live happily ever after. No, these personages and their situation she finds one-dimensional and unappealing; one learns little, if anything, about their internal world. Carrington's interest is with the godmother, the one complex personage whose internal world shapes the story.
On the surface, The God Mother is about wrath over being forgotten, pain at being ignored, and about being treated without consideration. Themis's neediness and desire to be loved have been neglected, unbalancing her emotionally; and for that, she will make sure that the guilty pay. Carrington, not completely satisfied with that explanation, searched further back in history.
In Roman times, she observed, men wrote the laws and the punishment for breaking them, and women were associated with charity and for making exceptions. Although she knew this was not an absolute, a standard pattern remains: men are considered punitive, and women, lenient. In mythology, she arrived at a more satisfactory explanation for the godmother's implacable revenge. In nature, the female principle of justice asserts itself more harshly when nature's laws are disregarded, regardless of whether man-made laws are broken. That explained it. The wrong choice, even if chosen innocently, such as eating a bite of spoiled food or unintentionally not caring adequately for a wound, can kill. In other words, disregard nature and pay.
Leonora Carrington is left-handed, although she is equally skilled with her right hand. The God Mother projects a "different feeling" from the average work by Carrington because she painted it with her right hand, "not to lose practice," she explained.
Salomon Grimberg, March 2007, Dallas, Texas