Arts & Culture

Painting: “Mamma Maria and the Sacred Heart – North End”

Mamma Maria and the Sacred Heart – North End (Painting by Michael Dean)

This painting was done as a commission from a man now living in Vermont, who went to school here, and now comes to Boston for business and had seen my work in the window of Silk Screening USA (which is down on Prince, across from the Corner Cafe). Along with a few of my oil paintings, I have my contact information there, so he called me with an idea. He told me that he and his wife absolutely loved the people and the institution of Sacred Heart Church in North Square. He said they’d also enjoyed many romantic evenings at Mamma Maria, at the top of the square. My mission was to combine them in a painting.

So there I was, doing drawings and oil sketches in North Square, standing with my back against the lamp post in front of Gennaro’s. Try doing a drawing of this scene some time, from exactly that spot and you’ll get a picture just like this one! Over time, I found a composition and some familiarity with its elements.

You can see it’s early summer or late spring, from the Forsythia wreaths on the church doors, and the growth of red and yellow Tulips in the various beds and pots.

The cobble stones make for a nice ‘vanishing point’ at the bottom third of the painting, where a local on the corner strides across the street and into the shadows. Then the eye goes to the left and right, reading the details, looking for patterns. The foreground and background frame the focal point, in the near distance:

The couple that commissioned me to do the painting appear at the lower left, going up the stairs to the restaurant entrance. Their clasped hands form a cross with the lamp’s post, and the light at the top of the post, with their two joined figures, form a loving trinity. That was the respectful intent, anyway.

Other symbols around the painting are obvious, such as the star, and the crucifix crowning the church. But there’s a less-obvious symbol in North Square – the symbol of the Masons, the pyramid with an eyeball-on-top (the one on the back of your dollar bill is a stylized version). It’s right there across the street, certainly a comment on the working people who built America and especially the old town – Boston’s North End. I was happy to finally notice it and to be able to include it in this commission painting.

There’s one other thing about this painting, kind of an artist’s joke, actually:

The buyer mentioned that he was interested in me depicting the ‘conversation between the windows in North Square’. I took that to mean that the panes on the left would reflect the sky above and the rest of the unseen Square below, while the faceted windows of the church would command a certain presence, with their shadows and prismatic flashes. So I tried to do that. But I also added an extra vertical course of windows in the large building on the left, beyond the copper column. It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice, but I was trying to max out the window factor. Like I said – it was kind of an artist’s joke.

I also enjoyed getting some motion into the sky, by having vaguely-arcing or tumbling clouds, which seem to be whipping in a large circular pattern from the distance, near the picture’s center. It’s not a storm, just some motion in the sky to keep the eye moving, and to feel some kind of atmosphere in the painting.

The angle of the shadows in the doorways says it’s early afternoon, but maybe the evening doesn’t have to end with an early dinner for these two. Maybe eating early means they’ll have another evening like the one that this painting reminds them of. See how that works?

Having good memories (like the ones in this original oil painting) to put on your wall means having more good memories later on. If you have some paintable memories of the North End, or anywhere else for that matter, you could reach me at to see about a painting commission. I truly enjoy doing paintings in the neighborhood, and I hope you can see the thought that I put into doing this commission, and all my other artwork. This painting depicted here is 18″X24″ and cost $750, unframed.

You could also see lots of other North End paintings that I’ve done, along with paintings from my trips to Italy and Sicily. Go to Click on the small word “sets” by my photo at the top of the page to see all the different portfolios.

Thanks for making the North End the neighborhood that it is, which is what so often inspires my artwork. And thanks for looking me up – and my artwork – on the NorthEndWaterfront!

One Reply to “Painting: “Mamma Maria and the Sacred Heart – North End”

  1. Simply extraordinary! I had no idea there were masonic references in the North End. North Square is certainly a special unspoiled spot.

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