Maria was exhibited in churches and cathedrals across Europe before finding its permanent home in Assisi in January of 2002. At the center of the installation, which fills the nave of the sixteenth century church, is an altar-like structure that is surrounded by a forest of identical glass tubes. In each of the tubes is the abstracted image of the Virgin Mary for which the exhibition is named, each formed out of one of 33 different types of wood. The tubes sit in loose dirt that is in the shape of omega; the organic material, softness of the soil, and the organic form all contrast with the hard-metal Alpha suspended above.

Guido Dettoni della Grazia works with installations that not only draw on all of the senses but also celebrate his working method which he calls “Handsmatter.” On Handsmatter: “To community and to share: two will which united in the practice of the art did lead him to conceive the creative and collective process” (Guido Dettoni della Grazia)

Although he began work in a range of mediums by the 1970s he was focused on sculptural objects made entirely from touch. His first exploration of the Maria form that is repeated through this installation was rendered in 1995 with wax from Puebla, Mexico. He reworked his ideas in January of 1998 and it was first exhibited in Barcelona that same year.

The visit to the Assisi installation includes an opportunity to touch the forms laid out on the central “altar.” The form sits perfectly within the hand inspiring personal contemplation. As the sculpture is reoriented, or as the viewer walks through and past the ones in the glass tubes, different abstract forms and meanings are evoked. Dettoni notes that the changes to the shape and their iconography is intended. For example: laying down the shape recalls the dove while, from the side, the Virgin Mary pregnant with Baby Jesus appears.

While descriptions connect the glass tubes with light and the soil with fertility, when standing in the center of the installation several of the elements are present. The Maria forms seems suspended in air but anchored to the earth; the alpha above captures the fire needed for the casting process.

References: “Guido Dettoni della Grazia;” “Maria by Guido Dettoni della Grazia.” Scoop Culture (17 April 2002).


Nesher Org, “Maria in Assisi.”

Views of Maria, Santa Maria delle Rose, Assisi (2002) (Jennifer D. Webb)

Further reading: Lilley, Clare. Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art. New York: Phaidon Press, 2017; “The Peace Network

Posted by Jennifer D. Webb

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