Here's an obvious reference to old Madonna and Child motifs, although without the idealization that was in fashion when most of the great ones were painted. In fact, such harsh lighting, scraggly hairs, and anxiety in a Madonna would have probably been considered vulgar or even sacrilegious in the renaissance. Out here in podunk Arkansas the stars shine very brightly. The sky in this painting is an eastern view of our backyard. Lately, the planet Venus shows up first and outshines all of the other stars, which naturally reminds me of the Bethlehem star.
This pose began as a candid moment, unstaged, and the first thing I saw was a Dorothea Lange photograph of a very similar pose. That gesture of the hand to the side of the face, the open shirt, and the baby across the lap were all perfect. I intentionally avoided really studying the Lange picture in any kind of direct way until I was finished, though.
The red shirt on the mother was as unstaged as the gesture, but perfectly served as a shout out to Raphael Sanzi, the grand master of Madonna and child paintings. The addition of a renaissancified Arkansas landscape is another little push in that direction. Whether the "prince of painters" himself would have appreciated the comparison is another matter. I hope he would.