Marian art in the Catholic Church

The Blessed Virgin Mary has been one of the major subjects of Western Art for centuries. Numerous pieces of Marian art in the Catholic Church covering a range of topics have been produced, from masters such as Michelangelo and Botticelli to works made by unknown peasant artisans.[1]

Marian art forms part of the fabric of Roman Catholic Marian culture through their emotional impact on the veneration of the Blessed Virgin. Images such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and the many artistic renditions of it as statues are not simply works of art but are a central elements of the daily lives of the Mexican people.[2] Both Hidalgo and Zapata flew Guadalupan flags and depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe continue to remain a key unifying element in the Mexican nation.[3] The study of Mary via the field of Mariology is thus inherently intertwined with Marian art.[4]

The body of teachings that constitute Roman Catholic Mariology consist of four basic Marian dogmas: Perpetual virginity, Mother of God, Immaculate conception and Assumption into Heaven, derived from Biblical scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the traditions of the Church. Other influences on Marian art have been the Feast days of the Church, Marian apparitions, writings of the saints and popular devotions such as the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, or total consecration, and also papal initiatives, and Marian papal encyclicals and Apostolic Letters.

Each of these fundamental Mariological beliefs has given rise to Roman Catholic Marian art that has become part of Mariology, by emphasizing Marian veneration, being celebrated in specific Marian feasts, or becoming part of key Roman Catholic Marian churches. This article's focus is primarily on how the artistic component of Roman Catholic Mariology has represented the fundamental Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church, and has thus interacted with them, creating a force that has shaped Catholic Mariology over the centuries.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Our Mother of Perpetual Help, an icon of the Cretan school, in Rome since the 15th century. Archangels Michael and Gabriel are also depicted.

Blending of art, theology and spirituality

Virgin salus populi romani
Salus Populi Romani, a popular icon in Rome.

Art has been an integral element of the Catholic identity since the very beginning.[5] Medieval Catholicism cherished relics and pilgrimages to visit them were common. Churches and specific works of art were commissioned to honor the saints and the Virgin Mary has always been seen as the most powerful intercessor among all saints—her depictions being the subject of veneration among Catholics worldwide.[5]

Roman Catholic Mariology does not simply consist of a set of theological writings, but also relies on the emotional impact of art, music and architecture. Marian music and Marian shrines interact with Marian art as key components of Mariology, e.g. the construction of major Marian churches gives rise to major pieces of art for the decoration of the church.[6][7][8][9]

In the 16th century, Gabriele Paleotti's Discourse on Sacred and Profane Images became known as the "Catechism of images" for Catholics, given that it established key concepts for the use of images as a form of religious instruction and indoctrination via silent preaching (muta predicatio).[10][11] Paleotti's approach was implemented by his powerful contemporary Saint Charles Borromeo and his focus on "the transformation of Christian life through vision" and the "nonverbal rules of language" shaped the Catholic reinterpretations of the Virgin Mary in the 16th and 17th centuries and fostered and promoted Marian devotions such as the Rosary.[10][11]

An example of the interaction of Marian art, culture and churches is Salus Populi Romani, a key Marian icon in Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore, the earliest Marian church in Rome. The practice of crowning the images of Mary started at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome by Pope Clement VIII in the 17th century.[12] In 1899 Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) said his first Holy Mass in front of it at the Santa Maria Maggiore. Fifty years later, he physically crowned this picture as part of the first Marian year in Church history, as he proclaimed the Queenship of Mary. The image was carried from Santa Maria Maggiore around Rome as part of the celebration of the Marian year and the proclamation of the Queenship of Mary.

Another example is Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Catholics have, for centuries, prayed before this icon, usually in reproductions, to intercede on their behalf to Christ.[13] Over the centuries, several churches dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help have been constructed. Pope John Paul II held mass at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines where the devotion is very popular and many Catholic churches hold a Novena and Mass honoring it every Wednesday using a replica of the icon, which is also widely displayed in houses, buses and public transport in the Philippines.[14][15][16] Devotions to the icon have spread from the Philippines to the United States, and remain popular among Asian-Americans in California.[17][18] As recently as 1992, the song The Lady Who Wears Blue and Gold was composed in California and then performed at St. Alphonsus Liguori Church in Rome, where the icon resides. This illustrates how a medieval work of art can give rise to feast days, Cathedrals and Marian music.

The use of Marian art by Catholics worldwide accompanies specific forms of Marian devotion and spirituality. The widespread Catholic use of replicas of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes emphasizes devotions to the Immaculate Conception and the Rosary, both reported in the Lourdes messages. To Catholics, the distinctive blue and white Lourdes statues are reminders of the emphasis of Lourdes on Rosary devotions and the millions of pilgrimages to the Rosary Basilica at Lourdes shows how Churches, devotions and art intertwine within Catholic culture. The Rosary remains the prayer of choice among Catholics who visit Lourdes or venerate the Lourdes statues worldwide.[19][20][21][22]

Historically, Marian art has not only impacted the image of Mary among Catholics, but that of Jesus. The early "Kyrios image" of Jesus as "the Lord and Master" was specially emphasized in the Pauline Epistles.[23][24][25] The 13th century depictions of the Nativity of Jesus in art and the Franciscan development of a "tender image of Jesus" via the construction of Nativity scenes changed that perception and was instrumental in portraying a softer image of Jesus that contrasted with the powerful and radiant image at the Transfiguration.[26] The emphasis on the humility of Jesus and the poverty of his birth depicted in Nativity art reinforced the image of God not as severe and punishing, but himself humble at birth and sacrificed at death.[27] As the tender joys of the Nativity were added to the agony of Crucifixion (as depicted in scenes such as Stabat Mater) a whole new range of approved religious emotions were ushered in via Marian art, with wide-ranging cultural impacts for centuries thereafter.[28][29][30]

The spread of devotions to the Virgin of Mercy are another example of the blending of art and devotions among Catholics. In the 12th century Cîteaux Abbey in France used the motif of the protective mantle of the Virgin Mary which shielded the kneeling abbots and abbesses. In the 13th century Caesarius of Heisterbach was also aware of this motif, which eventually led to the iconography of the Virgin of Mercy and an increased focused on the concept of Marian protection.[31] By the beginning of the 16th century, depictions of the Virgin of Mercy were among the preferred artistic items in households in the Paris area.[32] In the 18th century Saint Alphonsus Liguori attributed his own recovery from near death to a statue of the Virgin of Mercy brought to his bedside.[33]

In his apostolic letter Archicoenobium Casinense in 1913, Pope Pius X echoed the same sentiment regarding the blending of art, music and religion by comparing the artistic efforts of the Benedictine monks of the Beuron Art School (who had previously produced the "Life of the Virgin" series), to the revival of the Gregorian chant by the Benedictines of Solesmes Abbey and wrote, "...together with sacred music, this art proves itself to be a powerful aid to the liturgy".[34]

The diversity of Marian art

Madonna-of-humility- 1433 Domenico di Bartolo
The Madonna of humility by Domenico di Bartolo 1433 has been described as one of the most innovative devotional images from the early Renaissance.[35]

Roman Catholic Marian art has expressed a wide range of theological topics that relate to Mary, often in ways that are far from obvious, and whose meaning can only be recovered by detailed scholarly analysis. Entire books, academic theses or lengthy scholarly works have been written on various aspects of Marian art in general and on specific topics such as the Black Madonna, Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos, Virgin of Mercy, Virgin of Ocotlán, or the Hortus conclusus and their doctrinal implications. [36][37][38][39][40]

Some of the leading Marian subjects include:

  • Other subjects include:

The tradition of Catholic Marian art has continued in the 21st century by artists such as Miguel Bejarano Moreno and Francisco Cárdenas Martínez.

Early veneration

Madonna catacomb
The Earliest fresco of the Virgin Mary, in the Catacomb of Priscilla from the middle of the 2nd century

Early veneration of Mary is documented in the Catacombs of Rome. In the catacombs paintings show the Blessed Virgin with her son. More unusual and indicating the burial ground of Saint Peter, was the fact that excavations in the crypt of Saint Peter discovered a very early fresco of Mary together with Saint Peter.[41] The Roman Priscilla catacombs contain the known oldest Marian paintings, dating from the middle of the second century[42] In one, Mary is shown with the infant Jesus on her lap. The Priscilla catacomb also includes the oldest known fresco of the Annunciation, dating to the 4th century.[43]

After the Edict of Milan in 313 Christians were permitted to worship and build churches openly. The generous and systematic patronage of Roman Emperor Constantine I changed the fortunes of the Christian church, and resulted in both architectural and artistic development.[44] The veneration of Mary became public and Marian art flourished. Some of the earliest Marian churches in Rome date to the 5th century, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria Antiqua and Santa Maria Maggiore, and these churches were in turn decorated with significant works of art through the centuries.[45][46] The interaction of Marian art and church construction thus influenced the development of Marian art.[47]

The Virgin Mary has since become a major subject of Western Art. Masters such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Duccio and others produced masterpieces with Marian themes.

Mother of God

Mary & Child Icon Sinai 6th century
Icon of the enthroned Virgin and Child with saints George, Theodore and angels, 6th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery.

Mary's status as the Mother of God is clear in the Gospels, and the theological implications of this were defined and confirmed by the Council of Ephesus (431). Different aspects of Mary's position as mother have been the subject of a large number of works of Catholic art.

There was a great expansion of the cult of Mary after the Council of Ephesus in 431, when her status as Theotokos was confirmed; this had been a subject of some controversy until then, though mainly for reasons to do with arguments over the nature of Christ. In mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, dating from 432-40, just after the council, she is not yet shown with a halo, and she is also not shown in Nativity scenes at this date, though she is included in the Adoration of the Magi.[46][48]

By the next century the iconic depiction of the Virgin enthroned carrying the infant Christ was established, as in the example from the only group of icons surviving from this period, at Saint Catherine's Monastery in Egypt. This type of depiction, with subtly changing differences of emphasis, has remained the mainstay of depictions of Mary to the present day. The image at Mount Sinai succeeds in combining two aspects of Mary described in the Magnificat, her humility and her exaltation above other humans.

At this period the iconography of the Nativity was taking the form, centred on Mary, that it has retained up to the present day in Eastern Orthodoxy, and on which Western depictions remained based until the High Middle Ages. Other narrative scenes for Byzantine cycles on the Life of the Virgin were being evolved, relying on apocryphal sources to fill in her life before the Annunciation to Mary. By this time the political and economic collapse of the Western Roman Empire meant that the Western, Latin, church was unable to compete in the development of such sophisticated iconography, and relied heavily on Byzantine developments.

The earliest surviving image in a Western illuminated manuscript of the Madonna and Child comes from the Book of Kells of about 800 and, though magnificently decorated in the style of Insular art, the drawing of the figures can only be described as rather crude compared to Byzantine work of the period. This was in fact an unusual inclusion in a Gospel book, and images of the Virgin were slow to appear in large numbers in manuscript art until the book of hours was devised in the 13th century.

Nativity of Jesus

Nativity (Throne of Maximianus)
Representation of the Nativity on the Throne of Maximianus in Ravenna

The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the early 4th century. It has been depicted in many different media, both pictorial and sculptural. Pictorial forms include murals, panel paintings, manuscript illuminations, stained glass windows and oil paintings. The earliest representations of the Nativity itself are very simple, just showing the infant, tightly wrapped, lying near the ground in a trough or wicker basket.

A new form of the image, which from the rare early versions seems to have been formulated in 6th-century Palestine, was to set the essential form of Eastern Orthodox images down to the present day. The setting is now a cave - or rather the specific Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, already underneath the Church of the Nativity, and well-established as a place of pilgrimage, with the approval of the Church.

Western artists adopted many of the Byzantine iconographic elements, but preferred the scriptural stable to the cave, though Duccio's Byzantine-influenced Maestà version tries to have both. During the Gothic period, in the North earlier than in Italy, increasing closeness between mother and child develops, and Mary begins to hold her baby, or he looks over to her. Suckling is very unusual, but is sometimes shown.

The image in later medieval Northern Europe was often influenced by the vision of the Nativity of Saint Bridget of Sweden (1303–1373), a very popular mystic. Shortly before her death, she described a vision of the infant Jesus as lying on the ground, and emitting light himself.

From the 15th century onwards, the Adoration of the Magi increasingly became a more common depiction than the Nativity proper. From the 16th century plain Nativities with just the Holy Family, become a clear minority, although Caravaggio led a return to a more realistic treatment of the Adoration of the Shepherds.

The perpetual character of Mary's virginity, namely that she was a virgin all her life and not only at her virginal conception of Jesus Christ at the Annunciation (that she was a virgin before, during and after giving birth to him) is alluded to in some forms of Nativity art: Salome, who according to the story in the 2nd-century Nativity of Mary[49] received physical proof that Mary remained a virgin even in giving birth to Jesus, is found in many depictions of the Nativity of Jesus in art.[50]


The depiction of the Madonna has roots in ancient pictorial and sculptural traditions that informed the earliest Christian communities throughout Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Important to Italian tradition are Byzantine icons, especially those created in Constantinople (Istanbul), the capital of the longest, enduring medieval civilization whose icons, such as the Hodegetria, participated in civic life and were celebrated for their miraculous properties. Western depictions remained heavily dependent on Byzantine types until at least the 13th century. In the late Middle Ages, the Cretan school, under Venetian rule, was the source of great numbers of icons exported to the West, and the artists there could adapt their style to Western iconography when required.

In the Romanesque period free-standing statues, typically about half life-size, of the enthroned Madonna and Child were an original Western development, since monumental sculpture was forbidden by Orthodoxy. The Golden Madonna of Essen of c. 980 is one of the earliest of these, made of gold applied to a wooden core, and still the subject of considerable local veneration, as is the 12th century Virgin of Montserrat in Catalonia, a more developed treatment.

With the growth of monumental panel painting in Italy during the 12th and 13th centuries, this type was frequently painted at the image of the Madonna gains prominence outside of Rome, especially throughout Tuscany. While members of the mendicant orders of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders are some of the first to commission panels representing this subject matter, such works quickly became popular in monasteries, parish churches, and later homes. Some images of the Madonna were paid for by lay organizations called confraternities, who met to sing praises of the Virgin in chapels found within the newly reconstructed, spacious churches that were sometimes dedicated to her.

Some key Madonnas

A number of Madonna paintings and statues have gathered a following as important religious icons and noteworthy works of art in various regions of the world.

Some Madonnas are known by a general name and concept rendered or depicted by various artists. For instance, Our Lady of Sorrows is the patron saint of several countries such as Slovakia and Philippines. It is represented as the Virgin Mary wounded by seven swords in her heart, a reference to the prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation of Jesus. Our Lady of Sorrows, Queen of Poland located in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Licheń (Poland's largest church) is an important icon in Poland. The term Our Lady of Sorrows is also used in other contexts, without a Madonna, e.g. for Our Lady of Kibeho apparitions.

Some Madonnas become the subject of widespread devotion, and the Marian shrines dedicated to them attract millions of pilgrims per year. An example is Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, whose shrine is surpassed in size only by Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, and receives more pilgrims per year than any other Roman Catholic Marian church in the world.[51]

There is a rich tradition of building statues of the Madonna in South America, a sampling of which is shown in the galleries section of this article. The South American tradition of Marian art dates back to the 16th century, with the Virgin of Copacabana gaining fame in 1582.[52] Some noteworthy examples are:

  • Our Lady of Navigators is a highly venerated Madonna in Brazil. The devotion started by the 15th century Portuguese navigators, praying for a safe return to their homes and then spread in Brazil.

Images of, and devotions to, Madonnas such as Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos have spread from Mexico to the United States.[53][54]

Mary in the Life of Christ

Istanbul - S. Salvatore in Chora - Nartece - Cristo e Maria - Foto G. Dall'Orto 26-5-2006
Christ and Mary, mosaic, Chora Church, 16th century

Scenes of Mary and Jesus together fall into two main groups: those with an infant Jesus, and those from the last period of his life. After the episodes of the Nativity, there are a number of further narrative scenes of Mary and the infant Jesus together which are often depicted: the Circumcision of Christ, Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Flight into Egypt, and less specific scenes of Mary and Jesus with his cousin John the Baptist, sometimes with John's mother Elizabeth. Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks is a famous example. Gatherings of the whole extended family of Jesus form a subject known as the Holy Kinship, popular in the Northern Renaissance. Mary appears in the background of the only incident in the Gospels from the later childhood of Jesus, the Finding in the Temple.

Mary is then usually absent from scenes of the period of Christ's life between his Baptism and his Passion, except for the Wedding at Cana, where she is placed in the Gospels. A non-scriptural subject of Christ taking leave of his Mother (before going to Jerusalem at the start of his Passion) was often painted in 15th- and early 16th-century Germany. Mary is placed at the Crucifixion of Jesus by the Gospels, and is almost invariably shown, with Saint John the Evangelist, in fully depicted works, as well as often being shown in the background of earlier scenes of the Passion of Christ. The rood cross common in medieval Western churches had statues of Mary and John flanking a central crucifix. Mary is shown as present at the Deposition of Christ and his Entombment; in the late Middle Ages the Pietà emerged in Germany as a separate subject, especially in sculpture. Mary is also included, though this is not mentioned in any of the scriptural accounts, in depictions of the Ascension of Jesus. After the Ascension, she is the centrally-placed figure in depictions of Pentecost, which is her latest appearance in the Gospels.

The main scenes above, showing incidents celebrated as feast days by the church, formed part of cycles of the Life of the Virgin (though the selection of scenes in these varied considerably), as well as the Life of Christ.

Perpetual virginity

Annunciation Melozzo da Forli Pantheon
Fresco of the Annunciation at the Pantheon, Rome, 15th century

The dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is the earliest of the four Marian dogmas and Catholic liturgy has repeatedly referred to Mary as "ever virgin" for centuries.[58][59] The dogma means that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth to Jesus Christ. The 2nd-century work originally known as the Nativity of Mary pays special attention to Mary's virginity.[60]

This dogma is often represented in Roman Catholic art in terms of the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God, and in Nativity scenes that include the figure of Salome. The Annunciation is one of the most frequently depicted scenes in Western art.[61] Annunciation scenes also amount to the most frequent appearances of Gabriel in medieval art.[62] The depiction of Joseph turning away in some Nativity scenes is a discreet reference to the fatherhood of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of Virgin Birth.[63]

Frescos depicting this scene have appeared in Roman Catholic Marian churches for centuries and it has been a topic addressed by many artists in multiple media, ranging from stained glass to mosaic, to relief, to sculpture to oil painting.[64] The oldest fresco of the annunciation is a 4th-century depiction in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome.[65] In most (but not all) Catholic, and indeed Western, depictions Gabriel is shown on the left, while in the Eastern Church he is more often depicted on the right.[66]

Pietro Cavallini 013
Annunciation mosaic, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, 1291.

It has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The figures of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, being emblematic of purity and grace, were favorite subjects of many painters such as Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Duccio and Murillo among others. In many depictions the angel may be holding a lily, symbolic of Mary's virginity.[67] The mosaics of Pietro Cavallini in Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome (1291), the frescos of Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (1303), Domenico Ghirlandaio's fresco at the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1486) and Donatello's gilded sculpture at the church of Santa Croce, Florence (1435) are famous examples.

The natural composition of the scene, consisting of two figures facing each other, also made it suitable for decorated arches above doorways.

Immaculate Conception

Inmaculada Concepcion (La Colosal)
Murillo's Immaculate Conception, 1650

Given that up to the 13th century a series of saints including Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and the Dominicans in general had either opposed or questioned this doctrine, Roman Catholic art on the subject mostly dates to periods after the 15th century and is absent from Renaissance art. But with support from popular opinion, the Franciscans and theologians such as Blessed Duns Scotus, the popularity of the doctrine increased and a feast-day for it was promoted.

Swiss emblem, 16th century.

Pope Pius V, the Dominican Pope who in 1570 established the Tridentine Mass, included the feast (but without the adjective "Immaculate") in the Tridentine Calendar, but suppressed the existing special Mass for the feast, directing that the Mass for the Nativity of Mary (with the word "Nativity" replaced by "Conception") be used instead.[68] Part of that earlier Mass was revived in the Mass that Pope Pius IX ordered to be used on the feast and that is still in use.[69]

In the 16th century there was a widespread intellectual fashion for emblems in both religious and secular contexts. These consisted of a visual representation of the symbol (pictura) and usually a Latin motto; frequently an explanatory epigram was added. Emblem books were very popular.[70]

Drawing on the emblem tradition, Francisco Pacheco established an iconography that influenced artists such as Murillo, Diego Velázquez and others. This style of representation of the immaculate Conception then spread to the rest of Europe, and has since remained the usual depiction.

The dogmatic definition of Immaculate Conception was performed by Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, in 1854. The dogma gained additional significance from the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858, with the lady in the apparition identifying herself as "the Immaculate Conception" and the faithful believing her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Depiction of the Immaculate Conception

Piero di Cosimo 057
Piero di Cosimo Immaculate Conception, 1505

From an art historical perspective, the depiction of the Immaculate Conception involves a number of interesting issues. Many artists in the 15th century faced the problem of how to depict an abstract idea such as the Immaculate Conception, and the problem was not fully solved for 150 years.

Since a key Scriptural text pointed to in support of the doctrine was "Tota pulchra es...", "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee", verse 4.7 from the Song of Solomon,[71] a number of symbolic objects drawn from the imagery of the Song, and often already associated with the Annunciation and the Perpetual Virginity, were combined in versions of the Hortus conclusus ("enclosed garden") subject. This gave a rather cluttered subject, and usually was impossible to combine with correct perspective, so never caught on outside Germany and the Low Countries. Piero di Cosimo was among those artists who tried new solutions, but none of these became generally adopted so that the subject would be immediately recognisable to the faithful.

The definitive iconography for the Immaculate Conception, drawing on the emblem tradition, seems to have been established by the master and then father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, the painter and theorist Francisco Pacheco (1564–1644), to whom the Inquisition in Seville also contracted the approval of new images. He described his iconography in his Art of Painting (Arte de la Pintura, published posthumously in 1649):

"The version that I follow is the one that is closest to the holy revelation of the Evangelist and approved by the Catholic Church on the authority of the sacred and holy interpreters... In this loveliest of mysteries Our Lady should be painted as a beautiful young girl, 12 or 13 years old, in the flower of her youth... And thus she is praised by the Husband: tota pulchra es amica mea, a text that is always written in this painting. She should be painted wearing a white tunic and a blue mantle... She is surrounded by the sun, an oval sun of white and ochre, which sweetly blends into the sky. Rays of light emanate from her head, around which is a ring of twelve stars. An imperial crown adorns her head, without, however, hiding the stars. Under her feet is the moon. Although it is a solid globe, I take the liberty of making it transparent so that the landscape shows through."[72][73]

Spanish artists such as Bartolomé Murillo (especially), Diego Velázquez and others adopted this formula, with variations, and it then spread to the rest of Europe, since when it has remained the usual depiction.

This particular representation of The Immaculate Conception has since remained the best known artistic depiction of the concept: in a heavenly realm, moments after her creation, the spirit of Mary (in the form of a young woman) looks up in awe at (or bows her head to) God. The moon is under her feet and a halo of twelve stars surround her head, possibly a reference to "a woman clothed with the sun" from Revelation 12:1-2. Additional imagery may include clouds, a golden light, and cherubs. In some paintings the cherubim are holding lilies and roses, flowers often associated with Mary.

Assumption of Mary

Tizian 041
Titian Assumption, 1516

The Catholic doctrine of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven states that Mary was transported into Heaven with her body and soul united. Although the Assumption was only officially declared a dogma by Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus in 1950, its roots in Catholic culture and art go back many centuries. While Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption, the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that she did.[74][75]

An early supporter of the Assumption was Saint John of Damascus (676–794), a Doctor of the Church who is often called the Doctor of the Assumption.[76] Saint John was not only interested in the Assumption, but also supported the use of holy images in response to the edict by the Byzantine Emperor Leo III, banning the worship or exhibition of holy images.[77] He wrote: "On this day the sacred and life-filled ark of the living God, she who conceived her Creator in her womb, rests in the Temple of the Lord that is not made with hands. David, her ancestor, leaps, and with him the angels lead the dance."

The Eastern Church held the feast of the Assumption as early as the second half of the 6th century, and Pope Sergius I (687–701) ordered its observance in Rome.[78]

The Orthodox tradition is clear that Mary died normally, before being bodily assumed. The Orthodox term for the death is the Dormition of the Virgin. Byzantine depictions of this were the basis for Western images, the subject being known as the Death of the Virgin in the West. As the nature of the Assumption became controversial during the High Middle Ages, the subject was often avoided, but depiction continued to be common until the Reformation. The last major Catholic depiction is Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin of 1606.

Meanwhile, depictions of the Assumption had been becoming more frequent during the late Middle Ages, with the Gothic Siennese school a particular source. By the 16th century they had become the norm, initially in Italy, and then elsewhere. They were sometimes combined with the Coronation of the Virgin, as the Trinity waited in the clouds. The subject was very suited to Baroque treatment.

Queen of Heaven

The Roman Catholic teaching that Mary is far above all other creatures in dignity, and after Jesus Christ possesses primacy over all goes back to the early church. Saint Sophronius said: "You have surpassed every creature" and Saint Germain of Paris (469–576) stated: "Your honor and dignity surpass the whole of creation; your greatness places you above the angels." Saint John of Damascus went further: "Limitless is the difference between God's servants and His Mother."[79][80]

Coronation of the icon by Pope Pius XII in 1954

The feast of the Queenship of Mary was only formally established in 1954 by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam. Pius XII also declare the first Marian year and a number of Roman Catholic Church rededications took place, e.g. the 1955 rededication of the church of Saint James the Great in Montreal with the new title Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral a title proclaimed by Pius XII.

Yet, long before 1954 the Coronation of the Virgin had been the subject of a good number of artistic works. Some of these paintings built on the third phase of the Assumption of Mary in which following her Assumption, she is crowned as the Queen of Heaven.

Our Lady of the Keys and of the end of Times

Our Lady of the Keys and of the end of Times (by Vito Petrus)

This icon has two Gospel passages written on it. The first one is, Mark 14:72.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

The second one is, John 21:15-19.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs. “A second time he said to him, “Simon son of Jonas do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep. “He said to him the third time, “Simon son of Jonas do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God. After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

As we know by tradition, the apostle Peter was in charge of the rest of the eleven apostles since the beginning even before when Jesus told him, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18.

This means that from the time when Peter denied Jesus and the rooster crowed on Holy Thursday, till the time when Jesus appeared to his disciples for the third time after he was raised from the dead and asked him three times if he loves Him, no one was in charge of the church characterized by the faithful and the apostles, but instead of Peter, Mary the Mother of Jesus was in charge of it, and that is why this icon depicts her with two keys in her hands given to her by Jesus Himself depicted as a child to show that this was already planned by God the Father beforehand.

The other title Our Lady of the end of Times, is given to her because due to the confusion in the church that we are experiencing today, she is not just in charge of the church instead of the successor of Peter as she was before after Peter’s denial of Jesus, but she has this double title due to the end of times as prophesied by many mystics and in the Bible itself.


Virgen de Fátima
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima includes several Catholic elements, such as being apparition-based, being a crowned statue and holding a Rosary. One of the bullets that wounded Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in 1981 was placed in the crown of the statue.[81]

Roman Catholic devotion to Mary has at times been driven by religious experiences and visions of simple and modest individuals (in many cases children) on remote hilltops which in time have created strong emotions among large numbers of Roman Catholics. Examples include Saint Juan Diego in 1531 as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Bernadette Soubirous as Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858 and Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto as Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.[82]

Although every year over five million pilgrims visit Lourdes and Guadalupe each, the volume of Roman Catholic art to accompany this enthusiasm has been essentially restricted to popular images. Hence although apparitions have resulted in the construction of very large Marian churches at Lourdes and Guadalupe they have not so far had a similar impact on Marian art. Yet images such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and the artistic renditions of it as statues are not simply works of art but are a central elements of the daily lives of the Mexican people.[2] Both Miguel Hidalgo and Emiliano Zapata flew Guadalupan flags as their protector, and Zapata's men wore the Guadalupan image around their necks and on their sombreros.[83][84] Depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe continue to remain a key unifying element in the Mexican nation, and as the main national symbol of Mexico.[3]

Apparition-based art is at times considered miraculous by Catholics. Replicas of the distinctive blue and white statue of Our Lady of Lourdes are widely used by Catholics in devotions, and small grottos with it are built in houses and Catholic neighborhoods worldwide and are the subject of prayers and petitions.[85] In Ad Caeli Reginam, Pope Pius XII called the statue of Our Lady of Fatima "miraculous" and Pope John Paul II attributed his survival after the 1981 assassination attempt to its intercession, donating one of the bullets that wounded him to the Sanctuary in Fatima.[81][86]

Distinguishing characteristics

The Catholic approach to Marian art is quite distinct from the way other Christians (such as the Protestant and the Eastern Orthodox) treat the depictions of the Virgin Mary. From the very beginning of the Protestant Reformation its leaders expressed their discomfort with the depictions of saints in general. While over time a Protestant tradition of art developed, the depictions of the Virgin Mary within it have remained minimal, given that most Protestants reject Marian veneration and view it as a Catholic excess.[87][88][89]

Virgen del Carmen
The use of Marian Sacramentals such as the Brown Scapular is a distinguishing feature of Catholic art.

Unlike the majority of the Protestants, the Eastern Orthodox Church venerates Marian images, but in a different manner and with a different emphasis from the Catholic tradition. While statues of the Virgin Mary abound in Catholic churches, there are specific prohibitions against all three-dimensional representations (of Mary or any other any saints) within the Orthodox Church, for they are regarded as remnants of pagan idolatry. Hence the Orthodox only produce and venerate two-dimensional images.[90][91][92][93]

Catholic Marian images are almost entirely devotional depictions and do not have an official standing within liturgy, but Eastern icons are an inherent part of Orthodox liturgy. In fact, there is a three way, carefully coordinated interplay of prayers, icons and hymns to Mary within Orthodox liturgy, at times with specific feasts that relate to the Theotokos icons and the Akathists.[90][93][94]

While there is a tradition for the best known Western artists from Duccio to Titian to depict the Virgin Mary, most painters of Eastern Orthodox icons have remained anonymous for the production of an icon is not viewed as a "work of art" but as a "sacred craft" practiced and perfected in monasteries.[90] To some Eastern Orthodox the natural looking Renaissance depictions used in Catholic art are not conducive to meditation, for they lack the kenosis needed for Orthodox contemplation. The rich background representation of flowers or gardens found in Catholic art are not present in Orthodox depictions whose primary focus is the Theotokos, often with the Child Jesus.[95][96] Apparition-based images such as the statues of the Our Lady of Lourdes accentuate the differences in that they are based on apparitions that are purely Catholic, as well as being three-dimensional representations. And the presence of Sacramentals such as the Rosary and the Brown Scapular on the statues of Our Lady of Fatima emphasize a totally Catholic form of Marian art.

Apart from stylistic issues, significant doctrinal differences separate Catholic Marian art from other Christian approaches. Three examples are the depictions that involve the Immaculate Conception, Queen of Heaven and the Assumption of Mary. Given that the Immaculate Conception is a mostly Catholic doctrine, its depictions within other Christian traditions remain rare.[97] The same applies to Queen of Heaven, for long an element of Catholic tradition (and eventually the subject of the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam) but its representation within themes such as the Coronation of the Virgin continue to remain mostly Catholic.[86] While the Eastern Orthodox support the Dormition of the Theotokos, they do not support the Catholic doctrines of the Assumption of Mary and hence their depictions of the dormition are distinct and the Virgin Mary is usually shown sleeping surrounded by saints, while Catholic depictions often show Mary rising to Heaven.[93][98]

Galleries of Marian art

Perpetual virginity

For a larger gallery, please see: Annunciation in Christian art
Anunciación (Mariotto)

Annunciation by Mariotto Albertinelli, 15th century

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo 023

Annunciation by Murillo, 1655

Pietro Perugino cat23

Annunciation by Pietro Perugino, 1489

Peter Paul Rubens - Annunciation - WGA20250

Rubens Annunciation 1628 Antwerp

Annunciation nesterov

Mikhail Nesterov, Russia, 19th century

Birth of Jesus

For more images, please see: Salome images
Adoration of the Magi, ivory, 15th century, perhaps South German - Worcester Art Museum - IMG 7516

Adoration of the Magi, ivory, 15th century

Pietro Perugino 015

Pietro Perugino, 15th century


Pedro Berruguete, 15th century

Giorgione - Adoration of the Shepherds - National Gallery of Art

Giorgione, c1507

Paul Gauguin 061

Gauguin, 1896

Adoration of the shepherds

For a larger gallery, please see: Adoration of the shepherds gallery
Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio Adorazione dei pastori Messina Museo Regionale

Caravaggio, 16th century

Worship of the shepherds by bronzino

Bronzino, 16th century

Guido Reni 003

Guido Reni, 1630–1642

Giorgione 062

Giorgione, 1510

Adoration of the Magi


Rembrandt, 1632

Peter Paul Rubens 009

Rubens, 1634

Botticelli - Adoration of the Magi (Zanobi Altar) - Uffizi

Botticelli, 1475

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Adoration of the Magi - Google Art Project

Murillo, 17th century

Jacopo da Ponte 001b

Jacopo da Ponte, 1563–1564

Madonna paintings

For a larger gallery, please see: Madonna paintings gallery

Pre 15th century

Encaustic Virgin

Virgin, 6th century, St. Catherine Monastery


Vatopedi, Mount Athos, Greece, pre-870

Theotokos Iverskaya

Russian Theotokos icon, 10th century

Madonna Enthroned with the Child St Francis St Domenico and two Angels, Cimabue

Madonna, Cimabue 13th century

Duccio The-Madonna-and-Child-with-Angels-1

Madonna and Angels, Duccio, 1282


Madonna by Giotto, c1300

15-16th century

Madonna. Petit Palais Avignon

Taddeo di Bartolo 1400–1405

Madonna and Child (Filippo Lippi)

Madonna and Child, Filippo Lippi 1440–1445

Fra Filippo Lippi 002

Madonna, with God the Father in evidence, Filippo Lippi, 1459

Madonna FiveAngels

Madonna and five angels, Botticelli, c1485–1490

Tizian 044

Titian, 1520

Post 16th century

Sassoferrato Madonna col Bambino1

Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato, 17th century

Matka-Boza Rokitno

Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671


Dolorosa, Murillo, 1665

Wga Pompeo Batoni Madonna and Child

Madonna, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

The Virgin Adoring the Host MET DP136074

Virgin of the Host, Dominique Ingres, 1852

William-Adolphe Bouguereau The Virgin With Angels

Virgin with Angels, Bouguereau, 1900

Madonna frescos

For a larger gallery, please see: Madonna fresco gallery
Ethiopia-Axum Cathedral-fresco-Black Madonna

Black Madonna, Axum, Ethiopia

Pinturicchio z01

Cathedral of Spoleto, Perugia. Pinturicchio, late 15th c.

Madonna statues

For a larger gallery, please see: Madonna statues gallery
Santa Marija Assunta - Vara

Assumption statue, Attard, Malta

NS Aparecida

Our Lady of Aparecida, patron saint of Brazil

Capela de Nª Srª da Saúde - Altar (2)

Our Lady of Saúde, Portugal


Our Lady of Sorrows in Warfhuizen, dressed for October

Verge del Blau

Blue Madonna, Lleida, Catalonia, Spain


Assumption statue, Għaxaq, Malta, 1808

DSC03034 - Duomo di Milano - Transetto sinistro - Foto di Giovanni Dall'Orto - 29-1-2007

Baroque Madonna Altar at the Milan Cathedral

Mary in the Life of Christ

Peter Paul Rubens 155

Rubens, Lamentation 1614/1615

Istanbul - S. Salvatore in Chora - Nartece - Cristo e Maria - Foto G. Dall'Orto 26-5-2006

Christ and Mary, mosaic, Chora Church, 16th century

Pietro lorenzetti, compianto (dettaglio) basilica inferiore di assisi (1310-1329)

Pietro Lorenzetti, Assisi Basilica, 1310–1329

Immaculate conception

For a larger gallery, please see: Immaculate conception gallery
Inmaculada Concepcion (La Colosal)

Murillo Immaculate Conception, 1650

La Inmaculada de Soult, 1678, Bartolomé E. Murillo

Murillo Immaculate Conception, 1678

Virgin Mary - Diego Velazquez

Velázquez Immaculate Conception, 1618

Piero di Cosimo 057

di Cosimo Immaculate Conception, 1505

Zurbaran - Inmaculada Concepcion

Zurbarán Immaculate Conception, 1630

Igreja da Conceição 06

Statue, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 19th century

Gregorio Fernandez Inmaculada La Redonda Logrono Spain

Gregorio Fernández, 17th century

Assumption into Heaven

For a larger gallery, please see: Assumption of the Virgin Mary in art
Andrea Mantegna 047

Andrea Mantegna Dormition 1461

Baroque Rubens Assumption-of-Virgin-3

Rubens Assumption, 1626

Tizian 041

Titian Assumption, 1516

Mateo Cerezo d. J. 002

Mateo Cerezo Assumption, 1650

Guercino Assumption

Guercino Assumption, 1655

Andrea del Sarto - Assumption of the Virgin - WGA00400

Andrea del Sarto Assumption, 1526

Sir Pieter-Paul Rubens; Assumption of the Devine and Holy Virgin Mary

Rubens Assumption of the Virgin, 17th century

Queen of Heaven

For a larger gallery, please see: Queen of Heaven gallery
Peter Paul Rubens 079

Crowning of the Virgin by Rubens, 17th century

Diego Velázquez - Coronation of the Virgin - Prado

Velázquez, Crowning of the Virgin, 1645

Gregorio di Cecco.Madonna enthroned with Angels.XV cent. Liechtenstein museum

Gregorio di Cecco Enthroned Madonna

Coronation of Virgin Jacopo di mino Montepulciano

Giacomo di Mino, 1340–1350


Raphael, 1502–1504


Giulio Cesare Procaccini, 17th century


Fra bartolomeo 02 Vision of St Bernard with Sts Benedict and John the Evangelist

The Vision of St. Bernard by Fra Bartolommeo c1504

Michelangelo Caravaggio 066b

St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio, 17th century

Virgin Giving Scapular

The Virgin Giving Scapular to St. Simon by Pierre Puget 17th century


Statue of the Virgin Mary giving the Scapular to St. Simon, by Alfonso Balzico, Rome, 19th century

Carracci Saint Hyacinth

Apparition to St. Hyacinth by Lodovico Carracci 1594

Eternal father painting guadalupe

Eternal Father painting the Virgin of Guadalupe anonymous, 18th century


Statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, Lourdes, France

See also


  • D'Ancona, Mirella Levi (1977). Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Firenze: Casa Editrice Leo S.Olschki. ISBN 9788822217899.
  • D'Ancona, Mirella Levi (1957). The iconography of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. College Art Association of America. ASIN B0007DEREA.
  • Beckwith, John (1969). Early Medieval Art. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20019-X.
  • Arnold Hauser, Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origins of Modern Art, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965, ISBN 0-674-54815-9
  • Levey, Michael (1961). From Giotto to Cézanne. Thames and Hudson,. ISBN 0-500-20024-6.
  • Myers, Bernard (1965, 1985). Landmarks of Western Art. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-35840-2.
  • Rice, David Talbot (1997). Art of the Byzantine Era. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20004-1.


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  8. ^ University of Dayton Marian Music
  9. ^ Peter Mullen Shrines of Our Lady ISBN 978-0-312-19503-8
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Further reading

  • Dupre, Judith. Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life, 2010 ISBN 1-4000-6585-2
  • Gustafson, Fred. The Black Madonna, 2008 ISBN 3-85630-720-6

External links

  • Christian Iconography from Augusta State University – see under Virgin Mary, after alphabet of saints
  • Birth of Mary in Art, All About Mary The University of Dayton's Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute (IMRI) is the world's largest repository of books, artwork and artifacts devoted to Mary, the mother of Christ, and a pontifical center of research and scholarship with a vast presence in cyberspace.
Adoration of the Shepherds

The Adoration of the Shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, arriving soon after the actual birth. It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title. The Annunciation to the Shepherds, when they are summoned by an angel to the scene, is a distinct subject.


The Annunciation (from Latin annuntiatio), also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Annunciation of Our Lady, or the Annunciation of the Lord, is the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox celebration of the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking His Incarnation. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Yeshua, meaning "YHWH is salvation".According to Luke 1:26, the Annunciation occurred "in the sixth month" of Elizabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist. Many Christians observe this event with the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March, an approximation of the northern vernal equinox nine full months before Christmas, the ceremonial birthday of Jesus.

The Annunciation is a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Marian art in the Catholic Church, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A work of art depicting the Annunciation is sometimes itself called an Annunciation.

Assumption of the Virgin (Botticini)

The Assumption of the Virgin, 1475 - 1476, is a large (228.6 x 377.2 cm) painting in tempera on wood panel by Francesco Botticini. It portrays Mary's assumption and was commissioned as the altarpiece for a church in Florence and is now in the National Gallery, London.

The disciples gather around Mary's lily-filled tomb with looks of amazement. There are donor portraits of Matteo Palmieri, who commissioned the work, kneeling on the left, and his wife on the right. In Heaven above, surrounded by the nine choirs of angels, Jesus raises his hand in blessing to his kneeling mother.

Among the lesser angels around Jesus and Mary are saints. Together with Palmieri's poem La città di vita, this mixing of saints with angels raised questions about the orthodoxy of the donor Palmieri, and possibly that of the painter Botticini himself.

Assumption of the Virgin (Carracci)

The Assumption of the Virgin is a painting by the Italian Baroque artist Annibale Carracci which was completed in 1590 and is now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The same subject was depicted by Carracci on the altarpiece of the famous Cerasi Chapel in Rome.

Assumption of the Virgin (Correggio)

The Assumption of the Virgin is a fresco by the Italian Late Renaissance artist Antonio da Correggio decorating the dome of the Cathedral of Parma, Italy. Correggio signed the contract for the painting on November 3, 1522. It was finished in 1530.

The composition was influenced by Melozzo da Forlì's perspective and includes the decoration of the dome base, which represents the four protector saints of Parma: St. John the Baptist with the lamb, St. Hilary with a yellow mantle, St. Thomas (or Joseph) with an angel carrying the martyrdom palm leaf, and St. Bernard, the sole figure looking upwards.

Below the feet of Jesus, the uncorrupt Virgin in red and blue robes is lofted upward by a vortex of singing or otherwise musical angels. Ringing the base of the dome, between the windows, stand the perplexed Apostles, as if standing around the empty tomb in which they have just placed her. In the group of the blessed can be seen: Adam and Eve, Judith with the head of Holofernes. At the centre of the dome is a foreshortened beardless Jesus descending to meet his mother.

Correggio's Assumption would eventually serve as a catalyst and inspiration for the dramatically-illusionistic, di sotto in su ceiling paintings of the 17th-century Baroque period. In Correggio's work, and in the work of his Baroque heirs, the entire architectural surface is treated as a single pictorial unit of vast proportions and opened up via painting, so that the dome of the church is equated with the vault of heaven. The illusionistic manner in which the figures seem to protrude into the spectators' space was, at the time, an audacious and astounding use of foreshortening, though the technique later became common among Baroque artists who specialized in illusionistic vault decoration.

Among many other works, Correggio's Assumption inspired Carlo Cignani for his fresco Assumption of the Virgin, in the cathedral church of Forlì; and Giovanni Lanfranco's fresco of the dome in the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome.

Assumption of the Virgin (Titian)

The Assumption of the Virgin or Frari Assumption is a large altarpiece panel painting in oils by the Italian Renaissance artist Titian, painted in 1515–18. It remains in the position it was designed for, on the high altar of the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari or Frari church in Venice. It is the largest altarpiece in the city, with the figures well over life-size, necessitated by the large church, with a considerable distance between the altar and the congregation.

It marked a new direction in Titian's style, that reflected his awareness of the developments in High Renaissance painting further south, in Florence and Rome, by artists including Raphael and Michelangelo. The agitated figures of the Apostles marked a break with the usual meditative stillness of saints in Venetian painting, in the tradition of Giovanni Bellini and others.It was perhaps originally rather shocking for the Venetian public, but soon recognised as a masterpiece that confirmed Titian's position as the leading artist in Venice, and one of the most important in all Italy, a rival to Michelangelo and Raphael.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)

For another version of the subject by Rubens, see Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens, Liechtenstein).The Assumption of the Virgin Mary or Assumption of the Holy Virgin, is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, completed in 1626 as an altarpiece for the high altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, where it remains.

In Rubens' depiction of the Assumption of Mary, a choir of angels lifts her in a spiraling motion toward a burst of divine light. Around her tomb are gathered the 12 apostles — some with their arms raised in awe; others reaching to touch her discarded shroud. The women in the painting are thought to be Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary's two sisters. A kneeling woman holds a flower, referring to the lilies that miraculously filled the empty coffin.

The Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady opened a competition for an Assumption altar in 1611. Rubens submitted models to the clergy on February 16, 1611. In September 1626, 15 years later, he completed the piece.

There is a smaller studio version, with some differences, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Another version hangs on the right side altar of the castle church St. Peter and Paul in Kirchheim in Schwaben, Germany.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary in art

Many significant works of art depict the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. They include:

Assumption of the Virgin (Andrea del Castagno)

Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini

Assumption of the Virgin by Titian

Assumption of the Virgin by Antonio da Correggio

Assumption of the Virgin (El Greco)

Assumption of the Virgin by Annibale Carracci

The Cerasi Assumption by Annibale Carracci

Assumption of the Virgin by Peter Paul Rubens

Benois Madonna

Madonna and Child with Flowers, otherwise known as the Benois Madonna, could be one of two Madonnas Leonardo da Vinci had commented on having started in October 1478. The other one could be Madonna of the Carnation from Munich.

It is likely that the Benois Madonna was the first work painted by Leonardo independently from his master Verrocchio. There are two of Leonardo's preliminary sketches for this piece in the British Museum. Studies of these sketches and the painting itself suggest that Leonardo was concentrating on the idea of sight. At that time it was thought that human eyes exhibited rays to cause vision with a central beam being the most important. The child is thought to be guiding his mother's hands into his central vision.The composition of Madonna and Child with Flowers proved to be one of Leonardo's most popular. It was extensively copied by young painters, including Raphael, whose own version of Leonardo's design (the Madonna of the Pinks) was acquired in 2004 by the National Gallery, London.

For centuries, Madonna and Child with Flowers was considered lost. In 1909, the architect Leon Benois sensationally exhibited it in Saint Petersburg as part of his father-in-law's collection. The painting had been apparently brought from Italy to Russia by the notable connoisseur Aleksey Korsakov in the 1790s. Upon Korsakov's death, it was sold by his son to the Astrakhan merchant Sapozhnikov for 1400 roubles and so passed by inheritance to the Benois family in 1880. After many a squabble regarding attribution, Leon Benois sold the painting to the Imperial Hermitage Museum in 1914. The purchase was made by Ernst Friedrich von Liphart who was the curator of paintings who had correctly identified the artist. (Ernst's father Karl was an expert on Leonardo).Since 1914 the painting has been exhibited in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Coronation of the Virgin

The Coronation of the Virgin or Coronation of Mary is a subject in Christian art, especially popular in Italy in the 13th to 15th centuries, but continuing in popularity until the 18th century and beyond. Christ, sometimes accompanied by God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, places a crown on the head of Mary as Queen of Heaven. In early versions the setting is a Heaven imagined as an earthly court, staffed by saints and angels; in later versions Heaven is more often seen as in the sky, with the figures seated on clouds. The subject is also notable as one where the whole Christian Trinity is often shown together, sometimes in unusual ways. Although crowned Virgins may be seen in Orthodox Christian icons, the coronation by the deity is not. Mary is sometimes shown, in both Eastern and Western Christian art, being crowned by one or two angels, but this is considered a different subject.

The subject became common as part of a general increase in devotion to Mary in the Early Gothic period, and is one of the commonest subjects in surviving 14th-century Italian panel paintings, mostly made to go on a side-altar in a church. The great majority of Roman Catholic churches had (and have) a side-altar or "Lady chapel" dedicated to Mary. The subject is still often enacted in rituals or popular pageants called May crownings, although the crowning is performed by human figures.

The belief in Mary as Queen of Heaven obtained the papal sanction of Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (English: Queenship of Mary in Heaven) of October 11, 1954. It is also the fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast every August 22, where it replaced the former octave of the Assumption of Mary in 1969, a move made by Pope Paul VI. The feast was formerly celebrated on May 31, at the end of the Marian month, where the present general calendar now commemorates the Feast of the Visitation. In addition, there are Canonical coronations authorized by the Pope which are given to specific Marian images venerated in a particular place.

The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the fifth of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary (following the Assumption, the fourth Glorious Mystery) and therefore the idea that the Virgin Mother of God was physically crowned as Queen of Heaven after her Assumption is a traditional Catholic belief echoed in the Rosary. This belief is now represented in the liturgical feast of the Queenship of Mary (August 22), that follows closely after the solemnity of the Assumption (August 15).

List of depictions of the Virgin and Child

For representation of Mary, either alone or with her child Jesus, see Madonna (art). For images of the Virgin and Child accompanied by saints, see sacra conversazione. For the treatment in art of incidents in the life of Mary, see Life of the Virgin, and the individual articles linked from there.

Virgin and Child or Madonna and Child or Mary and Child usually refers to artistic depictions of Mary and Child Jesus together, as part of both Catholic and Orthodox church traditions, and very notably in the Marian art in the Catholic Church. The various different names are effectively interchangeable, and any particular work may be given different titles by different sources.

Madonna of humility

Madonna of humility refers to artistic portrayals of the Virgin Mary which depict her as a Madonna sitting on the ground, or sitting upon a low cushion. She may be holding the Child Jesus in her lap. The term Virgin of humility is also used to refer to this style of depiction.Upon the election of Pope Francis in 2013, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev gifted an icon of Our Lady of Humility, which the Roman Pontiff accepted; then donated to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during their farewell meeting at Castel Gandolfo.

Our Lady of Good Counsel

Our Lady of Good Counsel (Latin: Mater boni consilii) is a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, after a painting said to be miraculous, now found in the thirteenth century Augustinian church at Genazzano, near Rome, Italy. Measuring 40 by 45 centimeters the image is a fresco executed on a thin layer of plaster no thicker than an egg shell. Over the centuries, devotions to Our Lady of the Good Counsel grew among saints and Popes, to the extent that a reference to it was added to the Litany of Loreto and the devotion spread throughout the world. Her feast day is April 26.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows (Latin: Beata Maria Virgo Perdolens), Our Lady of Dolours, the Sorrowful Mother or Mother of Sorrows (Latin: Mater Dolorosa), and Our Lady of Piety, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows or Our Lady of the Seven Dolours are names by which the Virgin Mary is referred to in relation to sorrows in her life. As Mater Dolorosa, it is also a key subject for Marian art in the Catholic Church.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary are a popular Roman Catholic devotion. In common religious Catholic imagery, the Virgin Mary is portrayed in a sorrowful and lacrimating affect, with seven long knives or daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding. Devotional prayers that consist of meditation began to elaborate on her Seven Sorrows based on the prophecy of Simeon. Common examples of piety under this title are Servite rosary, or the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady and the Seven Joys of Mary and more recently, "Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary".

The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is liturgically celebrated every 15 September, while a feast of Friday of Sorrows is observed in some Catholic countries.

Our Lady of the Enclosed Garden

The Roman Catholic hermitage of Our Lady of the Enclosed Garden is situated in the former reformed church of Warfhuizen, a village in the extreme north of the Netherlands. It is the only Dutch hermitage currently inhabited by a hermit. The name draws upon the traditional epithet for the Virgin Mary ("Our Lady") of hortus conclusus or enclosed garden, a reference to the Song of Songs that indicates the Virgin's "perpetual virginity and at the same time her fruitful maternity".The hermitage was founded in 2001 as the dwelling of a Roman Catholic consecrated hermit. As is typical of Dutch hermitages, it includes a public chapel that has a distinct role in popular devotions, here to the Virgin Mary, also known as "Our Lady". It is the northernmost Marian shrine in the Netherlands.


The Paradiesgärtlein (Garden of Paradise) is a panel painting created around 1410 by an unknown painter referred to as Upper Rhenish Master. It belongs to the Mary in the rose bower type. The Paradiesgärtlein is one of the earliest paintings to naturalistically depict flora and fauna

Stabat Mater (art)

For the Roman Catholic poetry sequence please see Stabat Mater.

Stabat Mater (Latin for "the mother was standing") is a feature in the Crucifixion of Jesus in art in which the Virgin Mary is depicted under the cross during the Crucifixion of Christ. In these depictions, the Virgin Mary is almost always standing to the right hand side of the body of her son Jesus on the Cross, with Saint John the Apostle standing to the left. It contrasts with the swoon of the Virgin, where she is seen fainting. This is only seen from the late medieval period onwards.

Stabat Mater is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows) and Pietà. In the Stabat Mater depictions the Virgin Mary is represented as an actor and spectator in the scene, a mystical emblem of faith in the Crucified Savior, an ideal figure at once the mother of Christ and the personified Church. The depictions generally reflect the first three lines of the Stabat Mater poem:

"At the Cross her station keeping,

stood the mournful Mother weeping,

close to Jesus to the last".The concept is also present in other designs, e.g. the Miraculous Medal and the more general Marian Cross. The Miraculous Medal, by Saint Catherine Labouré in the 19th century, includes a letter M, representing the Virgin Mary under the Cross.The Marian Cross is also used in the coat of arms of Pope John Paul II, about which the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, stated in 1978: "the large and majestic capital M recalls the presence of the Madonna under the Cross and Her exceptional participation in Redemption."

Swoon of the Virgin

The Swoon of the Virgin, in Italian Lo Spasimo della Vergine, or Fainting Virgin Mary was an idea developed in the late Middle Ages, that the Virgin Mary had fainted during the Passion of Christ, most often placed while she watched the Crucifixion of Jesus. It was based on mentions in later texts of the apocryphal gospel the Acta Pilati, which describe Mary swooning. It was popular in later medieval art and theological literature, but as it was not mentioned in the Canonical Gospels, it became controversial, and from the 16th century was discouraged by many senior churchmen.

The swoon might be placed during the episode of Christ Carrying the Cross, as on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, but very commonly also during the Crucifixion of Jesus; Nicholas Penny estimates that "about half of the surviving paintings of the Crucifixion made between 1300 and 1500 will be found to include the Virgin fainting". It also appeared in works showing the Deposition from the Cross and Entombment of Christ, as well as the 15th-century novelty of Christ taking leave of his Mother.

The Immaculate Conception (Tiepolo)

The Immaculate Conception is a painting by Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770). It represents the Immaculate Conception, a tradition of the Catholic Church stating that the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin. The painting was commissioned in 1767, at a time when the Immaculate Conception was already a common theme in art, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December) having been restored to the Calendar of Saints in 1708, though its theology would not be definitely settled as dogma until Pope Pius IX's declaration in 1854.The painting was one of seven altarpieces commissioned in March 1767 from Tiepolo by King Charles III of Spain for the Church of Saint Pascual in Aranjuez, then under construction. This was originally an Alcantarine (Franciscan) monastery that was later assigned to the Conceptionist nuns. It depicts the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels and crowned with the circle of stars. She is shown trampling a snake, representing her victory over the devil. The lilies and the rose are references to hortus conclusus ("enclosed garden"), and symbolize Mary's love, virginity and purity. The painting is now in the Prado Museum, Madrid.

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