The enduring legacy and the sacred religious art of Madonna and Child
The relationship of the Madonna and Child in the world of religion is paramount to art history. Since the second century (“Virgin and Child with Balaam the Prophet” in the Catacomb of Priscilla in ancient Rome) to the fourth century and going into the twenty-first century, masters such as Raphael and Duccio di Buoninsegnahad painted the enduring dual symbol of motherhood and the church.
Madonna and Child is a representation of Mother Mary, or the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus Christ. Based on the New Testament in the Bible, Mary was bethrothed to Joseph, but was a virgin who was chosen by God to conceive Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.
Mary, coming from a deeply Jewish ancestry, has a humble pathway and derives a dedicated passion to God and raising the son of God in this light. In verse 49 Mary says that she will be called blessed because “the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy.”
I find that these verses are what keep the enduring spirit of the Virgin Mary so inspiring and deeply engrained in art, art history and religious theological study.
Religious symbolism in Madonna and Child iterations
The humble spirit of Mother Mary enveloped in the cloaked, veiled, motherly figure holding the infant Christ child usually holds many religious details and symbols. The use of Halos, putti, angels, coloration to show definition (red for the blood of Christ, motherhood and passion and blue for showcasing Mary’s role as Queen Of Heaven and purity) and Saints all have been used in the background of many Madonna and Child paintings. The religious imagery and symbols explain the holy history behind the love and devotion between Mary and Jesus, as mother and son.
This highly infamous mother and son figure is one of the most important and iconic religious figures in Christian and Catholic art. I find when I gaze upon Mother Mary, it is usually found in a stoic and gentle visage with a overflowing warmth and peace. The placement of her head denotes respect and humanism, love and a way to share the love of Christ to all of humanity.
3 Modern spins with impressionistic flair, humanism and surrealism
Allan D’Arcangelo created a surreal and pop-art representation of “Madonna and Child,” (Acrylic and gesso on canvas) in 1963 with the two haloed, faceless figures of Jackie Kennedy and Caroline.
When I first discovered this piece, it felt strangely like an bright, modern advertisement yet without the faces, there was a blindness to it that I could not recognize that was disquieting and unsettling. The bright halos behind the two figures leap forward on the canvas and draw attention away from the strangeness of the pop-art feel. Knowing this piece was constructed only a few months before the assassination of President Kennedy, I feel that the religious aspect that was originally placed upon the famous mother and child has an estranged yet beautiful feeling of grief and sorrow.
Edvard Munch’s, Madonna, 1895-1902, Colored Lithograph is a darkly brooding version of the iconic duo. Munch’s Madonna figure seems to float in a surreal, phantom-like space that is like a dream realm with a dark gold band band atop her head. The golden band symbolisms her Holy title of Queen of Heaven along with the blue lines over the band representing purity and her veil, though there is little religious symbolism other than the infant below her with wide, frightened eyes. The deep red of the background with the representation of spermatozoa(which echo the strokes of the halo) leading to the Virgin Mary’s pristine and boldly nude figure, drawn to the stomach to impregnate her through the Holy Spirit indicate her direct relationship to God.
I find Munch’s Madonna and Child deeply entrenched in humanism and a highly surrealist mode. The darkness that seems to engulf the mother and child figure feels like a fever-dream yet the bold nude of Madonna and her direct gaze is highly feminist and a sensual act of defiance in regard to religious and social norms. It feels as though Munch had placed Madonna and Child on a phantasmagorical stage set to tell us a horror story of loss and grief and tragedy.
Salvador Dali, The Madonna of Port Lligat, 1949 is a highly surreal and impressionistic take on the religious figures of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. The seated Madonna (posed by Dalí’s wife, Gala) with the infant Christ on her lap, has many oddities with surreal qualities.
Both suspended in the air, the middle section of Mother Mary is missing entirely(along with her arms) with the infant Christ in the invisible solid. I believe the middle section of The Virgin Mary being invisible signifies the purity of Mary and her virginity, as well as being impregnated through the Holy Spirit by God. The Christ child also holds a cross in one hand and a globe in another in a mirror-like reflection to signify spirituality throughout the world. The blues and symbols of marine life throughout the symmetrical painting showcase Dali’s personal love for biblical stories and also love for the Catalonia sea.
A love for the biblical history and art history all in one
With all the many iterations of the Madonna and Child, I find the deep religious principles of Mother Mary humbling and richly wrought in dedication, love and devotion to God and family. With the rich array of religious pieces of Madonna and Child such as statues, pop-art, Renaissance and Surrealistic/Impressionistic art, we can all appreciate the beauty of this mother and child pair and it’s important biblical history.