Legends of the Madonna
Mrs. Jameson

Part 3 out of 7

beauty of expression in the head of the Virgin is such as almost to
redeem the quaintness of the religious conceit; the whole picture is
described as worthy of Murillo. It was painted for a Franciscan church
at Madrid, and the idea became so popular, that we find it multiplied
and varied in French and German prints of the last century; the
original picture remains unequalled for its pensive poetical grace;
but it must be allowed that the idea, which at first view strikes from
its singularity, is worse than questionable in point of taste, and
will hardly bear repetition.

There are some ex-voto pictures of the Madonna of Mercy, which record
individual acts of gratitude. One, for instance, by Nicolo Alunno
(Rome, Pal. Colonna), in which the Virgin, a benign and dignified
creature, stretches forth her sceptre from above, and rebukes the ugly
fiend of Sin, about to seize a boy. The mother kneels on one side,
with eyes uplifted, in faith and trembling supplication. The same idea
I have seen repeated in a picture by Lanfranco.

* * * * *

The innumerable votive pictures which represent the Madonna di
Misericordia with the Child in her arms, I shall notice hereafter.
They are in Catholic countries the usual ornaments of charitable
Institutions and convents of the Order of Mercy; and have, as I cannot
but think, a very touching significance.


_Ital._ La Madre di Dolore. L' Addolorata. _Fr._ Notre Dame da Pitie.
La Vierge de Douleur. _Sp_. Nuestra Senora de Dolores _Ger._ Die
Schmerzhafte Mutter.

One of the most important of these devotional subjects proper to the
Madonna is the "Mourning Mother," the _Mater Dolorosa_, in which her
character is that of the mother of the crucified Redeemer; the mother
of the atoning Sacrifice; the queen of martyrs; the woman whose bosom
was pierced with a sharp sword; through whose sorrow the world was
saved, whose anguish was our joy, and to whom the Roman Catholic
Christians address their prayers as consoler of the afflicted, because
she had herself tasted of the bitterest of all earthly sorrow, the
pang of the agonized mother for the loss of her child.

In this character we have three distinct representations of the

MATER DOLOROSA. In the first she appears alone, a seated or standing
figure, often the head or half length only; the hands clasped, the
head bowed in sorrow, tears streaming from the heavy eyes, and the
whole expression intensely mournful. The features are properly
those of a woman in middle age; but in later times the sentiment of
beauty predominated over that of the mother's agony; and I have seen
the sublime Mater Dolorosa transformed into a merely beautiful and
youthful maiden, with such an air of sentimental grief as might serve
for the loss of a sparrow.

Not so with the older heads; even those of the Carracci and the
Spanish school have often a wonderful depth of feeling.

It is common in such representations to represent the Virgin with a
sword in her bosom, and even with _seven_ swords in allusion to
the _seven_ sorrows. This very material and palpable version of the
allegorical prophecy (Luke ii, 35) has been found extremely effective
as an appeal to the popular feelings, so that there are few Roman
Catholic churches without such a painful and literal interpretation
of the text. It occurs perpetually in prints, and there is a fine
example after Vandyck; sometimes the swords are placed round her head;
but there is no instance of such a figure from the best period of
religious art, and it must be considered as anything but artistic: in
this case, the more materialized and the more matter of fact, the more

* * * * *

STABAT MATER. A second representation of the _Madre di Dolore_ is that
figure of the Virgin which, from the very earliest times, was placed
on the right of the Crucifix, St. John the Evangelist being invariably
on the left. I am speaking here of the _crucifix_ as a wholly ideal
and mystical emblem of our faith in a crucified Saviour; not of
the _crucifixion_ as an event, in which the Virgin is an actor and
spectator, and is usually fainting in the arms of her attendants. In
the ideal subject she is merely an ideal figure, at once the mother
of Christ, and the personified Church. This, I think, is evident from
those very ancient carvings, and examples in stained glass, in which
the Virgin, as the Church, stands on one side of the cross, trampling
on a female figure which personifies Judaism or the synagogue. Even
when the allegory is less palpable, we feel that the treatment is
wholly religious and poetical.

The usual attitude of the _Mater Dolorosa_ by the crucifix is that of
intense but resigned sorrow; the hands clasped, the head declined and
shaded by a veil, the figure closely wrapped in a dark blue or violet
mantle. In some instances a more generally religious and ideal cast is
given to the figure; she stands with outspread arms, and looking up;
not weeping, but in her still beautiful face a mingled expression of
faith and anguish. This is the true conception of the sublime hymn,

"Stabat Mater Dolorosa
Juxta crucem lachrymosa
Dum pendebat filius."

LA PIETA. The third, and it is the most important and most beautiful
of all as far as the Virgin is concerned, is the group called the
PIETA, which, when strictly devotional, consists only of the Virgin
with her dead Son in her arms, or on her lap, or lying at her feet;
in some instances with lamenting angels, but no other personages.
This group has been varied in a thousand ways; no doubt the two most
perfect conceptions are those of Michael Angelo and Raphael; the first
excelling in sublimity, the latter in pathos. The celebrated marble
group by Michael Angelo stands in the Vatican in a chapel to the
right as we enter. The Virgin is seated; the dead Saviour lies across
the knees of his mother; she looks down on him in mingled sorrow
and resignation, but the majestic resignation predominates. The
composition of Raphael exists only as a print; but the flimsy paper,
consecrated through its unspeakable beauty, is likely to be as lasting
as the marble. It represents the Virgin, standing with outstretched
arms, and looking up with an appealing agonized expression towards
heaven; before her, on the earth, lies extended the form of the
Saviour. In tenderness, dignity, simplicity, and tragic pathos,
nothing can exceed this production; the head of the Virgin in
particular is regarded as a masterpiece, so far exceeding in delicacy
of execution every other work of Marc Antonio, that some have thought
that Raphael himself took the burin from his hand, and touched himself
that face of quiet woe.

Another example of wonderful beauty is the Pieta by Francia, in
our National Gallery. The form of Christ lies extended before his
mother; a lamenting angel sustains the head, another is at the feet:
the Virgin, with eyes red and heavy with weeping, looks out of the
picture. There needs no visible sword in her bosom to tell what
anguish has pierced that maternal heart.

There is another Pieta, by Michael Angelo, quite a different
conception. The Virgin sits at the foot of the cross; before her, and
half-sustained by her knees, lies the form of the dead Saviour, seen
in front; his arms are held up by two angels (unwinged, as is usual
with Michael Angelo). The Virgin looks up to heaven with an appealing
expression; and in one engraving of this composition the cross is
inscribed with the words, "Tu non pensi quanta sangue costa." There is
no painting by Michael Angelo himself, but many copies and engravings
of the drawing. A beautiful small copy, by Marcello Venusti, is in the
Queen's Gallery.

There is yet another version of the Pieta, quite mystical and
devotional in its significance,--but, to my feeling, more painful and
material than poetical. It is variously treated; for example:--1.
The dead Redeemer is seen half-length within the tomb; his hands are
extended to show his wounds; his eyes are closed, his head declined,
his bleeding brow encircled by thorns. On one side is the Virgin, on
the other St. John the Evangelist, in attitudes of profound grief
and commiseration. 2. The dead form, half emerging from the tomb, is
sustained in the arms of the Mater Dolorosa. St. John the Evangelist
on the other side. There are sometimes angels.

The Pieta thus conceived as a purely religious and ideal impersonation
of the atoning Sacrifice, is commonly placed over the altar of
the sacrament, and in many altar-pieces it forms the centre of the
predella, just in front where the mass is celebrated, or on the door
of the tabernacle, where the Host is deposited.

When, with the Mater Dolorosa and St. John, Mary Magdalene is
introduced with her dishevelled hair, the group ceases to be properly
a Pieta, and becomes a representation rather than a symbol.

* * * * *

There are also examples of a yet more complex but still perfectly
ideal and devotional treatment, in which the Mourning Mother is
attended by saints.

A most celebrated instance of this treatment is the Pieta by Guido.
(Bologna Gal.) In the upper part of the composition, the figure of the
dead Redeemer lies extended on a white shroud; behind him stands the
Virgin-mother, with her eyes raised to heaven, and sad appealing face,
touched with so divine a sorrow--so much of dignity in the midst of
infinite anguish, that I know nothing finer in its way. Her hands
are resignedly folded in each other, not raised, not clasped, but
languidly drooping. An angel stands at the feet of Christ looking on
with a tender adoring commiseration; another, at his head, turns away
weeping. A kind of curtain divides this group from the lower part
of the picture, where, assembled on a platform, stand or kneel the
guardian saints of Bologna: in the centre, the benevolent St. Charles
Borromeo, who just about that time had been canonized and added to
the list of the patrons of Bologna by a decree of the senate; on the
right, St. Dominick and St. Petronius; on the left, St. Proculus
and St. Francis. These sainted personages look up as if adjuring the
Virgin, even by her own deep anguish, to intercede for the city; she
is here at once our Lady of Pity, of Succour, and of Sorrow. This
wonderful picture was dedicated, as an act of penance and piety, by
the magistrates of Bologna, in 1616, and placed in their chapel in the
church of the "Mendicanti," otherwise S. Maria-della-Pieta. It hung
there for two centuries, for the consolation of the afflicted; it
is now placed in the Academy of Bologna for the admiration of


_Ital._ La Madonna Purissima. _Lat._ Regina sine labe originali
concepta. _Spa._ Nuestra Senora sin peccado concepida. La Concepcion.
_Fr._ La Conception de la Vierge Marie. _Ger._ Das Geheimniss der
unbefleckten Empfaengniss Mariae. Dec. 8.

The last and the latest subject in which the Virgin appears alone
without the Child, is that entitled the "Immaculate Conception of the
Blessed Virgin;" and sometimes merely "THE CONCEPTION." There is no
instance of its treatment in the earlier schools of art; but as one of
the most popular subjects of the Italian and Spanish painters of the
seventeenth century, and one very frequently misunderstood, it is
necessary to go into the history of its origin.

In the early ages of Christianity, it was usual to celebrate, as
festivals of the Church, the Conception of Jesus Christ, and the
Conception of his kinsman and precursor John the Baptist; the latter
as miraculous, the former as being at once divine and miraculous. In
the eleventh century it was proposed to celebrate the Conception of
the Virgin Mother of the Redeemer.

From the time that the heresy of Nestorius had been condemned, and
that the dignity of the Virgin as mother of the _Divinity_ had become
a point of doctrine, it was not enough to advocate her excelling
virtue and stainless purity as a mere human being. It was contended,
that having been predestined from the beginning as the Woman, through
whom the divine nature was made manifest on earth, she must be
presumed to be exempt from all sin, even from that original taint
inherited from Adam. Through the first Eve, we had all died; through
the second Eve, we had all been "made alive." It was argued that
God had never suffered his earthly temple to be profaned; had even
promulgated in person severe ordinances to preserve its sanctuary
inviolate. How much more to him was that temple, that _tabernacle_
built by no human hands, in which he had condescended to dwell.
Nothing was impossible to God; it lay, therefore, in his power to
cause his Mother to come absolutely pure and immaculate into the
world: being in his power, could any earnest worshipper of the Virgin
doubt for a moment that for one so favoured it would not be done? Such
was the reasoning of our forefathers; and the premises granted, who
shall call it illogical or irreverent?

For three or four centuries, from the seventh to the eleventh, these
ideas had been gaining ground. St. Ildefonso of Seville distinguished
himself by his writings on this subject; and how the Virgin
recompensed his zeal, Murillo has shown us, and I have related in
the life of that saint. (Legends of the Monastic Orders.) But the
first mention of a festival, or solemn celebration of the Mystery of
the Immaculate Conception, may be traced to an English monk of the
eleventh century, whose name is not recorded, (v. Baillet, vol. xii.)
When, however, it was proposed to give the papal sanction to this
doctrine as an article of belief, and to institute a church office for
the purpose of celebrating the Conception of Mary, there arose strong
opposition. What is singular, St. Bernard, so celebrated for his
enthusiastic devotion to the Virgin, was most strenuous and eloquent
in his disapprobation. He pronounced no judgment against those who
received the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, he rather leaned
towards it; but he opposed the institution of the festival as an
innovation not countenanced by the early fathers of the Church. After
the death of St. Bernard, for about a hundred years, the dispute
slept; but the doctrine gained ground. The thirteenth century, so
remarkable for the manifestation of religious enthusiasm in all its
forms, beheld the revival of this celebrated controversy. A certain
Franciscan friar, Duns Scotus (John Scott of Dunse), entered the lists
as champion for the Virgin. He was opposed by the Dominicans and their
celebrated polemic Thomas Aquinas, who, like St. Bernard, was known
for his enthusiastic reverence for the Virgin; but, like him, and on
the same grounds, objected to the introduction of new forms. Thus the
theological schools were divided.

During the next two hundred years the belief became more and more
general, the doctrine more and more popular; still the Church, while
it tolerated both, refused to ratify either. All this time we find
no particular representation of the favourite dogma in art, for until
ratified by the authority of the Church, it could not properly enter
into ecclesiastical decoration. We find, however, that the growing
belief in the pure Conception and miraculous sanctification of
the Virgin multiplied the representations of her coronation and
glorification, as the only permitted expression of the popular
enthusiasm on this point. For the powerful Order of the Franciscans,
who were at this time and for a century afterwards the most ardent
champions of the Immaculate Conception, were painted most of the
pictures of the Coronation produced during the fourteenth century.

The first papal decree touching the "Immaculate Conception" as an
article of faith, was promulgated in the reign of Sixtus IV., who
had been a Franciscan friar, and he took the earliest opportunity of
giving the solemn sanction of the Church to what had ever been the
favourite dogma of his Order; but the celebration of the festival,
never actually forbidden, had by this time become so usual, that
the papal ordinance merely sanctioned without however rendering it
obligatory. An office was composed for the festival, and in 1496
the Sorbonne declared in favour of it Still it remained a point of
dispute; still there were dissentient voices, principally among the
Dominican theologians; and from 1500 to 1600 we find this controversy
occupying the pens of the ecclesiastics, and exciting the interest and
the imagination of the people. In Spain the "Immaculate Conception
of the Virgin," owing perhaps to the popularity and power of the
Franciscans in that country, had long been "the darling dogma of the
Spanish Church." Villegas, in the "Flos Sanctorum," while admitting
the modern origin of the opinion, and the silence of the Church,
contended that, had this great fact been made manifest earlier and
in less enlightened times, it might possibly have led to the error of
worshipping the Virgin as an actual goddess. (Stirling's Artists of
Spain, p. 905.) To those who are conversant with Spanish theology
and art, it may seem that the distinction drawn in theory is not very
definite or perceptible in practice.

At length, in July, 1615, Paul V. formally instituted the office
commemorating the Immaculate Conception, and in 1617 issued a bull
forbidding any one to teach or preach a contrary opinion. "On the
publication of this bull, Seville flew into a frenzy of religious
joy." The archbishop performed a solemn service in the Cathedral.
Cannon roared, and bull fights, tournaments, and banquets celebrated
this triumph of the votaries of the Virgin. Spain and its dependencies
were solemnly placed under the protection of the "Immaculate
Conception," thus personifying an abstract idea; and to this day, a
Spaniard salutes his neighbour with the angelic "Ave Maria purissima!"
and he responds "Sin peccado concepida!"[1]

[Footnote 1: In our own days we have seen this curious controversy
revived. One of the latest, if not the last, writer on the subject was
Cardinal Lambruschini; and the last papal ordinance was promulgated by
Pio Mono, and dated from Gaeta, 1849.]

* * * * *

I cannot find the date of the earliest picture of the Immaculate
Conception; but the first writer on the art who makes allusion to the
subject, and lays down specific rules from ecclesiastical authority
for its proper treatment, is the Spaniard Pacheco, who must have been
about forty years of age when the bull was published at Seville in
1618. It is soon after this time that we first hear of pictures of the
Immaculate Conception. Pacheco subsequently became a familiar of the
Inquisition, and wielded the authority of the holy office as inspector
of sacred pictures; and in his "Arte de la Pintura," published in
1649, he laid down those rules for the representation which had been
generally, though not always, exactly followed.

It is evident that the idea is taken from the woman in the Apocalypse,
"clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and on her head
a crown of twelve stars." The Virgin is to be portrayed in the first
spring and bloom of youth as a maiden of about twelve or thirteen
years of age; with "grave sweet eyes;" her hair golden; her features
"with all the beauty painting can express;" her hands are to be folded
on her bosom or joined in prayer. The sun is to be expressed by a
flood of light around her. The moon under her feet is to have the
horns pointing downwards, because illuminated from above, and the
twelve stars are to form a crown over her head. The robe must be
of spotless white; the mantle or scarf blue. Round her are to hover
cherubim bearing roses, palms, and lilies; the head of the bruised and
vanquished dragon is to be under her feet. She ought to have the cord
of St. Francis as a girdle, because in this guise she appeared to
Beatriz de Silva, a noble Franciscan nun, who was favoured by a
celestial vision of the Madonna in her beatitude. Perhaps the good
services of the Franciscans as champions of the Immaculate Conception
procured them the honour of being thus commemorated.

All these accessories are not absolutely and rigidly required;
and Murillo, who is entitled _par excellence_ the painter of the
Conception, sometimes departed from the letter of the law without
being considered as less orthodox. With him the crescent moon, is
sometimes the full moon, or when a crescent the horns point upwards
instead of downwards. He usually omits the starry crown, and, in spite
of his predilection for the Capuchin Order, the cord of St. Francis
is in most instances dispensed with. He is exact with regard to the
colours of the drapery, but not always in the colour of the hair. On
the other hand, the beauty and expression of the face and attitude,
the mingled loveliness, dignity, and purity, are given with exquisite
feeling; and we are never, as in his other representations of the
Madonna, reminded of commonplace homely, often peasant, portraiture;
here all is spotless grace, ethereal delicacy, benignity, refinement,
repose,--the very apotheosis of womanhood.

I must go back to observe, that previous to the promulgation of
the famous bull of Pope Paul V., the popular ideas concerning the
Immaculate Conception had left their impress on art. Before the
subject had taken an express and authorized form, we find pictures
which, if they do not represent it, relate to it, I remember two which
cannot be otherwise interpreted, and there are probably others.

The first Is a curious picture of the early Florentine School. (Berlin
Gal.) In the centre is original sin, represented by Eve and the
Serpent; on the right stand St. Ambrose, St. Hilarius, St. Anselm,
and St. Bernard; on the left St. Cyril, Origen, St. Augustine, and St.
Cyprian; and below are inscribed passages from the writings of these
fathers relating to the immaculate Conception of the Virgin: all of
them had given to her in their works the title of Immaculate, most
pure; but they differed as to the period of her sanctification, as to
whether it was in the moment of conception or at the moment of birth.

The other picture is in the Dresden Gallery, and one of the finest
productions of that extraordinary Ferrarese painter Dosso Dossi. In
the lower part of the picture are the four Latin Fathers, turning over
their great books, or in deep meditation; behind them, the Franciscan
Bernardino of Siena. Above, in a glory of light, the Virgin, clothed,
not in spotless white, but a richly embroidered regal mantle, "wrought
about with divers colours," kneels at the feet of the Almighty, who
extends his hand in benediction. I find no account in the catalogue
whence this picture was taken, but it was evidently painted for the

* * * * *

In 1617, when the Bull of Paul V. was formally expedited, Guido was
attached to the papal court in quality of painter and an especial
favourite with his Holiness. Among the earliest accredited pictures of
the Immaculate Conception, are four of his finest works.

1. The cupola of the private chapel of the Quirinal represents the
Almighty meditating the great miracle of the Immaculate Conception,
and near him, within the same glory of light, is the Virgin in her
white tunic, and in an attitude of adoration. This was painted about
1610 or 1611, when Pope Paul V. was meditating the promulgation of his
famous ordinance.

2. The great picture, also painted for Paul V., represents the
doctors of the Church arguing and consulting their great books for the
authorities on the subject of the Conception.[1] Above, the Virgin is
seated in glory, arrayed in spotless white, her hands crossed over her
bosom, and her eyes turned towards the celestial fountain of light.
Below are six doctors, consulting their books; they are not well
characterized, being merely so many ideal heads in a mannered style;
but I believe they represent the four Latin Fathers, with St. John
Damascene and St. Ildefonso, who were especial defenders of the

[Footnote 1: Petersburg Imp. Gal. There is a fine engraving.]

3. The next in point of date was painted for the Infanta of Spain,
which I believe to be the same now in the possession of Lord
Ellesmere. The figure of the Virgin, crowned with the twelve stars,
and relieved from a background of golden light, is standing on a
crescent sustained by three cherubs beneath; she seems to float
between heaven and earth; on either side is a seraph, with hands
folded and looks upraised in adoration. The whole painted in his
silvery tone, with such an extreme delicacy and transparency
of effect, that it might be styled "a vision of the Immaculate

4. The fourth was painted for the chapel of the Immaculate Conception,
in the church of San Biagio, at Forli, and is there still.

* * * * *

Just as the Italian schools of painting were on the decline, the
Spanish school of art arose in all its glory, and the "Conception"
became, from the popularity of the dogma, not merely an
ecclesiastical, but a popular subject. Not only every church, but
almost every private house, contained the effigy either painted or
carved, or both, of our Lady "_sin peccado concepida_;" and when the
academy of painting was founded at Seville, in 1660, every candidate
for admission had to declare his orthodox belief in _the most pure
Conception of our Lady_.

The finest Spanish "Conception" before the time of Murillo, is by
Roelas, who died in 1625; it is in the academy at Seville, and is
mentioned by Mr. Ford as "equal to Guido."[1]

[Footnote 1: Handbook of Spain. A very fine picture of this subject,
by Roelas, was sold out of the Soult Collection.]

One of the most beautiful and characteristic, as well as earliest,
examples of this subject I have seen, is a picture in the Esterhazy
Gallery at Vienna. The Virgin is in the first bloom of girlhood; she
looks not more than nine or ten years old, with dark hair, Spanish
features, and a charming expression of childlike simplicity and
devotion. She stands amid clouds, with her hands joined, and the
proper white and blue drapery: there are no accessories. This picture
is attributed to an obscure painter, Lazaro Tavarone, of whom I can
learn nothing more than that he was employed in the Escurial about

The beautiful small "Conception" by Velasquez, in the possession
of Mr. Frere, is a departure from the rules laid down by Pacheco in
regard to costume; therefore, as I presume, painted before he entered
the studio of the artist-inquisitor, whose son-in-law he became before
he was three and twenty. Here the Virgin is arrayed in a pale violet
robe, with a dark blue mantle. Her hands are joined, and she looks
down. The solemnity and depth of expression in the sweet girlish face
is very striking; the more so, that it is not a beautiful face, and
has the air of a portrait. Her long hair flows over her shoulders. The
figure is relieved against a bright sun, with fleecy clouds around;
and the twelve stars are over her head. She stands on the round moon,
of which the upper half is illumined. Below, on earth, and through
the deep shadow, are seen several of the emblems of the Virgin--the
fountain, the temple, the olive, the cypress, and the garden enclosed
in a treillage of roses.[1] This picture is very remarkable; it is in
the earliest manner of Velasquez, painted in the bold free style of
his first master, Herrara, whose school he quitted when he was about
seventeen or eighteen, just at the period when the Pope's ordinance
was proclaimed at Seville.

[Footnote 1: v. Introduction: "The Symbols and Attributes of the

* * * * *

Of twenty-five pictures of this subject, painted by Murillo, there are
not two exactly alike; and they are of all sizes, from the colossal
figure called the "Great Conception of Seville," to the exquisite
miniature representation in the possession of Lord Overston, not more
than fifteen inches in height. Lord Lansdowne has also a beautiful
small "Conception," very simply treated. In those which have dark
hair, Murillo is said to have taken his daughter Francisca as a model.
The number of attendant angels varies from one or two, to thirty. They
bear the palm, the olive, the rose, the lily, the mirror; sometimes
a sceptre and crown. I remember but few instances in which he has
introduced the dragon-fiend, an omission which Pacheco is willing to
forgive; "for," as he observes, "no man ever painted the devil with

In the Louvre picture (No. 1124), the Virgin is adored by three
ecclesiastics. In another example, quoted by Mr. Stirling (Artists
of Spain, p. 839), a friar is seen writing at her feet: this figure
probably represents her champion, the friar Duns Scotus. There is
at Hampton Court a picture, by Spagnoletto, of this same Duns Scotus
writing his defence of the Immaculate Conception. Spagnoletto was
painting at Naples, when, in 1618, "the Viceroy solemnly swore, in
presence of the assembled multitude, to defend with his life the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception;" and this picture, curious
and striking in its way, was painted about the same time.

* * * * *

In Italy, the decline of Art in the seventeenth century is nowhere
more apparent, nor more offensive, than in this subject. A finished
example of the most execrable taste is the mosaic in St. Peter's,
after Pietro Bianchi. There exists, somewhere, a picture of the
Conception, by Le Brun, in which the Virgin has no other drapery
than a thin, transparent gauze, and has the air of a Venus Meretrix.
In some old French prints, the Virgin is surrounded by a number of
angels, defending her with shield and buckler against demons who are
taking aim at her with fiery arrows. Such, and even worse, vagaries
and perversities, are to be found in the innumerable pictures of this
favourite subject, which inundated the churches between 1640 and 1720.
Of these I shall say no more. The pictures of Guido and Murillo, and
the carved figures of Alonzo Cano, Montanez, and Hernandez, may
be regarded as authorized effigies of "Our Lady of the most pure
Conception;" in other words, as embodying, in the most attractive,
decorous, and intelligible form, an abstract theological dogma, which
is in itself one of the most curious, and, in its results, one of the
most important of the religions phenomena connected with the artistic
representations of the Virgin.[1]

[Footnote 1: We often find on pictures and prints of the Immaculate
Conception, certain scriptural texts which the theologians of the
Roman Church have applied to the Blessed Virgin; for instance, from
Ps. xliv. _Omnis gloria ejus filiae regis ab intus_--"The king's
daughter is all glorious within;" or from the Canticles, iv. 7, _Tota
pulchra es amica mea, et macula non est in te_,--"Thou art all fair,
my love, there is no spot in thee." I have also seen the texts, Ps.
xxii. 10, and Prov. viii. 22, 28, xxxi. 29, thus applied, as well as
other passages from the very poetical office of the Virgin _In Festo
Immaculatae Conceptionis_.]

We must be careful to discriminate between the Conception, so
styled by ecclesiastical authority, and that singular and mystical
representation which is sometimes called the "Predestination of Mary,"
and sometimes the "Litanies of the Virgin." Collectors and writers
on art must bear in mind, that the former, as a subject, dates only
from the beginning of the seventeenth century, the latter from
the beginning of the sixteenth. Although, as representations, so
very similar, yet the intention and meaning are different. In the
Conception it is the sinless Virgin in her personal character, who
is held up to reverence, as the purest, wisest, holiest, of created
beings. The earlier theme involves a yet more recondite signification.
It is, undoubtedly, to be regarded as an attempt on the part of the
artist to express, in a visible form, the idea or promise of the
redemption of the human race, as existing in the Sovereign Mind before
the beginning of things. They do not personify this idea under the
image of Christ,--for they conceived that, as the second person of the
Trinity, he could not be his own instrument,--but by the image of Mary
surrounded by those attributes which were afterwards introduced into
the pictures of the Conception: or setting her foot, as second Eve, on
the head of the prostrate serpent. Not seldom, in a series of subjects
from the Old Testament, the _pendant_ to Eve holding the apple is Mary
crushing the head of the fiend; and thus the "bane and antidote are
both before us." This is the proper interpretation of those effigies,
so prevalent in every form of art during the sixteenth century, and
which are often, but erroneously, styled the Immaculate Conception.

The numerous heads of the Virgin which proceeded from the later
schools of Italy and Spain, wherein she appears neither veiled nor
crowned, but very young, and with flowing hair and white vesture, are
intended to embody the popular idea of the _Madonna purissima_, of
"the Virgin most pure, conceived without sin," in an abridged form.
There is one by Murillo, in the collection of Mr. Holford; and another
by Guido, which will give an idea of the treatment.

Before quitting the subject of the Immaculate Conception. I must
refer to a very curious picture[1] called an Assumption, but certainly
painted at least one hundred years before the Immaculate Conception
was authorized as a Church subject.

[Footnote 1: Once in the collection of Mr. Solly, and now in the
possession of Mr. Bromley of Wootten.]

From the year 1496, when Sixtus IV. promulgated his Bull, and the
Sorbonne put forth their famous decree,--at a time when there was
less of faith and religious feeling in Italy than ever before,--this
abstract dogma became a sort of watchword with theological disputants;
not ecclesiastics only, the literati and the reigning powers took
an interest in the controversy, and were arrayed on one side or the
other. The Borgias, for instance, were opposed to it. Just at this
period, the singular picture I allude to was painted by Girolamo da
Cotignola. It is mentioned by Lanzi, but his account of it is not
quite correct.

Above, in glory, is seen the _Padre Eterno_, surrounded by cherubim
bearing a scroll, on which is inscribed, "_Non enim pro te sed pro
omnibus hec lex constitutura est._"[1] Lower down the Virgin stands
on clouds, with hands joined, and attired in a white tunic embroidered
with gold, a blue mantle lined with red, and, which is quite singular
and unorthodox, _black shoes_. Below, on the earth, and to the
right, stands a bishop without a glory, holding a scroll, on which
is inscribed, "_Non puto vere esse amatorem Virginis qui respuit
celebrare Festum suae Conceptionis_;" on the left is St. Jerome. In
the centre are three kneeling figures: on one side St. Catherine (or
perhaps Caterina Sforza in the character of St. Catherine, for the
head looks like a portrait); on the other an elderly woman, Ginevra
Tiepolo, widow of Giovanni Sforza, last prince of Pesaro; [2] between
them the little Costanzo Sforza, looking up with a charming devout
expression. [3] Underneath is Inscribed, "JUNIPERA SFOSTIA PATRIA
dispossessed of his dominions by the Borgias, after his divorce from
Lucrezia, and died in 1501. The Borgias ceased to reign in 1512; and
Ginevra, apparently restored to her country, dedicated this picture,
at once a memorial of her gratitude and of her faith. It remained over
the high-altar of the Church of the Serviti, at Pesaro, till acquired
by Mr. Solly, from whom it was purchased by Mr. Bromley. [4]

[Footnote 1: From the Office of the Blessed Virgin.]

[Footnote 2: This Giovanni was the first husband of Lucrezia Borgia.]

[Footnote 3: Lanzi calls this child Costanzo II., prince of Pesaro.
Very interesting memoirs of all the personages here referred to may be
found in Mr. Dennistoun's "Dukes of Urbino."]

[Footnote 4: Girolamo Marchesi da Cotignola, was a painter of the
Francia school, whose works date from about 1508 to 1550. Those of
his pictures which I have seen are of very unequal merit, and, with
much feeling and expression in the heads, are often mannered and
fantastic as compositions. This agrees with what Vasari says, that his
excellence lay in portraiture, for which reason he was summoned, after
the battle of Ravenna, to paint the portrait of Caston de Foix, as
he lay dead. (See Vasari, _Vita di Bagnacavallo_; and in the English
trans., vol. iii. 331.) The picture above described, which has a sort
of historical interest, is perhaps the same mentioned in Murray's
Handbook (Central Italy, p. 110.) as an _enthroned_ Madonna, dated
1513, and as being in 1843 in its original place over the altar in the
Serviti at Pesaro; if so, it is there no longer.]






_Lat._ Sancta Dei Genitrix. Virgo Deipara. _Ital._ La Santissima
Vergine, Madre di Dio. _Fr._ La Sainte Vierge, Mere de Dieu. _Ger._
Die Heilige Mutter Gottes.

The Virgin in her maternal character opens upon us so wide a field
of illustration, that I scarce know where to begin or how to find my
way, amid the crowd of associations which press upon me. A mother
holding her child in her arms is no very complex subject; but like a
very simple air constructed on a few expressive notes, which, when
harmonized, is susceptible of a thousand modulations, and variations,
and accompaniments, while the original _motif_ never loses its power
to speak to the heart; so it is with the MADONNA AND CHILD;--a
subject so consecrated by its antiquity, so hallowed by its profound
significance, so endeared by its associations with the softest and
deepest of our human sympathies, that the mind has never wearied of
its repetition, nor the eye become satiated with its beauty. Those who
refuse to give it the honour due to a religious representation, yet
regard it with a tender half-unwilling homage; and when the glorified
type of what is purest, loftiest, holiest in womanhood, stands before
us, arrayed in all the majesty and beauty that accomplished Art,
inspired by faith and love, could lend her, and bearing her divine
Son, rather enthroned than sustained on her maternal bosom, "we look,
and the heart is in heaven!" and it is difficult, very difficult, to
refrain from an _Ora pro Nobis_. But before we attempt to classify
these lovely and popular effigies, in all their infinite variety,
from the enthroned grandeur of the Queen of Heaven, the SANCTA
DEI GENITRIX, down to the peasant mother, swaddling or suckling
her infant; or to interpret the innumerable shades of significance
conveyed by the attendant accessories, we must endeavour to trace the
representation itself to its origin.

This is difficult. There exists no proof, I believe, that the effigies
of the Virgin with the infant Christ in her arms, which existed before
the end of the fifth century, were placed before Christian worshippers
as objects of veneration. They appear to have been merely groups
representing a particular incident of the New Testament, namely,
the adoration of the Magi; for I find no other in which the mother
is seated with the infant Christ, and this is an historical subject
of which we shall have to speak hereafter. From the beginning of
the fourth century, that is, from the time of Constantine and the
condemnation of Arius, the popular reverence for the Virgin, the
Mother of Christ, had been gaining ground; and at the same time the
introduction of images and pictures into the places of worship and
into the houses of Christians, as ornaments on glass vessels and even
embroidered on garments and curtains, became more and more diffused,
(v. Neander's Church History.)

The earliest effigies of the Virgin and Child may be traced
to Alexandria, and to Egyptian influences; and it is as easily
conceivable that the time-consecrated Egyptian myth of Isis and
Horus may have suggested the original type, the outward form and the
arrangement of the maternal group, as that the classical Greek types
of the Orpheus and Apollo should have furnished the early symbols of
the Redeemer as the Good Shepherd; a fact which does not rest upon
supposition, but of which the proofs remain to us in the antique
Christian sculptures and the paintings in the catacombs.

The most ancient Greek figures of the Virgin and Child have perished;
but, as far as I can learn, there is no evidence that these effigies
were recognized by the Church as sacred before the beginning of the
sixth century. It was the Nestorian schism which first gave to the
group of the Mother bearing her divine Son that religious importance
and significance which it has ever since retained in Catholic

The divinity of Christ and his miraculous conception, once established
as articles of belief, naturally imparted to Mary, his mother, a
dignity beyond that of other mothers her Son was God; therefore the
title of MOTHER OF GOD was assigned to her. When or by whom first
brought into use, does not appear; but about the year 400 it became
a popular designation.

Nestorias, patriarch of Constantinople in 428, had begun by
persecuting the Arians; but while he insisted that in Jesus were
combined two persons and two natures, he insisted that the Virgin Mary
was the mother of Christ considered as _man_, but not the mother of
Christ considered as _God_; and that, consequently, all those who gave
her the title of _Dei Genitrix_, _Deipara_,[1] were in error. There
were many who adopted these opinions, but by a large portion of the
Church they were repudiated with horror, as utterly subverting the
doctrine of the mystery of the Incarnation. Cyril of Alexandria
opposed Nestorius and his followers, and defended with zealous
enthusiasm the claims of the Virgin to all the reverence and
worship due to her; for, as he argued, the two natures being one and
indivisible from the moment of the miraculous conception, it followed
that Mary did indeed bring forth God,--was, in fact, the mother of
God; and, all who took away from her this dignity and title were in
error, and to be condemned as heretics.

[Footnote 1: The inscription on the Greek and Byzantine pictures is
actually [Greek: MAeR ThU] ([Greek: Mhaetaer Theos]).]

I hope I shall not be considered irreverent in thus plainly and simply
stating the grounds of this celebrated schism, with reference to its
influence on Art; an influence incalculable, not only at the time,
but ever since that time; of which the manifold results, traced
from century to century down to the present hour, would remain quite
unintelligible, unless we clearly understood the origin and the issue
of the controversy.

Cyril, who was as enthusiastic and indomitable as Nestorius, and had
the advantage of taking the positive against the negative side of the
question, anathematized the doctrines of his opponent, in a synod held
at Alexandria in 430, to which Pope Celestine II gave the sanction of
his authority. The emperor Theodosius II then called a general council
at Ephesus in 431, before which Nestorius refused to appear, and was
deposed from his dignity of patriarch by the suffrages of 200 bishops.
But this did not put an end to the controversy; the streets of Ephesus
were disturbed by the brawls and the pavement of the cathedral was
literally stained with the blood of the contending parties Theodosius
arrested both the patriarchs; but after the lapse of only a few days,
Cyril triumphed over his adversary: with him triumphed the cause of
the Virgin. Nestorius was deposed and exiled; his writings condemned
to the flames; but still the opinions he had advocated were adopted by
numbers, who were regarded as heretics by those who called themselves
"the Catholic Church."

The long continuance of this controversy, the obstinacy of the
Nestorians, the passionate zeal of those who held the opposite
doctrines, and their ultimate triumph when the Western Churches of
Rome and Carthage declared in their favour, all tended to multiply and
disseminate far and wide throughout Christendom those images of the
Virgin which exhibited her as Mother of the Godhead. At length the
ecclesiastical authorities, headed by Pope Gregory the Great, stamped
them as orthodox: and as the cross had been the primeval symbol which
distinguished the Christian from the Pagan, so the image of the Virgin
Mother with her Child now became the symbol which distinguished the
Catholic Christian from the Nestorian Dissenter.

Thus it appears that if the first religious representations of the
Virgin and Child were not a consequence of the Nestorian schism, yet
the consecration of such effigies as the visible form of a theological
dogma to the purposes of worship and ecclesiastical decoration
must date from the Council of Ephesus in 431; and their popularity
and general diffusion throughout the western Churches, from the
pontificate of Gregory in the beginning of the seventh century.

In the most ancient of these effigies which remain, we have clearly
only a symbol; a half figure, veiled, with hands outspread, and
the half figure of a child placed against her bosom, without any
sentiment, without even the action of sustaining him. Such was the
formal but quite intelligible sign; but it soon became more, it became
a representation. As it was in the East that the cause of the Virgin
first triumphed, we might naturally expect to find the earliest
examples in the old Greek churches; but these must have perished
in the furious onslaught made by the Iconoclasts on all the sacred
images. The controversy between the image-worshippers and the
image-breakers, which distracted the East for more than a century
(that is, from 726 to 840), did not, however, extend to the west of
Europe. We find the primeval Byzantine type, or at least the exact
reproduction of it, in the most ancient western churches, and
preserved to us in the mosaics of Rome, Ravenna, and Capua. These
remains are nearly all of the same date, much later than the single
figures of Christ as Redeemer, and belonging unfortunately to a lower
period and style of art. The true significance of the representation
is not, however, left doubtful; for all the earliest traditions and
inscriptions are in this agreed, that such effigies were intended as
a confession of faith; an acknowledgment of the dignity of the Virgin
Mary, as the "SANCTA DEI GENITRIX;" as a visible refutation of "the
infamous, iniquitous, and sacrilegious doctrines of Nestorius the

[Footnote 1: _Mostrando quod ipsa Deipara esset contra impiam Nestorii
Heresium quam talem esse iste Heresiareo negabat_ Vide Ciampini, and
Munter's "Sinnbilder."]

* * * * *

As these ancient mosaic figures of the Virgin, enthroned with her
infant Son, were the precursors and models of all that was afterwards
conceived and executed in art, we must examine them in detail before
proceeding further.

The mosaic of the cathedral of Capua represents in the highest place
the half figure of Christ in the act of benediction. In one of the
spandrels, to the right, is the prophet Isaiah, bearing a scroll, on
which is inscribed, _Ecce Dominus in fortitudine veniet, et brachium
ejus dominibatur_,--"The Lord God will come with strong hand, and his
arm shall rule for him." (Isaiah, ch. xl. v. 10.) On the left stands
Jeremiah, also with a scroll and the words, _Fortissime, magne, et
patens Dominus exercituum nomen tibi_,--"The great, the mighty God,
the Lord of hosts is his name." (Jeremiah, ch. xxxii. v. 18.) In the
centre of the vault beneath, the Virgin is seated on a rich throne,
a footstool under her feet; she wears a crown over her veil. Christ,
seated on her knee, and clothed, holds a cross in his left hand; the
right is raised is benediction. On one side of the throne stand St.
Peter and St. Stephen; on the other St. Paul and St. Agatha, to whom
the church is dedicated. The Greek monogram of the Virgin is inscribed
below the throne.

The next in date which remains visible, is the group in the apsis of
S. Maria-della-Navicella (Rome), executed about 820, in the time of
Paschal I, a pontiff who was very remarkable for the zeal with which
he rebuilt and adorned the then half-ruined churches of Rome. The
Virgin, of colossal size, is seated on a throne; her robe and veil
are blue; the infant Christ, in a gold-coloured vest, is seated in her
lap, and raises his hand to bless the worshippers. On each side of the
Virgin is a group of adoring angels; at her feet kneels the diminutive
figure of Pope Paschal.

In the Santa Maria-Nova (called also, "Santa Francesca," Rome), the
Virgin is seated on a throne wearing a rich crown, as queen of heaven.
The infant Christ stands upon her knee; she has one hand on her bosom
and sustains him with the other.

On the facade of the portico of the S. Maria-in-Trastevere at Rome,
the Virgin is enthroned, and crowned, and giving her breast to the
Child. This mosaic is of later date than that in the apsis, but is
one of the oldest examples of a representation which was evidently
directed against the heretical doubts of the Nestorians: "How," said
they, pleading before the council of Ephesus, "can we call him God
who is only two or three months old; or suppose the Logos to have
been _suckled_ and to increase in wisdom?" The Virgin in the act
of suckling her Child, is a _motif_ often since repeated when the
original significance was forgotten.

In the chapel of San Zeno (Rome), the Virgin is enthroned; the Child
is seated on her knee. He holds a scroll, on which are the words
_Ego sum lux mundi_, "I am the light of the world;" the right hand is
raised in benediction. Above is the monogram [Greek: M-R ThU], MARIA
MATER DEI. In the mosaics, from the eighth to the eleventh century,
we find Art at a very low ebb. The background is flat gold, not a blue
heaves with its golden stars, as in the early mosaics of the fifth and
sixth centuries. The figures are ill-proportioned; the faces consist
of lines without any attempt at form or expression. The draperies,
however, have a certain amplitude; "and the character of a few
accessories, for example, the crown on the Virgin's heads instead of
the invariable Byzantine veil, betrays," says Kugler, "a northern and
probably a Frankish influence." The attendant saints, generally St.
Peter and St. Paul, stand, stiff and upright on each side.

But with all their faults, these grand, formal, significant groups--or
rather not groups, for there was as yet no attempt either at
grouping or variety of action, for that would have been considered
irreverent--but these rows of figures, were the models of the early
Italian painters and mosaic-workers in their large architectural
mosaics and altar-pieces set up in the churches during the revival
of Art, from the period of Cimabue and Andrea Tafi down to the
latter half of the thirteenth century: all partook of this lifeless,
motionless character, and were, at the same time, touched with
the same solemn religious feeling. And long afterwards, when the
arrangement became less formal and conventional, their influence may
still be traced in those noble enthroned Madonnas, which represent
the Virgin as queen of heaven and of angels, either alone, or with
attendant saints, and martyrs, and venerable confessors waiting round
her state.

The general disposition of the two figures varies but little in the
earliest examples which exist for us in painting, and which are, in
fact, very much alike. The Madonna seated on a throne, wearing a red
tunic and a blue mantle, part of which is drawn as a veil over her
head, holds the infant Christ, clothed in a red or blue tunic. She
looks straight out of the picture with her head a little declined to
one side. Christ has the right hand raised in benediction, and the
other extended. Such were the simple, majestic, and decorous effigies,
the legitimate successors of the old architectural mosaics, and
usually placed over the high altar of a church or chapel. The earliest
examples which have been preserved are for that reason celebrated in
the history of Art.

The first is the enthroned Virgin of Guido da Siena, who preceded
Cimabue by twenty or thirty years. In this picture, the Byzantine
conception and style of execution are adhered to, yet with a softened
sentiment, a touch of more natural, life-like feeling, particularly
in the head of the Child. The expression in the face of the Virgin
struck me as very gentle and attractive; but it has been, I am afraid,
retouched, so that we cannot be quite sure that we have the original
features. Fortunately Guido has placed a date on his work, MCCXXI.,
and also inscribed on it a distich, which shows that he felt, with
some consciousness and self-complacency, his superiority to his
Byzantine models;--

"Me Guido de Senis diebus depinxit amoenis
Quem Christus lenis nullis velit angere poenis."[1]

Next we may refer to the two colossal Madonnas by Cimabue, preserved
at Florence. The first, which was painted for the Vallombrosian monks
of the S. Trinita, is now in the gallery of the academy. It has all
the stiffness and coldness of the Byzantine manner. There are three
adoring angels on each side, disposed one above another, and four
prophets are placed below in separate niches, half figures, holding
in their hands their prophetic scrolls, as in the old mosaic at Capua,
already described. The second is preserved in the Ruccellai chapel, in
the S. Maria Novella, in its original place. In spite of its colossal
size, and formal attitude, and severe style, the face of this Madonna
is very striking, and has been well described as "sweet and unearthly,
reminding you of a sibyl." The infant Christ is also very fine. There
are three angels on each side, who seem to sustain the carved chair or
throne on which the Madonna is seated; and the prophets, instead, of
being below, are painted in small circular medallions down each side
of the frame. The throne and the background are covered with gold.
Vasari gives a very graphic and animated account of the estimation
in which this picture was held when first executed. Its colossal
dimensions, though familiar in the great mosaics, were hitherto
unknown in painting; and not less astonishing appeared the deviation,
though slight, from ugliness and lifelessness into grace and nature.
"And thus," he says, "it happened that this work was an object of
so much admiration to the people of that day, they having never seen
anything better, that it was carried in solemn procession, with the
sound of trumpets and other festal demonstrations, from the house of
Cimabue to the church, he himself being highly rewarded and honoured
for it. It is further reported, and may be read in certain records
of old painters, that, whilst Cimabue was painting this picture, in a
garden near the gate of San Pietro, King Charles the Elder, of Anjou,
passed through Florence, and the authorities of the city, among other
marks of respect, conducted him to see the picture of Cimabue. When
this work was thus shown to the King it had not before been seen
by any one; wherefore all the men and women of Florence hastened in
crowds to admire it, making all possible demonstrations of delight.
The inhabitants of the neighbourhood, rejoicing in this occurrence,
ever afterwards called that place _Borgo Allegri_; and this name
it has ever since retained, although in process of time it became
enclosed within the walls of the city."

[Footnote 1: The meaning, for it is not easy to translate literally,
is "_Me, hath painted, in pleasant days, Guido of Siena, Upon whose
soul may Christ deign to have mercy!_"]

* * * * *

In the strictly devotional representations of the Virgin and Child,
she is invariably seated, till the end of the thirteenth century: and
for the next hundred years the innovation of a standing figure was
confined to sculpture. An early example is the beautiful statue by
Niccola Pisano, in the Capella della Spina at Pisa; and others will be
found in Cicognara'a work (Storia della Scultura Moderna). The Gothic
cathedrals, of the thirteenth century, also exhibit some most graceful
examples of the Madonna in sculpture, standing on a pedestal, crowned
or veiled, sustaining on her left arm the divine Child, while in
her right she holds a sceptre or perhaps a flower. Such crowned or
sceptred effigies of the Virgin were placed on the central pillar
which usually divided the great door of a church into two equal parts;
in reference to the text, "I am the DOOR; by me if any man enter in,
he shall be saved." In Roman Catholic countries we find such effigies
set up at the corners of streets, over the doors of houses, and the
gates of gardens, sometimes rude and coarse, sometimes exceedingly
graceful, according to the period of art and skill of the local
artist. Here the Virgin appears in her character of Protectress--our
Lady of Grace, or our Lady of Succour.

* * * * *

In pictures, we rarely find the Virgin standing, before the end of
the fourteenth century. An almost singular example is to be found
in an old Greek Madonna, venerated as miraculous, in the Cathedral
of Orvieto, under the title of _La Madonna di San Brizio_, and to
which is attributed a fabulous antiquity. I may be mistaken, but my
impression, on seeing it, was, that it could not be older than the end
of the thirteenth century. The crowns worn by the Virgin and Christ
are even more modern, and out of character with the rest of the
painting. In Italy the pupils of Giotto first began to represent
the Virgin standing on a raised dais. There is an example by Puccio
Capanna, engraved in d'Agincourt's work; but such figures are very
uncommon. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries they occur more
frequently in the northern than in the Italian schools.

In the simple enthroned Madonna, variations of attitude and sentiment
were gradually introduced. The Virgin, instead of supporting her
Son with both hands, embraces him with one hand, and with the other
points to him; or raises her right hand to bless the worshipper. Then
the Child caresses his mother,--a charming and natural idea, but a
deviation from the solemnity of the purely religious significance;
better imagined, however, to convey the relation between the mother
and child, than the Virgin suckling her infant, to which I have
already alluded in its early religious, or rather controversial
meaning. It is not often that the enthroned Virgin is thus occupied.
Mr. Rogers had in his collection an exquisite example where the
Virgin, seated in state on a magnificent throne under a Gothic canopy
and crowned as queen of heaven, offers her breast to the divine Infant
Then the Mother adores her Child. This is properly the _Madre Pia_
afterwards so beautifully varied. He lies extended on her knee, and
she looks down upon him with hands folded in prayer: or she places
her hand under his foot, an attitude which originally implied her
acknowledgment of his sovereignty and superiority, but was continued
as a natural _motif_ when the figurative and religious meaning was no
longer considered. Sometimes the Child looks up in his mother's face
with his finger on his lip, expressing the _Verbum sum_, "I am the
Word." Sometimes the Child, bending forwards from his mother's knee,
looks down benignly on the worshippers, who are _supposed_ to be
kneeling at the foot of the altar. Sometimes, but very rarely he
sleeps; never in the earliest examples; for to exhibit the young
Redeemer asleep, where he is an object of worship, was then a species
of solecism.

When the enthroned Virgin is represented holding a book, or reading,
while the infant Christ, perhaps, lays his hand upon it--a variation
in the first simple treatment not earlier than the end of the
fourteenth century, and very significant--she is then the _Virgo
Sapientissima_, the most Wise Virgin; or the Mother of Wisdom, _Mater
Sapientiae_; and the book she holds is the Book of Wisdom.[1] This is
the proper interpretation, where the Virgin is seated on her throne.
In a most beautiful picture by Granacci (Berlin Gal.), she is thus
enthroned, and reading intently; while John the Baptist and St.
Michael stand on each side.

[Footnote 1: L'Abbe Crosnier, "Iconographie Chretienne;" but the book
as an attribute had another meaning, for which, see the Introduction.]

* * * * *

With regard to costume, the colours in which the enthroned
Virgin-Mother was arrayed scarcely ever varied from the established
rule: her tunic was to be red, her mantle blue; red, the colour of
love, and religious aspiration; blue, the colour of constancy and
heavenly purity. In the pictures of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, and down to the early part of the fifteenth, these colours
are of a soft and delicate tint,--rose and pale azure; but afterwards,
when powerful effects of colour became a study, we have the intense
crimson, and the dark blue verging on purple. Sometimes the blue
mantle is brought over her head, sometimes she wears a white veil, in
other instances the queenly crown. Sometimes (but very rarely when she
is throned as the _Regina Coeli_) she has no covering or ornament on
her head; and her fair hair parted on her brow, flows down on either
side in long luxuriant tresses.

In the Venetian and German pictures, she is often most gorgeously
arrayed; her crown studded with jewels, her robe covered with
embroidery, or bordered with gold and pearls. The ornamental parts of
her dress and throne were sometimes, to increase the magnificence of
the effect, raised in relief and gilt. To the early German painters,
we might too often apply the sarcasm of Apelles, who said of his
rival, that, "not being able to make Venus _beautiful_ he had made
her _fine_;" but some of the Venetian Madonnas are lovely as well as
splendid. Gold was often used, and in great profusion, in some of the
Lombard pictures even of a late date; for instance, by Carlo Crivelli:
before the middle of the sixteenth century, this was considered
barbaric. The best Italian painters gave the Virgin ample, well
disposed drapery, but dispensed with ornament. The star embroidered on
her shoulder, so often retained when all other ornament was banished,
expresses her title "Stella Maris." I have seen some old pictures, in
which she wears a ring on the third finger. This expresses her dignity
as the _Sposa_ as well as the Mother.

With regard to the divine Infant, he is, in the early pictures,
invariably draped, and it is not till the beginning of the fifteenth
century that we find him first partially and then wholly undraped.
In the old representations, he wears a long tunic with full sleeves,
fastened with a girdle. It is sometimes of gold stuff embroidered,
sometimes white, crimson, or blue. This almost regal robe was
afterwards exchanged for a little semi-transparent shirt without
sleeves. In pictures of the throned Madonna painted expressly for
nunneries, the Child is, I believe, always clothed, or the Mother
partly infolds him in her own drapery. In the Umbrian pictures of the
fifteenth century, the Infant often wears a coral necklace, then and
now worn by children in that district, as a charm against the evil
eye. In the Venetian pictures he has sometimes a coronal of pearls. In
the carved and painted images set up in churches, he wears, like his
mother, a rich crown over a curled wig, and is hung round with jewels;
but such images must be considered as out of the pale of legitimate

* * * * *

Of the various objects placed in the hand of the Child as emblems I
have already spoken, and of their sacred significance as such,--the
globe, the book, the bird, the flower, &c. In the works of the
ignorant secular artists of later times, these symbols of power, or
divinity, or wisdom, became mere playthings; and when they had become
familiar, and required by custom, and the old sacred associations
utterly forgotten, we find them most profanely applied and misused.
To give one example:--the bird was originally placed in the hand of
Christ as the emblem of the soul, or of the spiritual as opposed to
the earthly nature; in a picture by Baroccio, he holds it up before
a cat, to be frightened and tormented.[1] But to proceed.

[Footnote 1: In the "History of Our Lord, as illustrated in the
Fine Arts," the devotional and characteristic effigies of the infant
Christ, and the accompanying attributes, will be treated at length.]

The throne on which the Virgin is seated, is, in very early pictures,
merely an embroidered cushion on a sort of stool, or a carved Gothic
chair, such as we see in the thrones and stalls of cathedrals. It
is afterwards converted into a rich architectural throne, most
elaborately adorned, according to the taste and skill of the artist.
Sometimes, as in the early Venetian pictures, it is hung with garlands
of fruits and flowers, most fancifully disposed. Sometimes the
arabesque ornaments are raised in relief and gilt. Sometimes the
throne is curiously painted to imitate various marbles, and adorned
with medallions and bas-reliefs from those subjects of the Old
Testament which have a reference to the character of the Virgin and
the mission of her divine Child; the commonest of all being the Fall,
which rendered a Redeemer necessary. Moses striking the rock (the
waters of life)--the elevation of the brazen serpent--the gathering
of the manna--or Moses holding the broken tablets of the old law,--all
types of redemption, are often thus introduced as ornaments. In the
sixteenth century, when the purely religious sentiment had declined,
and a classical and profane taste had infected every department of
art and literature, we find the throne of the Virgin adorned with
classical ornaments and bas-reliefs from the antique remains; as, for
instance, the hunt of Theseus and Hippolyta. We must then suppose
her throned on the ruins of paganism, an idea suggested by the old
legends, which represent the temples and statues of the heathen gods
as falling into ruin on the approach of the Virgin and her Child; and
a more picturesque application of this idea afterwards became common
in other subjects. In Garofalo's picture the throne is adorned with
Sphinxes--_a l'antique_. Andrea del Sarto has placed harpies at the
corner of the pedestal of the throne, in his famous Madonna di San
Francesco (Florence Gal.),--a gross fault in that otherwise grand
and faultless picture; one of those desecrations of a religious
theme which Andrea, as devoid of religious feeling as he was weak and
dishonest, was in the habit of committing.

But whatever the material or style of the throne, whether simple or
gorgeous, it is supposed to be a heavenly throne. It is not of the
earth, nor on the earth; and at first it was alone and unapproachable.
The Virgin-mother, thus seated in her majesty, apart from all human
beings, and in communion only with the Infant Godhead on her knee, or
the living worshippers who come to lay down their cares and sorrows
at the foot of her throne and breathe a devout "Salve Regina!"--is,
through its very simplicity and concentrated interest, a sublime
conception. The effect of these figures, in their divine quietude and
loveliness, can never be appreciated when hung in a gallery or room
with other pictures, for admiration, or criticism, or comparison. I
remember well suddenly discovering such a Madonna, in a retired chapel
in S. Francesco della Vigna at Venice,--a picture I had never heard
of, by a painter then quite unknown to me, Fra Antonio da Negroponte,
a Franciscan friar who lived in the fifteenth century. The calm
dignity of the attitude, the sweetness, the adoring love in the face
of the queenly mother as with folded hands she looked down on the
divine Infant reclining on her knee, so struck upon my heart, that I
remained for minutes quite motionless. In this picture, nothing can
exceed the gorgeous splendor of the Virgin's throne and apparel:
she wears a jewelled crown; the Child a coronal of pearls; while the
background is composed entirely of the mystical roses twined in a sort
of _treillage_.

I remember, too, a picture by Carlo Crivelli, in which the Virgin is
seated on a throne, adorned, in the artist's usual style, with rich
festoons of fruit and flowers. She is most sumptuously crowned and
apparelled; and the beautiful Child on her knee, grasping her hand as
if to support himself, with the most _naive_ and graceful action bends
forward and looks dawn benignly on the worshippers _supposed_ to be
kneeling below.

When human personages were admitted within the same compartment, the
throne was generally raised by several steps, or placed on a lofty
pedestal, and till the middle of the fifteenth century it was always
in the centre of the composition fronting the spectator. It was a
Venetian innovation to place the throne at one side of the picture,
and show the Virgin in profile or in the act of turning round.
This more scenic disposition became afterwards, in the passion for
variety and effect, too palpably artificial, and at length forced and

The Italians distinguish between the _Madonna in Trono_ and the
_Madonna in Gloria_. When human beings, however sainted and exalted
were admitted within the margin of the picture, the divine dignity
of the Virgin as _Madre di Dio_, was often expressed by elevating her
wholly above the earth, and placing her "in regions mild of calm and
serene air," with the crescent or the rainbow under her feet. This is
styled a "Madonna in Gloria." It is, in fact, a return to the antique
conception of the enthroned Redeemer, seated on a rainbow, sustained
by the "curled clouds," and encircled by a glory of cherubim. The
aureole of light, within which the glorified Madonna and her Child
when in a standing position are often placed, is of an oblong form,
called from its shape the _mandorla_, "the almond;"[1] but in general
she is seated above in a sort of ethereal exaltation, while the
attendant saints stand on the earth below. This beautiful arrangement,
though often very sublimely treated, has not the simple austere
dignity of the throne of state, and when the Virgin and Child, as in
the works of the late Spanish and Flemish painters, are formed out of
earth's most coarse and commonplace materials, the aerial throne of
floating fantastic clouds suggests a disagreeable discord, a fear lest
the occupants of heaven should fall on the heads of their worshippers
below. Not so the Virgins of the old Italians; for they look so
divinely ethereal that they seem uplifted by their own spirituality:
not even the air-borne clouds are needed to sustain them. They have no
touch of earth or earth's material beyond the human form; their proper
place is the seventh heaven; and there they repose, a presence and a
power--a personification of infinite mercy sublimated by innocence and
purity; and thence they look down on their worshippers and attendants,
while these gaze upwards "with looks commercing with the skies."

[Footnote 1: Or the "Vescica Pisces," by Lord Lindsay and others.]

* * * * *

And now of these angelic and sainted accessories, however placed, we
must speak at length; for much of the sentiment and majesty of the
Madonna effigies depend on the proper treatment of the attendant
figures, and on the meaning they convey to the observer.

* * * * *

The Virgin is entitled, by authority of the Church, queen of angels,
of prophets, of apostles, of martyrs, of virgins, and of confessors;
and from among these her attendants are selected.

ANGELS were first admitted, waiting Immediately round her chair
of state. A signal instance is the group of the enthroned Madonna,
attended by the four archangels, as we find it in the very ancient
mosaic in Sant-Apollinare-Novo, at Ravenna. As the belief in the
superior power and sanctity of the Blessed Virgin grew and spread,
the angels no longer attended her as princes of the heavenly host,
guardians, or councillors; they became, in the early pictures,
adoring angels, sustaining her throne on each side, or holding up
the embroidered curtain which forms the background. In the Madonna by
Cimabue, which, if it be not the earliest after the revival of art,
was one of the first in which the Byzantine manner was softened and
Italianized, we have six grand, solemn-looking angels, three on each
side of the throne, arranged perpendicularly one above another.
The Virgin herself is of colossal proportions, far exceeding them
in size, and looking out of her frame, "large as a goddess of the
antique world." In the other Madonna in the gallery of the academy,
we have the same arrangement of the angels. Giotto diversified this
arrangement. He placed the angels kneeling at the foot of the throne,
making music, and waiting on their divine Mistress as her celestial
choristers,--a service the more fitting because she was not only queen
of angels, but patroness of music and minstrelsy, in which character
she has St. Cecilia as her deputy and delegate. This accompaniment
of the choral angels was one of the earliest of the accessories, and
continued down to the latest times. They are most particularly lovely
in the pictures of the fifteenth century. They kneel and strike their
golden lutes, or stand and sound their silver clarions, or sit like
beautiful winged children on the steps of the throne, and pipe and
sing as if their spirits were overflowing with harmony as well as love
and adoration.[1] In a curious picture of the enthroned Madonna and
Child (Berlin Gal.), by Gentil Fabriano, a tree rises on each side
of the throne, on which little red seraphim are perched like birds,
singing and playing on musical instruments. In later times, they play
and sing for the solace of the divine Infant, not merely adoring, but
ministering: but these angels ministrant belong to another class of
pictures. Adoration, not service, was required by the divine Child
and his mother, when they were represented simply in their
divine character, and placed far beyond earthly wants and earthly

[Footnote 1: As in the picture by Lo Spagna in our National Gallery,
No. 282.]

There are examples where the angels in attendance bear, not harps
or lutes, but the attributes of the Cardinal Virtues, as in an
altar-piece by Taddeo Gaddi at Florence. (Santa Croce, Rinuccini

The patriarchs, prophets, and sibyls, all the personages, in fact, who
lived under the old law, when forming, in a picture or altar-piece,
part, of the _cortege_ of the throned Virgin, as types, or prophets,
or harbingers of the Incarnation, are on the _outside_ of that sacred
compartment wherein she is seated with her Child. This was the case
with _all_ the human personages down to the end of the thirteenth
century; and after that time, I find the characters of the Old
Testament still excluded from the groups immediately round her throne.
Their place was elsewhere allotted, at a more respectful distance. The
only exceptions I can remember, are King David and the patriarch
Job; and these only in late pictures, where David does not appear as
prophet, but as the ancestor of the Redeemer; and Job, only at Venice,
where he is a patron saint.

The four evangelists and the twelve apostles are, in their collective
character in relation to the Virgin, treated like the prophets,
and placed around the altar-piece. Where we find one or more of the
evangelists introduced into the group of attendant "Sanctities" on
each side of her throne, it is not in their character of evangelists,
but rather as patron saints. Thus St. Mark appears constantly in the
Venetian pictures; but it is as the patron and protector of Venice.
St. John the Evangelist, a favourite attendant on the Virgin, is near
her in virtue of his peculiar relation to her and to Christ; and he is
also a popular patron saint. St. Luke and St. Matthew, unless they be
patrons of the particular locality, or of the votary who presents
the picture, never appear. It is the same with the apostles in their
collective character as such; we find them constantly, as statues,
ranged on each side of the Virgin, or as separate figures. Thus they
stand over the screen of St. Mark's, at Venice, and also on the carved
frames of the altar-pieces; but either from their number, or some
other cause, they are seldom grouped round the enthroned Virgin.

* * * * *

It is ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST who, next to the angels, seems to have
been the first admitted to a propinquity with the divine persons. In
Greek art, he is himself an angel, a messenger, and often represented
with wings. He was especially venerated in the Greek Church in
his character of precursor of the Redeemer, and, as such, almost
indispensable in every sacred group; and it is, perhaps, to the
early influence of Greek art on the selection and arrangement of the
accessory personages, that we owe the preeminence of John the Baptist.
One of the most graceful, and appropriate, and familiar of all the
accessory figures grouped with the Virgin and Child, is that of the
young St. John (called in Italian _San Giovannino_, and in Spanish
_San Juanito_.) When first introduced, we find him taking the place
of the singing or piping angels in front of the throne. He generally
stands, "clad in his raiment of camel's hair, having a girdle round
his loins," and in his hand a reed cross, round which is bound a
scroll with the words "_Ecce Agnus Dei_" ("Behold the Lamb of God"),
while with his finger he points up to the enthroned group above him,
expressing the text from St. Luke (c. ii.), "And thou, CHILD shalt
be called the Prophet of the Highest," as in Francia's picture in our
National Gallery. Sometimes he bears a lamb in his arms, the _Ecce
Agnus Dei_ in form instead of words.

The introduction of the young St. John becomes more and more usual
from the beginning of the sixteenth century. In later pictures, a
touch of the dramatic is thrown into the arrangement: instead of being
at the foot of the throne, he is placed beside it; as where the Virgin
is throned on a lofty pedestal, and she lays one hand on the head of
the little St. John, while with the other she strains her Child to her
bosom; or where the infant Christ and St. John, standing at her knee,
embrace each other--a graceful incident in a Holy Family, but in the
enthroned Madonna it impairs the religious conception; it places St.
John too much on a level with the Saviour, who is here in that divine
character to which St. John bore witness, but which he did not share.
It is very unusual to see John the Baptist in his childish character
glorified in heaven among the celestial beings: I remember but one
instance, in a beautiful picture by Bonifazio. (Acad. Venice.) The
Virgin is seated in glory, with her Infant on her knee, and encircled
by cherubim; on one side an angel approaches with a basket of flowers
on his head, and she is in act to take these flowers and scatter
them on the saints below,--a new and graceful _motif_: on the other
side sits John the Baptist as a boy about twelve years of age. The
attendant saints below are St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Thomas holding
the girdle,[1] St. Francis, and St. Clara, all looking up with
ecstatic devotion, except St. Clara, who looks down with a charming

[Footnote 1: St. Thomas is called in the catalogue, James, king of

* * * * *

In early pictures, ST. ANNA, the mother of the Virgin, is very seldom
introduced, because in such sublime and mystical representations of
the _Vergine Dea_, whatever connected her with realities, or with her
earthly genealogy, is suppressed. But from the middle of the fifteenth
century, St. Anna became, from the current legends of the history
of the Virgin, an important saint, and when introduced into the
devotional groups, which, however, is seldom, it seems to have
embarrassed the painters how to dispose of her. She could not well be
placed below her daughter; she could not be placed above her. It is a
curious proof of the predominance of the feminine element throughout
these representations, that while ST. JOACHIM the father and ST.
JOSEPH the husband of the Virgin, are either omitted altogether, or
are admitted only in a subordinate and inferior position, St. Anna,
when she does appear, is on an equality with her daughter. There is
a beautiful example, and apt for illustration, in the picture by
Francia, in our National Gallery, where St. Anna and the Virgin are
seated together on the same throne, and the former presents the apple
to her divine Grandson. I remember, too, a most graceful instance
where St. Anna stands behind and a little above the throne, with her
hands placed affectionately on the shoulders of the Virgin, and raises
her eyes to heaven as if in thanksgiving to God, who through her had
brought salvation into the world. Where the Virgin is seated on the
knees of St. Anna, it is a still later innovation. There is such a
group in a picture in the Louvre, after a famous cartoon by Leonardo
da Vinci, which, in spite of its celebrity, has always appeared to me
very fantastic and irreverent in treatment. There is also a fine print
by Carraglio, in which the Virgin and Child are sustained on the
knees of St. Anna: under her feet lies the dragon. St. Roch and St.
Sebastian on each side, and the dead dragon, show that this is a
votive subject, an expression of thanksgiving after the cessation of
a plague. The Germans, who were fond of this group, imparted, even to
the most religious treatment, a domestic sentiment.

The earliest instance I can point to of the enthroned Virgin attended
by both her parents, is by Vivarini (Acad. Venice): St. Anna is on the
right of the throne; St. Joachim, in the act of reverently removing
his cap, stands on the left; more in front is a group of Franciscan

The introduction of St. Anna into a Holy Family, as part of the
domestic group, is very appropriate and graceful; but this of course
admits, and indeed requires, a wholly different sentiment. The same
remark applies to St. Joseph, who, in the earlier representations
of the enthroned Virgin, is carefully excluded; he appears, I think,
first in the Venetian pictures. There is an example in a splendid
composition by Paul Veronese. (Acad. Venice.) The Virgin, on a lofty
throne, holds the Child; both look down on the worshippers; St.
Joseph is partly seen behind leaning on his crutch. Round the throne
stand St. John the Baptist, St. Justina, as patroness of Venice, and
St. George; St. Jerome is on the other side in deep meditation. A
magnificent picture, quite sumptuous in colour and arrangement, and
yet so solemn and so calm![1]

[Footnote 1: There is another example by Paul Veronese, similar in
character and treatment, in which St. John and St. Joseph are on the
throne with the Virgin and child, and St. Catherine and St. Antony

The composition by Michael Angelo, styled a "Holy Family," is,
though singular in treatment, certainly devotional in character,
and an enthroned Virgin. She is seated in the centre, on a raised
architectural seat, holding a book; the infant Christ slumbers,--books
can teach him nothing, and to make him reading is unorthodox. In the
background on one side, St. Joseph leans over a balustrade, as if in
devout contemplation; a young St. John the Baptist leans on the other
side. The grand, mannered, symmetrical treatment is very remarkable
and characteristic. There are many engravings of this celebrated
composition. In one of them, the book held by the Virgin bears on one
side the text in Latin, "_Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is
the fruit of thy womb._" On the opposite page, "_Blessed be God, who
has regarded the low estate of his hand-maiden. For, behold, from
henceforth all generations shall call me blessed._"

While the young St. John is admitted into' such close companionship
with the enthroned Madonna, his mother Elizabeth, so commonly and
beautifully introduced into the Holy Families, is almost uniformly

Next in order, as accessory figures, appear some one or two or more of
the martyrs, confessors, and virgin patronesses, with their respective
attributes, either placed in separate niches and compartments on each
side, or, when admitted within the sacred precincts where sits the
Queenly Virgin Mother and her divine Son, standing, in the manner
of councillors and officers of state on solemn occasions, round an
earthly sovereign, all reverently calm and still; till gradually this
solemn formality, this isolation of the principal characters, gave way
to some sentiment which placed them in nearer relation to each other,
and to the divine personages. Occasional variations of attitude and
action were introduced--at first, a rare innovation; ere long, a
custom, a fashion. For instance;--the doctors turn over the leaves
of their great books as if seeking for the written testimonies to the
truth of the mysterious Incarnation made visible in the persons of the
Mother and Child; the confessors contemplate the radiant group with
rapture, and seem ready to burst forth in hymns of praise; the martyrs
kneel in adoration; the virgins gracefully offer their victorious
palms: and thus the painters of the best periods of art contrived to
animate their sacred groups without rendering them too dramatic and
too secular.

Such, then, was the general arrangement of that religious subject
which is technically styled "The Madonna enthroned and attended by
Saints." The selection and the relative position of these angelic and
saintly accessories were not, as I have already observed, matters of
mere taste or caprice; and an attentive observation of the choice and
disposition of the attendant figures will often throw light on the
original significance of such pictures, and the circumstances under
which they wore painted.

Shall I attempt a rapid classification and interpretation of these
infinitely varied groups? It is a theme which might well occupy
volumes rather than pages, and which requires far more antiquarian
learning and historical research than I can pretend to; still by
giving the result of my own observations in some few instances, it may
be possible so to excite the attention and fancy of the reader, as
to lead him further on the same path than I have myself been able to

* * * * *

We can trace, in a large class of these pictures, a general
religious significance, common to all periods, all localities, all
circumstances; while in another class, the interest is not only
particular and local, but sometimes even personal.

To the first class belongs the antique and beautiful group of the
Virgin and Child, enthroned between the two great archangels, St.
Michael and St. Gabriel. It is probably the most ancient of these
combinations: we find it in the earliest Greek art, in the carved
ivory diptychs of the eighth and ninth centuries, in the old
Greco-Italian pictures, in the ecclesiastical sculpture and stained
glass of from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. In the most
ancient examples, the two angels are seen standing on each side of
the Madonna, not worshipping, but with their sceptres and attributes,
as princes of the heavenly host, attending on her who is queen of
angels; St. Gabriel as the angel of birth and life, St. Michael as
the angel of Death, that is, in the Christian sense, of deliverance
and immortality. There is an instance of this antique treatment in a
small Greek picture in the Wallerstein collection. (Now at Kensington

In later pictures, St. Gabriel seldom appears except as the _Angela
Annunziatore_; but St. Michael very frequently. Sometimes, as
conqueror over sin and representative of the Church militant,
he stands with his foot on the dragon with a triumphant air; or,
kneeling, he presents to the infant Christ the scales of eternal
justice, as in a famous picture by Leonardo da Vinci. It is not only
because of his popularity as a patron saint, and of the number of
churches dedicated to him, that he is so frequently introduced into
the Madonna pictures; according to the legend, he was by Divine
appointment the guardian of the Virgin and her Son while they
sojourned on earth. The angel Raphael leading Tobias always expresses
protection, and especially protection to the young. Tobias with his
fish was an early type of baptism. There are many beautiful examples.
In Raphael's "Madonna dell' Pesce" (Madrid Gal.) he is introduced as
the patron saint of the painter, but not without a reference to more
sacred meaning, that of the guardian spirit of all humanity. The
warlike figure of St. Michael, and the benign St. Raphael, are
thus represented as celestial guardians in the beautiful picture by
Perugino now in our National Gallery. (No. 288.)

There are instances of the three archangels all standing together
below the glorified Virgin: St. Michael in the centre with his foot
on the prostrate fiend; St. Gabriel on the right presents his lily;
and, on the left, the protecting angel presents his human charge, and
points up to the source of salvation. (In an engraving after Giulio

* * * * *

The Virgin between St. Peter and St. Paul is also an extremely ancient
and significant group. It appears in the old mosaics. As chiefs of the
apostles and joint founders of the Church, St. Peter and St. Paul are
prominent figures in many groups and combinations, particularly in
the altar-pieces of the Roman churches, and those painted for the
Benedictine communities.

The Virgin, when supported on each side by St. Peter and St. Paul,
must be understood to represent the personified Church between her
two great founders and defenders; and this relation is expressed,
in a very poetical manner, when St. Peter, kneeling, receives the
allegorical keys from the hand of the infant Saviour. There are some
curious and beautiful instances of this combination of a significant
action with the utmost solemnity of treatment; for example, in
that very extraordinary Franciscan altar-piece, by Carlo Crivelli,
lately purchased by Lord Ward, where St. Peter, having deposited his
papal tiara at the foot of the throne, kneeling receives the great
symbolical keys. And again, in a fine picture by Andrea Meldula, where
the Virgin and Child are enthroned, and the infant Christ delivers
the keys to Peter, who stands, but with a most reverential air; on the
other side of the throne is St. Paul with his book and the sword held
upright. There are also two attendant angels. On the border of the
mantle of the Virgin is inscribed "_Ave Maria gratia plena_."[1]

[Footnote 1: In the collection of Mr. Bromley, of Wootton. This
picture is otherwise remarkable as the only authenticated work of a
very rare painter. It bears his signature, and the style indicates the
end of the fifteenth century as the probable date.]

I do not recollect any instance in which the four evangelists as such,
or the twelve apostles in their collective character, wait round the
throne of the Virgin and Child, though one or more of the evangelists
and one or more of the apostles perpetually occur.

The Virgin between St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist,
is also a very significant and beautiful combination, and one very
frequently met with. Though both these saints were as children
contemporary with the child Christ, and so represented in the Holy
Families, in these solemn ideal groups they are always men. The first
St. John expresses regeneration by the rite of baptism the second St.
John, distinguished as _Theologus_, "the Divine," stands with his
sacramental cup, expressing regeneration by faith. The former was the
precursor of the Saviour, the first who proclaimed him to the world as
such; the latter beheld the vision in Patmos, of the Woman in travail
pursued by the dragon, which is interpreted in reference to the
Virgin and her Child. The group thus brought into relation is full
of meaning, and, from the variety and contrast of character, full of
poetical and artistic capabilities. St. John the Baptist is usually
a man about thirty, with wild shaggy hair and meagre form, so draped
that his vest of camel's hair is always visible; he holds his reed
cross. St. John the Evangelist is generally the young and graceful
disciple; but in some instances he is the venerable seer of Patmos,

"Whose beard descending sweeps his aged breast."

There is an example in one of the finest pictures by Perugino. The
Virgin is throned above, and surrounded by a glory of seraphim, with
many-coloured wings. The Child stands on her knee. In the landscape
below are St. Michael, St. Catherine, St. Apollonia, and. St. John
the Evangelist as the aged prophet with white flowing beard. (Bologna

* * * * *

The Fathers of the Church, as interpreters and defenders of the
mystery of the Incarnation, are very significantly placed near the
throne of the Virgin and Child. In Western art, the Latin doctors, St.
Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory, have of course
the preeminence. (v Sacred and Legend. Art.)

The effect produced by these aged, venerable, bearded dignitaries,
with their gorgeous robes and mitres and flowing beards, in contrast
with the soft simplicity of the divine Mother and her Infant, is,
in the hands of really great artists, wonderfully fine. There is a
splendid example, by Vivarini (Venice Acad.); the old doctors stand
two on each side of the throne, where, under a canopy upborne by
angels, sits the Virgin, sumptuously crowned and attired, and looking
most serene and goddess-like; while the divine Child, standing on
her knee, extends his little hand in the act of benediction. Of this
picture I have already given a very detailed description. (Sacred and
Legend. Art.) Another example, a grand picture by Moretto, now in the
Museum at Frankfort, I have also described. There is here a touch of
the dramatic sentiment;--the Virgin is tenderly caressing her Child,
while two of the old doctors, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, stand
reverently on each side of her lofty throne; St. Gregory sits on the
step below, reading, and St. Jerome bends over and points to a page in
his book. The Virgin is not sufficiently dignified; she has too much
the air of a portrait; and the action of the Child is, also, though
tender, rather unsuited to the significance of the rest of the group;
but the picture is, on the whole, magnificent. There is another fine
example of the four doctors attending on the Virgin, in the Milan

[Footnote 1: In a native picture of the Milanese School, dedicated by
Ludovico Sforza _Il Moro_.]

Sometimes not four, but two only of these Fathers, appear in
combination with other figures, and the choice would depend on the
locality and other circumstances. But, on the whole, we rarely find
a group of personages assembled round the throne of the Virgin which
does not include one or more of these venerable pillars of the Church.
St. Ambrose appears most frequently in the Milanese pictures: St.
Augustine and St. Jerome, as patriarchs of monastic orders, are
very popular: St. Gregory, I think, is more seldom met with than the

* * * * *

The Virgin, with St. Jerome and St. Catherine, the patron saints
of theological learning, is a frequent group in all monasteries,
but particularly in the churches and houses of the Jeronimites. A
beautiful example is the Madonna, by Francia. (Borghese Palace.
Rome.) St. Jerome, with Mary Magdalene, also a frequent combination,
expresses theological learning in union with religious penitence and
humility. Correggio's famous picture is an example, where St. Jerome
on one side presents his works in defence of the Church, and his
translation of the Scriptures; while, on the other, Mary Magdalene,
bending down devoutly, kisses the feet of the infant Christ. (Parma.)

Of all the attendants on the Virgin and Child, the most popular is,
perhaps, St. Catherine; and the "Marriage of St. Catherine," as a
religious mystery, is made to combine with the most solemn and formal
arrangement of the other attendant figures. The enthroned Virgin
presides over the mystical rite. This was, for intelligible reasons,
a favourite subject in nunneries.[1]

[Footnote 1: For a detailed account of the legendary marriage of St.
Catherine and examples of treatment, see Sacred and Legendary Art.]

In a picture by Garofalo, the Child, bending from his mother's knee,
places a golden crown on the head of St. Catherine as _Sposa_; on each
side stand St. Agnes and St. Jerome.

In a picture by Carlo Maratti, the nuptials take place in heaven, the
Virgin and Child being throned in clouds.

If the kneeling _Sposa_ be St. Catherine of Siena, the nun, and not
St. Catherine of Alexandria, or if the two are introduced, then we may
be sure that the picture was painted for a nunnery of the Dominican

[Footnote 1: See Legends of the Monastic Orders. A fine example of
this group "the Spozulizio of St. Catherine of Siena," has lately been
added to our National Gallery; (Lorenzo di San Severino, No. 249.)]

The great Madonna _in Trono_ by the Dominican Fra Bartolomeo, wherein
the queenly St. Catherine of Alexandria witnesses the mystical
marriage of her sister saint, the nun of Siena, will occur to every
one who has been at Florence; and there is a smaller picture by the
same painter in the Louvre;--a different version of the same subject.
I must content myself with merely referring to these well-known
pictures which have been often engraved, and dwell more in detail
on another, not so well known, and, to my feeling, as preeminently
beautiful and poetical, but in the early Flemish, not the Italian
style--a poem in a language less smooth and sonorous, but still a

This is the altar-piece painted by Hemmelinck for the charitable
sisterhood of St. John's Hospital at Bruges. The Virgin is seated
under a porch, and her throne decorated with rich tapestry; two
graceful angels hold a crown over her head. On the right, St.
Catherine, superbly arrayed as a princess, kneels at her side, and
the beautiful infant Christ bends forward and places the bridal ring
on her finger. Behind her a charming angel, playing on the organ,
celebrates the espousals with hymns of joy; beyond him stands St.
John the Baptist with his lamb. On the left of the Virgin kneels St.
Barbara, reading intently; behind her an angel with a book; beyond him
stands St. John the Evangelist, youthful, mild, and pensive. Through
the arcades of the porch is seen a landscape background, with
incidents picturesquely treated from the lives of the Baptist and
the Evangelist. Such is the central composition. The two wings
represent--on one side, the beheading of St. John the Baptist; on
the other, St. John the Evangelist, in Patmos, and the vision of the
Apocalypse. In this great work there is a unity and harmony of design
which blends the whole into an impressive poem. The object was to do
honour to the patrons of the hospital, the two St. Johns, and, at
the same time, to express the piety of the Charitable Sisters, who,
like St. Catherine (the type of contemplative studious piety), were
consecrated and espoused to Christ, and, like St. Barbara (the type of
active piety), were dedicated to good works. It is a tradition, that
Hemmelinck painted this altar-piece as a votive offering in gratitude
to the good Sisters, who had taken him in and nursed him when
dangerously wounded: and surely if this tradition be true, never was
charity more magnificently recompensed.

In a very beautiful picture by Ambrogio Borgognone (Dresden,
collection of M. Grahl) the Virgin is seated on a splendid throne;
on the right kneels St. Catherine of Alexandria, on the left St.
Catherine of Siena: the Virgin holds a hand of each, which she
presents to the divine Child seated on her knee, and to each he
presents a ring.

* * * * *

The Virgin and Child between St. Catherine and St. Barbara is one of
the most popular, as well as one of the most beautiful and expressive,
of these combinations; signifying active and contemplative life,
or the two powers between which the social state was divided in the
middle ages, namely, the ecclesiastical and the military, learning and
arms (Sacred and Legend. Art); St. Catherine being the patron of the
first, and St. Barbara of the last. When the original significance had
ceased to be understood or appreciated, the group continued to be a
favourite one, particularly in Germany; and examples are infinite.

The Virgin between St. Mary Magdalene and St. Barbara, the former as
the type of penance, humility, and meditative piety, the latter as the
type of fortitude and courage, is also very common. When between St.
Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine, the idea suggested is learning, with
penitence and humility; this is a most popular group. So is St. Lucia
with one of these or both: St. Lucia with her _lamp_ or her _eyes_, is
always expressive of _light_, the light of divine wisdom.

* * * * *

The Virgin between St. Nicholas and St. George is a very expressive
group; the former as the patron saint of merchants, tradesmen, and
seamen, the popular saint of the bourgeoisie; the latter as the patron
of soldiers, the chosen saint of the aristocracy. These two saints
with St. Catherine are pre-eminent in the Venetian pictures; for all
three, in addition to their poetical significance, were venerated as
especial protectors of Venice.

* * * * *

St. George and St. Christopher both stand by the throne of the Virgin
of Succour as protectors and deliverers in danger. The attribute of
St. Christopher is the little Christ on his shoulder; and there are
instances in which Christ appears on the lap of his mother, and also
on the shoulder of the attendant St. Christopher. This blunder, if it
may be so called, has been avoided, very cleverly I should think in
his own opinion, by a painter who makes St. Christopher kneel, while
the Virgin places the little Christ on his shoulders; a _concetto_
quite inadmissible in a really religious group.

* * * * *

In pictures dedicated by charitable communities, we often find
St. Nicholas and St. Leonard as the patron saints of prisoners and
captives. Wherever St. Leonard appears he expresses deliverance
from captivity. St. Omobuono, St. Martin, St. Elizabeth of Hungary,
St. Roch, or other beneficent saints, waiting round the Virgin with
kneeling beggars, or the blind, the lame, the sick, at their feet,
always expressed the Virgin as the mother of mercy, the _Consolatrix
afflictorum_. Such pictures were commonly found in hospitals, and
the chapels and churches of the Order of Mercy, and other charitable
institutions. The examples are numerous. I remember one, a striking
picture, by Bartolomeo Montagna, where the Virgin and Child are
enthroned in the centre as usual. On her right the good St. Omobuono,
dressed as a burgher, in a red gown and fur cap, gives alms to a poor
beggar; on the left, St. Francis presents a celebrated friar of his
Order, Bernardino da Feltri, the first founder of a _mont-de-piete_,
who kneels, holding the emblem of his institution, a little green
mountain with a cross at the top.

* * * * *

Besides these saints, who have a _general_ religious character and
significance, we have the national and local saints, whose presence
very often marks the country or school of art which produced the

A genuine Florentine Madonna is distinguished by a certain elegance
and stateliness, and well becomes her throne. As patroness of
Florence, in her own right, the Virgin bears the title of Santa Maria
del Fiore, and in this character she holds a flower, generally a rose,
or is in the act of presenting it to the Child. She is often attended
by St. John the Baptist, as patron of Florence; but he is everywhere
a saint of such power and importance as an attendant on the divine
personages, that his appearance in a picture does not stamp it as
Florentine. St. Cosmo and St. Damian are Florentine, as the protectors
of the Medici family; but as patrons of the healing art, they have
a significance which renders them common in the Venetian and other
pictures. It may, however, be determined, that if St. John the
Baptist, St. Cosmo and St. Damian, with St. Laurence (the patron of
Lorenzo the Magnificent), appear together in attendance on the Virgin,
that picture is of the Florentine school. The presence of St. Zenobio,
or of St. Antonino, the patron archbishops of Florence, will set the
matter at rest, for these are exclusively Florentine. In a picture by
Giotto, angels attend on the Virgin bearing vases of lilies in their
hands. (Lilies are at once the emblem of the Virgin and the _device_
of Florence.) On each side kneel St. John the Baptist and St.

[Footnote 1: We now possess in our National Gallery a very interesting
example of a Florentine enthroned Madonna, attended by St. John the
Baptist and St. Zenobio as patrons of Florence.]

A Siena Madonna would naturally be attended by St. Bernardino and St.
Catherine of Siena; if they seldom appear together, it is because they
belong to different religious orders.

In the Venetian pictures we find a crowd of guardian saints; first
among them, St. Mark, then St. Catherine, St. George, St. Nicholas,
and St. Justina: wherever these appear together, that picture is
surely from the Venetian school.

All through Lombardy and Piedmont, St. Ambrose of Milan and St.
Maurice of Savoy are favourite attendants on the Virgin.

* * * * *

In Spanish and Flemish art, the usual attendants on the queenly
Madonna are monks and nuns, which brings us to the consideration of
a large and interesting class of pictures, those dedicated by the
various religious orders. When we remember that the institution of
some of the most influential of these communities was coeval with the
revival of art; that for three or four centuries, art in all its forms
had no more powerful or more munificent patrons; that they counted
among their various brotherhoods some of the greatest artists the
world has seen; we can easily imagine how the beatified members of
these orders have become so conspicuous as attendants on the celestial
personages. To those who are accustomed to read the significance of
a work of art, a single glance is often sufficient to decide for what
order it has been executed.

St. Paul is a favourite saint of the Benedictine communities; and
there are few great pictures painted for them in which he does
not appear. When in companionship with St. Benedict, either in the
original black habit or the white habit of the reformed orders, with
St. Scholastica bearing her dove, with St. Bernard, St. Romualdo,
or other worthies of this venerable community, the interpretation is

Here are some examples by Domenico Puligo. The Virgin not seated, but
standing on a lofty pedestal, looks down on her worshippers; the Child
in her arms extends the right hand in benediction; with his left he
points to himself, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Around are
six saints, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John the Baptist as protector of
Florence, St. Matthew, St. Catherine; and St. Bernard, in his ample
white habit, with his keen intellectual face, is about to write in a
great book, and looking up to the Virgin for inspiration. The picture
was originally painted for the Cistercians.[1]

[Footnote 1: It is now in the S. Maria-Maddalena de' Pazzi at
Florence. Engraved in the "Etruria Pittrice," xxxv.]

The Virgin and Child enthroned between St. Augustine and his mother
St. Monica, as in a fine picture by Florigerio (Venice Acad.), would
show the picture to be painted for one of the numerous branches of the
Augustine Order. St. Antony the abbot is a favourite saint in pictures
painted for the Augustine hermits.

In the "Madonna del Baldachino" of Raphael, the beardless saint
who stands in a white habit on one side of the throne is usually
styled St. Bruno; an evident mistake. It is not a Carthusian, but
a Cistercian monk, and I think St. Bernard, the general patron of
monastic learning. The other attendant saints are St. Peter, St.
James, and St. Augustine. The picture was originally painted for the
church of San Spirito at Florence, belonging to the Augustines.

But St. Augustine is also the patriarch of the Franciscans and
Dominicans, and frequently takes an influential place in their
pictures, as the companion either of St. Francis or of St. Dominick,
as in a picture by Fra Angelico. (Florence Gal.)

Among the votive Madonnas of the mendicant orders, I will mention a
few conspicuous for beauty and interest, which will serve as a key to

1. The Virgin and Child enthroned between Antony of Padua and St.
Clara of Assisi, as in a small elegant picture by Pellegrino, must
have been dedicated in a church of the Franciscans. (Sutherland Gal.)

2. The Virgin blesses St. Francis, who looks up adoring: behind him
St. Antony of Padua; on the other side, John the Baptist as a man, and
St. Catherine. A celebrated but not an agreeable picture, painted by
Correggio for the Franciscan church at Parma. (Dresden Gal.)

3. The Virgin is seated in glory; on one side St. Francis, on the
other St. Antony of Padua, both placed in heaven, and almost on
an equality with the celestial personages. Around are seven female
figures, representing the seven cardinal virtues, bearing their
respective attributes. Below are seen the worthies of the Franciscan
Order; to the right of the Virgin, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Louis
of France, St. Bonaventura; to the left, St. Ives of Bretagne, St.
Eleazar, and St. Louis of Toulouse.[1] Painted for the Franciscans by
Morone and Paolo Cavazzolo of Verona. This is a picture of wonderful
beauty, and quite poetical in the sentiment and arrangement, and the
mingling of the celestial, the allegorical, and the real personages,
with a certain solemnity and gracefulness quite indescribable.
The virtues, for instance, are not so much allegorical persons as
spiritual appearances, and the whole of the ripper part of the picture
is like a vision.

[Footnote 1: For these Franciscan saints, v. Legends of the Monastic

4. The Virgin, standing on the tree of Site, holds the Infant: rays
of glory proceed from them on every side. St. Francis, kneeling at the
foot of the tree, looks up in an ecstasy of devotion, while a snake
with a wounded and bleeding head is crawling away. This strange
picture, painted for the Franciscans, by Carducho, about 1625, is a
representation of an abstract dogma (redemption from original sin),
in the most real, most animated form--all over life, earthly breathing
life--and made me start back: in the mingling of mysticism and
materialism, it is quite Spanish.[1]

[Footnote 1: Esterhazy Gal., Vienna. Mr. Stirling tells us that the
Franciscan friars of Valladolid possessed two pictures of the Virgin
by Mateo de Cerezo "in one of which she was represented sitting in a
cherry-tree and adored by St. Francis. This unusual throne may perhaps
have been introduced by Cerezo as a symbol of his own devout feelings,
his patronymic being the Castilian word for cherry-tree."--_Stirling's
Artists of Spain_, p. 1033. There are, however, many prints and
pictures of the Virgin and Child seated in a tree. It was one of the
fantastic conceptions of an unhealthy period of religion and art.]

5. The Virgin and Child enthroned. On the right of the Virgin, St.
John the Baptist and St. Zenobio, the two protectors of Florence. The
latter wears his episcopal cope richly embroidered with figures. On
the left stand St. Peter and St. Dominick, protectors of the company
for whom the picture was painted. In front kneel St. Jerome and St.
Francis. This picture was originally placed in San Marco, a church
belonging to the Dominicans.[1]

[Footnote 1: I saw and admired this fine and valuable picture in
the Rinuccini Palace at Florence in 1847; it was purchased for our
National Gallery in 1855.]

6. When the Virgin or the Child holds the Rosary, it is then a
_Madonna del Rosario_, and painted for the Dominicans. The Madonna by
Murillo, in the Dulwich Gallery, is an example. There is an instance
in which the Madonna and Child enthroned are distributing rosaries to
the worshippers, and attended by St. Dominick and St. Peter Martyr,
the two great saints of the Order. (Caravaggio, Belvedere Gal.,

* * * * *

7. Very important in pictures is the Madonna as more particularly the
patroness of the Carmelites, under her well-known title of "Our Lady
of Mount Carmel," or _La Madonna del Carmine_. The members of this
Order received from Pope Honorius III. the privilege of styling
themselves the "Family of the Blessed Virgin," and their churches are
all dedicated to her under the title of _S. Maria del Carmine_. She
is generally represented holding the infant Christ, with her robe
outspread, and beneath its folds the Carmelite brethren and their
chief saints.[1] There is an example in a picture by Pordenone which


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