It's that time of year again, and here are some selections from a central subject of Western art and Christian art.
Probably the most famous and popular of all Madonna and Child paintings, Raphael's Sistine Madonna. Commissioned in 1512 to be a gift from Pope Julius II to the city of Piacenza for their military help subduing Bologna. Pope Julius II's death in 1513 transformed the purpose of the painting into a memorial picture for the late Pope. Raphael completed the painting in 1514.
Raphael's Sistine Madonna recently turned 500 years old and was installed in a reconstruction of its original frame.
Raphael, The Alba Madonna, 1510
I must admit that I admire Raphael's Madonnas more than I love them.
Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, 1483 in the Louvre.
Seeing this in Paris for the first time in 2014 was a great pleasure. A strange, dark, and mysterious painting that I've long been fond of. One of my favorite works by Leonardo.
But it was too strange and too new for the confraternity that commissioned it.
Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, London version
Produced under court order after Leonardo was found guilty of breaking the contract with the confraternity that commissioned the work. This was the painting that finally went on the altar of the confraternity's chapel. Leonardo sold the original Paris version to a French collector for full price after the confraternity, not happy with the painting, paid only half the agreed upon price. Leonardo sued and the confraternity counter-sued. This painting is the result.
Titian, Paintings of the Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine.
The arrogant Prince of Painters has always been a favorite of mine. These two paintings are examples of why; superb compositions, rich colors, and especially the splendid landscapes in both.
Giovanni Bellini's San Giobbe Altarpiece, 15th century.
Bellini is an artist I love and admire. I've always preferred his more remote and melancholy Madonna's to Raphael's more approachable and frequently treacly ones.
Giovanni Bellini, Madonna of the Little Trees
Giovanni Bellini, Madonna of the Meadow
Piero della Francesca, Brera Altarpiece
A great favorite of mine. Not only do I admire it for the noble heroic figures standing in a perfectly articulated space, but also for the brilliant sunlight that fills the painting without overpowering it.
Fra Angelico, Madonna and Child with Saints
The inventor of the Sacra Conversazione composition, the Virgin and Child with saints assembled together in the same scene.
Michelangelo, The Bruges Madonna
Michelangelo, Medici Madonna
My vote for the strangest and most unsettling of all Renaissance Madonnas. The Christ Child as a herculean little succubus drains the life out his resigned Mother.
Anonymous, The Frankfurt Paradise Garden, 14th century
Jan Van Eyck, Madonna of Chancellor Rolin
Love the Virgin and Child. Love the landscape illumined by the morning sun even more. An amazing painting on so many levels.
Rogier Van Der Weyden, Columba Altarpiece (detail)
My favorite of all Flemish Madonnas.
Anonymous follower of Rogier Van Der Weyden
A beautiful small painting in the Saint Louis Art Museum that I enjoyed very much while I lived there.
Tilman Riemenschneider, Madonna and Child (detail)
French Ivory Madonna and Child made for the Sainte Chapelle, 13th century
Duccio Buoninsegna, London Madonna
"La Belle Verriere," Chartres Cathedral, 12th century
Detail from the North Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral, 13th century
Cimabue, Santa Trinita Altarpiece
Byzantine mosaic in the apse of Hagia Sophia
Mosaic of The Virgin and Child with Emperors Justinian and Constantine, 10th century
Russian, Our Lady of Vladimir
The Virgin of Vladimir is a painting that has been loved and revered to death. It is likely that all that remains of the original picture are the two faces above.
Theophanes the Greek, the Don Virgin and Child
A fine example of one of many variations painted in medieval Russia of the Virgin of Vladimir
Ethiopian triptych, early 17th century
Haitian folk paintings, 20th century
Painting from Cuzco, Peru
Spanish colonial paintings from the 18th century
Painting from Quito, Ecuador
Donatello, Madonna and Child in the Clouds
Luca della Robbia, Madonna of the Apple
Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat
Mathias Grünewald, The Stuppach Madonna
Albrecht Dürer, Virgin and Child with Animals
Albrecht Dürer, Virgin and Child with a Monkey
Rembrandt, Virgin and Child
Rembrandt's Protestant and personal interpretation of a very traditional subject
Rembrandt, Holy Family
Rembrandt, The Holy Family
Nicholas Poussin, The Holy Family
Nicholas Poussin, The Holy Family on the Steps
William Dyce, Virgin and Child, 19th century
The Madonna and Child meet the modern era.
Adolphe Bouguereau, Virgin and Child, 19th century
John Everett Millais, The Carpenter's Shop, 1849 - 1850
A major Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece from their early days when they were more concerned with social justice and morality than with medieval revival mysticism. I've never been much of a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites or of Millais, but I've always loved this picture. That the critics, including Charles Dickens savaged the painting (one called the figure of Christ a "red headed Jew boy") makes me even more fond of it. Too bad Millais and the other Pre-Raphaelites did not continue in this direction.
Chinese Christian paintings, 20th century
Henry Ossawa Tanner, Virgin Mother and Christ Child
Some secularized modern versions of the subject from the 19th and early 20th centuries
Mary Cassatt takes on the Renaissance artists quite directly in her secularized versions of the Madonna and Child, her paintings of mothers and children.
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother and Child, etching and drypoint print.
Käthe Kollwitz secularizes and brings into the 20th century the traditional narrative of Christ's birth. Kollwitz who lived and worked among the working class poor of Berlin for most of her life reminds us that the Christian God first manifested himself among such people.
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother Struggling with Death for Her Child
Henry Moore, Virgin and Child
Moore carved this work in 1943 for Saint Matthew's Church in Northhampton. For all of its very modern simplification of form, Moore returns to religious tradition.