Photo by RODNAE Productions

In Jeanne Henderson’s Madonna of the Ways, an anthology of Marian art accompanied by meditative text, she masterfully positions art as a reminder of faithfulness.

Art has always been a vehicle for change, from the social to the personal. There is something inherent in pure artistry that makes it resonate with the minds and souls of humanity.

What’s more, when coupled with spirituality and faith, art brings about the subtlest and most profound connections.

As such, art and religion have always been closely linked. Because of their religious beliefs, artists brought forward art, thereby creating new methods to capture their faith and inspire more of its revelations.

And no coupling of art and religion is more intensely devotional than Marian art. They still inspires generations of artists today.

What Is Marian Art?

Mary of Nazareth, being the mother of Jesus Christ, has always been a favorite subject for artists to tackle.

There have been various ways that art has depicted the Virgin Mary. Each reveal her majesty and glory as the Mother of God.

The most famous method of depicting her would be the Madonna. The etymology of which traces back to the archaic Italian ma donna, meaning “my lady.” 

What Does the Madonna Show?

The Madonna represents Mary, either by herself or with a young Jesus. It shows her as she was: a gentle and kind woman of great spirit.

Some Madonna art shows Mary with angels or saints beside her. Others show her alone but still with the bearing of an individual brimming with the full grace of humanity.

Some Marian art focuses on events of the Virgin Mary’s life, like the Annunciation, the birth of Christ, etc.

The Madonna centers Mary as herself. This allows a glimpse of her being which may reverberate with viewers. It can also be the impetus for better change or inspiration for more profound devotion. 

The Many Ways of Viewing the Madonna:

The Madonna is such a popular and intimate way of portraying the Virgin Mary that many famous Western artists have versions of it, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Caravaggio.

This only shows the genuine enthusiasm that Madonna inspires such that anyone of any artistic leaning would try to create their version of it from their own style.

Here are just the many iterations of the Madonna:

  • Mary in Prayer: This painting depicts the Madonna by herself in a gesture of deep prayer and benediction. By far the simplest of portrayals but a compelling one, as it shows the Virgin as one of the faithful.
  • Mary with Jesus in Benediction: This presents the Madonna holding the infant Jesus, whose head is turned to the viewer, typically with a raised hand. The most famous example of this type is the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. Mary with Jesus in Benediction shows the Madonna at her most motherly.
  • Mary Enthroned: This image presents the Madonna, with or without the Infant Christ, seated on a throne supported by a host of angels or a crowd of saints. This visual glorifies Mary as the Queen of Heaven and is closest to the moniker of Madonna, “My Lady.”
  • Mary Sitting: This portrays Mary at her humblest, seated on the ground or on a small pillow. Some examples have the Child Jesus on her lap. Although depicted in quite a meek position, nevertheless it conveys the majesty of the Virgin while she holds the Son of God in her lap.

Where to Find More Marian Art

The art book by Jeanne Henderson, Madonna of the Ways, is a beautiful collection of religious art depicting the Virgin Mary in several ways. Together with rich and compelling imagery are profound words of deep meditation. Each page of the book reminds you that life is a sacred journey and that there is much to fill it beneath the light of God.