Far too many people think of Ms. Ciccone and her conical shirts when they hear the word Madonna. Obviously that’s not true here at the Yule Log. As Natalie wrote about in her post yesterday, our material girl is THE original Madonna, the virgin mother. The term Madonna is an Italian word used generally to refer to the mother of Jesus. In the art world it refers to any work where Mary is the center focus. Most specifically it should be used for Italian pieces of art of Mary. The literal translation is simply “my lady”, similar to the French “our lady” or Notre Dame.
Art of the Madonna is nearly as old as Christianity itself. Ancient tombs and catacombs in Rome have cave drawings of the Virgin Mother. Her image has endured in every type of art for over a thousand years. Name an artist and you will most likely find some type of work of the Madonna. From da Vinci and Michelangelo to even Salvador Dali, artists love the image of Mary. There are all types of groupings and titles for types of depictions of Mary in the arts, categorized by medium, subject, etc. One very specific type of Marian art is known as Hodegetria. This is a type of artistic portrayal often found in Greek or orthodox icons. The composition of the image is detailed. Mary holds Christ in her left arm and gestured towards him with her right hand. Her fingers are stretched out and pointing to the babe as he is the way to salvation. The baby Jesus’ right hand is raised in a blessing. The term Hodegetria translates to “she who shows the way”. The original work was located in a monastery in Constantinople (Istanbul) built just to hold it. The portrayal was said to have been brought from the Holy Land in the early 400s. Somehow it was lost, and may be in Russia or Italy today. When you look at this depiction, you definitely see one of the most familiar images of the Madonna and Child.