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Virgin and Child in a Landscape

Here Mary is seated on a throne as the Queen of Heaven.
Bernardo Daddi, Italian, Madonna and Child with Saints, 1339

The painting would probably have been part of a folding altarpiece. This similar painting, perhaps by the same artist, still has its side panels.
Master of the Embroidered Foliage, Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angel Musicians (triptych), about 1500, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille


key idea
Images of Mary as a mother appealed to Christians in Europe in the late Middle Ages.

For centuries, holy figures were shown in Christian art as distant and otherworldly. They had golden halos and wore courtly robes in a heavenly kingdom far from the imperfect world on earth. Mary, the mother of Jesus, commonly appeared seated on a throne, as the Queen of Heaven.

During the Middle Ages, Mary became more important to Christians throughout Europe. Her motherly love comforted believers hoping for protection when God judged their sins. Hundreds of churches were built in Mary’s honor, and artists developed new ways of picturing her. Often she was shown, not as a queen on a throne, but as the Madonna of Humility—a humble woman seated on a bench or even the ground.

Artists had been painting Mary as the Madonna of Humility for almost a century when this picture was made. The theme probably began with painters in Italy, but the idea quickly spread to northern Europe. There, painters enriched their scenes with carefully observed features of the world around them. They brought Mary even closer to home.

January 2005