Mother and Child
Followers of Pinturicchio (c. 1452-1513)
Madonna of the Windowsill
early sixteenth century
fresco transferred to cadorite
Vatican Pinacoteca, Inv. 40324

General Description

In early catalogs of the Vatican Pinacoteca, this Madonna painting was wrongly attributed to Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto). Recent scholarship (F. Bottair) rejected this attribution.  Given affinity and skill similar to those of Pinturicchio, the painting is now attributed to one of his followers who was active in Rome in the early years of the sixteenth century.

The Madonna of this artwork, whose background has been repainted, is seen in three-quarter view. She is leaning toward the child in a gesture of both reverent protection and proud demonstration. The painting is reminiscent of the Hodegetria type, of the Madonna who points the way to Jesus.  In fact, the position of her hands is similar to that of the Platytera holding the clipeus (shield or medallion) containing the “noncontainable.”  Here the boy Jesus, in typical Renaissance gesture, ascertains both his humanity (with a quasi-frivolous show of legs) and his divine mission (with his right hand raised in blessing and the position of the fingers).  Mary is dressed in the classical Marian colors of blue and red.  Her red robe is tied in the middle with a dark-colored sash (girdle, belt, cord) whose both ends, long or short, are knotted in such a way that they are hanging loose. The sash is a typical attribute to the Virgin in the Temple and symbolizes Mary’s virginal and exclusive dedication to God.   The sash is sometimes an attribute of the Immaculata.  Knotting and untying are the privilege of the divinity.  Mary is bound to God. He is the master of tying and untying. However, the sash knotted in front has also been used to symbolize maternity.  In the famous Guadalupe image, the black knotted sash identifies Mary as future mother.  According to sources of antiquity (Plinius, 23-79) the knot suggests pregnancy and subsequent delivery.  In the case of the Madonna of the Windowsill, the knotted sash identifies Mary as Mother and Virgin.  The sash makes a theological statement.

The motif of the windowsill – underlying both the playful and demonstrative character of this painting – seems to be of Florentine origin (late fifteenth century).  It had significant influence on artists of the Umbrian school.

Mother and Child – Icon of Christianity

The icon of mother and child is probably the most powerful symbol, and a most accurate synthesis of the Christian message.  It brings together in a single and most attractive image the many facets of God’s self-revelation to the world.  It stresses in particular the unbreakable unity and complementarity between God and humankind.  Symbol of the Incarnation, the icon of mother and child suggests and anticipates in subtle ways the semantics of redemption. In redemption, God gives himself away (manifests himself as a child);  he identifies with the little ones to give them new stature and heightened self-understanding (represented in the adult figure of a mother).

The figure of mother and child is not only an icon of revelation past, but also presents us with a whole spiritual doctrine, teaching us how Christ is growing in us so we might be able to grow in him.  Above all, the image of mother and child is a living testament of love. It speaks without ceasing of God’s loving self-giving, and the loving reception this gift was given in Mary’s heart and womb.

Mother and child are a manifesto of love directed to the whole world at all times. A constant and living witness to the Divine-human unity, the mother-child icon is the highly visible center and living source of the communion of saints. Finally, the mother-child representation is a beautiful memento of the ever-active presence of the Spirit in Mary’s life.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog:  The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary, pp. 80-81.

On Mary’s virginity, and on Mary’s motherhood consult:  The Mary Page:

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