Here is the riddle: who has the most portraits created by the greatest painters of all times but we still do not know how she had looked like? Well, the answer is straightforward. Madonna.
No, not that one! The Virgin Mary and mother of Jesus Christ. Incidentally, her son is the only figure who could stand the competition in the number of portraits painted.
Anyway, Madonna (medieval Italian ma donna – my lady) is a crucial figure in Christian iconography. As legend has it, the first portrait of the Virgin painted Luke the Evangelist, and it was drawn from life.
There is a number of icons depicting Madonna claimed to be the originals of St Luke’s work. I like the legend surrounding The Black Madonna of Czestochowa (a city in Poland) supposedly painted by the Evangelist himself on a cypress table top from the house of the Holy Family.
Fast-forward to the Renaissance period, in the 15th and 16th centuries the countless artists from Italy and Northern Europe have taken the theme of Madonna in art up to another level.
Fra Angelico, Filippino Lippi, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Lorenzo Lotto, as well as Albrecht Dürer or Lucas Cranach the Elder – all the greatest names in the art history have risen to the top of their skills to make Madonna the central sacred figure.
The imagery of the Virgin Mary, with her son or alone, themes of Nativity (birth of Jesus), pietà (lamentation of Christ), Annunciation, Immaculate Conception and other scenes from her life settled in the Western art for the next few centuries.
Personally, I reckon the greatest depictions of Madonna were conceived by Raphael Sanzio. This Christmas my imagination has been captured by one particular Raphael’s painting – The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505.