Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Icon of the Madonna and Child from Santa Maria Nova
  • Creator:
  • Description: This monumental encaustic icon of the Virgin and Child from the church of Santa Maria Nova (now called Santa Francesca Romana) is one of five early cult icons of the Virgin Mary in Rome and likely the oldest. The icon’s strange proportions are a result of later modifications and over-painting dating from the 12th through 20th centuries. Likewise, the intense black outlines of the eyes and eyebrows of the virgin may be a result of early botched restoration attempts. The heads of Mary and the Christ child date to approximately the sixth century, while the bodies and radiant haloes are 12th-century additions. The current hodegetria pose of the Virgin and Child is also a 12th-century modification and the original spatial relationship of the head of the Virgin to that of the child remains unknown. The head of the Virgin alone measures 53 cm. in height. The icon’s large scale suggests that it was intended as the primary focal point of devotion, perhaps on an altar, in the church it originally occupied.

    A record of the lives and donations of popes, the Liber Pontificalis, mentions an ‘imago antiqua’ kept in the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in an inventory list included in the life of Pope Gregory III (731-741). Scholars have hypothesized that the ‘imago antiqua’ refers to this icon and that the icon moved to the nearby, newly-constructed church of Santa Maria Nova in the 10th century after Santa Maria Antiqua fell into disrepair (Wolf, 2005). Each of the five early medieval Marian icons in Rome carried strong ties to individual churches with strong cult veneration of the Virgin and could effectively embody and stand in for the churches themselves. This particular icon’s situation in the heart of the Roman forum allowed it to represent the Virgin’s governance of the city’s civic health. In the 10th and 11th centuries the icon participated in a ceremonial “meeting” with a cult icon of Christ from the Lateran during the feast of the Dormition. Church officials brought the icon of Christ in a procession to Santa Maria Nova where it symbolically greeted and conferred with the icon of the Virgin concerning the prosperity of the city. The Santa Maria Nova icon and its fellow Marian icons in Rome evince a city-wide investment in the Virgin as the city’s benefactress in the early Middle Ages.

  • Source: World Images
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Devotional Objects Icons Jesus Christ Mary, Virgin, Saint and Child Mary, Virgin, Saint as the Virgin Hodegetria, Named for the Famous Icon of the Virgin Believed to Have Been Painted by Saint Luke Mothers Rome Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 6 and 12
  • Date: c. 500-525, overpainting c. 1100
  • Related Work: This icon belongs to a loose corpus of five total pre-iconoclastic Marian cult icons in Rome: Madonna 'ad Martyres' from the Pantheon; Madonna 'Salus Populi Romani' from Santa Maria Maggiore; Madonna 'della Clemenza' from Santa Maria in Trastevere; Madonna 'di San Sisto' from the convent of Monte Mario
  • Current Location: Rome, Church of Santa Francesca Romana (Formerly Santa Maria Nova)
  • Original Location: Italy, Central. Rome.
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood; Linen; Paint (Encaustic)
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): approx. 92/76.2/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Andaloro, Maria. "Le icone a Roma in età preiconoclasta," in Roma fra Oriente e Occidente: 19-24 Aprile, 2001. Centro italiano di studi sull'alto Medioevo: 2001, pp. 719-55; Amato, Pietro. De Vera Effigie Mariae: Anitche icone romane. A. Montadori & De Luca: 1988, pp. 18-22; Wolf, Gerhard. "Icons and Sites: Cult Images of the Virgin in Medieval Rome," in Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium, ed. Maria Vasilaki. Ashgate: 2005, pp. 23-50; Wolf, Gerhard. Salus Populi Romani: die Geschichte römischer Kultbilder im Mittelalter, Acta Humaniora: 1990.