Le Madonelle

The smile of Madonna greets me every morning when I get out on my balcony with a cup of coffee. The painting in an oval frame is situated on the corner of a house at a small intersection of two streets and is in direct line of my vision. Its colours are darkened with time but the image is still clearly visible, and people do stop in front of it from time to time.


There are many similar themed paintings along the streets and piazzas of Rome – they are called Madonelle (Little Madonnas) in reference to their small size. Some of them are well cared for and others  – are  neglected, but all of them were placed there initially for the protection of passerby.

From all the images of iconography- hers is the most familiar and the most relatable to me. Her life is ordinary and magical at the same time. The stages of it are familiar to many women – a girl, a maiden, a wife, a mother, a woman of a certain age, and are well documented.

The miracles that happened in her life – the visitations of the angels which preceded her becoming the Mother of God and later the Queen of Heaven inspired numerous artists – but they didn’t relief her from suffering. She endured the tragedy of losing her child and that alone forever connects her with the world of people. No wonder that she has been one of the most popular subjects of art for centuries

The major place that Virgin Mary has been occupying  in collective conciseness is often reflected in the color of her clothing – most always she wears blue which  not only symbolizes her connection to Heaven, but  happened  to be the most expensive colour in artists’ palette in the Middle Ages reserved for the most important images.  It was derived from ground lapis lazuli, a precious mineral imported mainly from Afghanistan.

Mary carries many titles – most of them emphasize her Status as the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven, but some – are more lyrical and closer to earth: Our Lady of Sorrow, Madonna of Humility, Madonna del Latte, Madonna del Roses. And then there is  Stella Maris/Our Lady, the Star of the Sea that has been in use from the 9th century and is shown in images by placing the star in her clothing.  The title underlines her role as a sign of hope and as a guiding light of mankind, but there is certain familiarity in it –  after all each of us one time or another stared at the stars of the evening sky, admiring their mystery and light.

Fragment of Madonna of the Shadows, c.1450 Fra Angelico

 Referring to this title Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in the 12th century :

If the winds of temptation arise, if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation

Look to the Star, call on Mary:

If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry,

Look to the Star, call on Mary.

As I walk the streets of Rome, I mentally greet each of the Madonelle –  silent witnesses of our present and our past.

Greetings Madonna, I see you.




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