People seem finally to be noticing the image of Mary (as of this writing – it’ll probably change one day) on the sidebar. All of sudden I am getting email about it.
The image is that of a “Madonna del Soccorso… Our Lady of Help”. There are a few more here.
I am not sure where I got this image, truth to tell, but the original source may be a priest who wrote the other day. He told me that he is pretty sure it is his photo. This Madonna del Soccorso was painted in 1494 by Francesco Melanzio (1465-1530). It is now found in the cloister of the Abbey of San Felice in Giano del Umbria, the foundation house of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.
I love the spirit of this devotional image. Another spiffy one here.
Today I received from a reader a link to a page that talks about this particular form of Marian devotional images. There is an abstract from a doctoral dissertation:
Beating the devil: Images of the Madonna del Soccorso in Italian Renaissance art
by El-Hanany, Efrat, PhD, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, 2006
Abstract: An unusually empowered devotional image of the Virgin Mary, the so-called Madonna del Soccorso, appeared for a brief period in the history of central Italian Renaissance art (1480s-1520s). Here the otherwise graceful Queen of Heaven is presented wielding a club against a devil who threatens to abduct a helpless child. This study investigates the Augustinian order’s promotion of this strikingly spectacular image in banners, frescos and altarpieces throughout the regions of Umbria, the Marches and Tuscany, arguing that it served to define and promote specific Augustinian ideologies such as the power of speech and the necessity of early Baptism. But as part of the larger tradition of child miracle imagery, the Madonna del Soccorso was also intended to give comfort in societal disasters of the period, especially in instances of the inexplicable death of children, parental negligence and infanticide. In the various late-medieval textual sources of the Soccorso miracle, notably the Speculum Historiale of Vincent de Beauvais and the Miracles of the Virgin Mary of Gautier de Coincy, a malediction placed on the child by his own mother (che il diavoli ti porti via—’may the devil take you’) can be seen to suggest the involuntary or deliberate act on the part of the mother that brought about the death of her child. The independent agency granted to the Virgin in this imagery is seen to have unbalanced accepted doctrinal understandings of the limited power of Mary and indeed that of women during the time in question, particularly with reference to a possible overturning of the recognized sexual hierarchy. This undoubtedly contributed to the subsequent banning of the Madonna del Soccorso typology by the Council of Trent. [!] This study therefore presents a comprehensive examination of this unique and intriguing typology by bringing together issues of gender, power, social and religious history and popular superstition and devotion that have not previously been considered holistically within this context. I am hoping that this research may contribute to a revisionist feminist reading of Madonna iconography within the contemporary scholarship of Renaissance imagery.
A “revisionist feminist reading”, will surely be utter nonsense and gobbledygook. More about this imagery here.
In the abstract, the influence of Council of Trent is over-stated. In the last session of 1563 there were decrees issued (a Council that issued decrees! Imagine that!), about devotional images.
In any event, I am glad to know more about this provocative image, now more meaningful.
A link to another article and version.