Beating the devil! The “Madonna del Soccorso”

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.

UPDATE:

A link to another article and version.

 

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Just Too Cool and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Beating the devil! The “Madonna del Soccorso”

  1. “I am hoping that this research may contribute to a revisionist [...] reading”

    That’s scholarship?

  2. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    “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”… I wonder…

    The other day, I was rereading a summary of (one of) the ‘legend(s)’ of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, one of the other saints of 17 March, in which a knight (‘miles’, I suppose) in love with her sold his soul to the devil when she entered the cloister – but the devil was prevented from carrying him off because she had given him a farewell drink – another ‘legend’ of “the so-called ‘Sinte Geerts Minne’ or ‘Gertrudenminte’ ” than that at (e.g.) SQPN.

    Recalling another recent post, I note SQPN includes “As late as 1822, offerings of gold and silver mice were left at her shrine in Cologne, Germany; mice represented souls in Purgatory, to whom she had a great devotion” – and her patronage against (fear of) rats and mice!

  3. Marie Veronica says:

    Excellent! My six year old son, who occasionally reads over my shoulder when I am on this blog, has asked me to explain it to him several times. It’s not a typical depiction of the Virgin Mary. He likes this painting a lot (as do I). He states very emphatically and urgently when he sees it: “Mary is protecting children from the devil!” Clarity from a child’s mind….unmarred by ‘revisionist feminist theorizing.’

  4. Gee I could think of a few politicians that I would replace the evil one with their photos. Any guesses who? LOL.

  5. Bea says:

    I’d seen it on the sidebar but never really paid attention to it.
    It is an awesome message, indeed.
    It seems to me it could teach the importance of a mother placing her child in the care of Our Lady at birth or shortly thereafter. There is a prayer of consecration I have seen for a new mother to place and consecrate their children to Our Lady right after their Baptism. Perhaps in these coming trying times for young children and grandchildren it would be a good custom to revitalize.
    May Our Lady and Our Lord protect our children, grandchildren and all future generations from demonic attacks on their innocence and virtuous existence.

  6. Marie Veronica says:

    @Bea: I like that idea a lot.

  7. Dismas says:

    I love this icon. I know this image as ‘Our Lady Exterminatrix of Heresy’

  8. Johnno says:

    I’d seen it before somewhere… never really asked questions about it… the message looked obvious to me. Few know how strict, stern, strong and cunning Mary can be when it comes to protecting her children. This is precisely why God wishes the Church to establish worldwide devotion and consecration to her Immaculate Heart.

  9. Matthew says:

    Wow, her advisor was *Bruce Cole, too! I suppose a thesis advisor can’t be held entirely responsible for claptrap…

    I frequent art history classes, and can attest this young lady’s peculiar, creepy reading of a devotional work is entirely too common.

    *Bruce Cole is a good, solid scholar of Italian Renaissance art. His works on Giotto and Piero della Francesca are top-notch – no ‘revisionist feminist’ twaddle. But in 2001 GW Bush tapped him to head the National Endowment of the Humanities – a role now held by the execrable Jim Leach.

  10. Gail F says:

    “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.”

    HA HA HA HA. I only minored in medieval history — but even I know that is a bunch of hooey! You don’t need to have read “The Golden Legend” cover to cover to know that there were all sorts of popular stories about Mary, some of them involving her whipping JESUS for using his powers to kill people! Yes! People had a sense of humor then too. (In case you are wondering,: No, they did not believe everything ever written down or told to them. They liked a bad joke or a tasteless story just as much as anyone else.) The whole idea that a couple of pictures of Mary whipping the devil because little Jesus was frightened did NOT “unbalance doctrinal understanding of the limited power of Mary and women in general.” Maybe people thought it was funny. Or maybe it did give some people comfort in the face of tragedies. But I hope this doctrinal dissertation did not pass, because if it did, it’s a crime. The student knows NOTHING about art history or any history.

  11. Laura R. says:

    Here the otherwise graceful Queen of Heaven is presented wielding a club against a devil who threatens to abduct a helpless child.

    Actually I have been noticing this image on the sidebar for awhile and have wondered about it — or rather, have been a bit disturbed by it. I’m afraid that to me at least, it looks, or can look, like Our Lady is beating a child. I’m glad to know that it is the demon that she’s really brandishing the stick at.

  12. Charlotte Allen says:

    The idea of Mary as having absolute power over the devil–to the point that she could even rescue souls that had been condemned to hell–was a commonplace of medieval Marian devotion. Francois Villon addressed her as “emperiere des infernaux palus” (“empress of the morasses of hell”) in his “Testament.”

    So I think that El-Hanany’s statement, “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” reflects current feminist stereotypes of medieval attitudes toward women and Mary rather than the reality of the medieval attitudes themselves.

  13. The Cobbler says:

    Bla bla representation bla bla…

    Mary is beating a devil to protect a child. That doesn’t have to frakking represent a gorram thing, unless you’re an idiot modern academic — pardon the redundancy! But if it did represent anything, it’d definitely be “Our Lady Exterminatrix of Heresy”, as Dismas mentions.

    I also second Gail F and Johnno — anybody who thinks Mary acting strongly is surprising is not only unfamiliar with medievals, they’re unfamiliar with Mary. I’d say she’s frighteningly strong and wisely persistent, but she’s not one of those things that are so great they’re scarey in any case — angels are great and terrible beings, even the good ones even if you’re on they’re side… but Mary’s even greater than the great and terrible things. That should tell you somethin’.

    Speaking from personal experience here, by the way.

  14. The Cobbler says:

    (Insert parenthetical here about the order of nature and the order of grace, omit funny story about the sounds my brain makes when contemplating that topic in general.)

  15. Pingback: WEDNESDAY MORNING EDITION | ThePulp.it

  16. ottmar says:

    Definitely an improvement over the wussy “gentle woman” of that horrid “hymn” (really, like so many of then these days, a ballad) we are called on to sing all too often.

  17. Charlotte Allen says:

    @Gail:

    That dissertation probably did pass–which is why the abstract was published. Most scholarship in the humanities these days is worthless and about as poorly written and padded with trendy obscurantist jargon as that dissertation. And professors wonder why nobody wants to major in literature or art history anymore.

  18. AnAmericanMother says:

    If you read – really read – the Magnificat, and think about how strong, how sure, how courageous those words are, it is not surprising. “Sovereign of angels, terror of Hell . . .”

  19. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Yes, Mary can be gentle and loving, but no, Mary is no wimp. The book of Judith comes to mind and her violent beheading of Holofernes, a prefiguration of Mary and her victory against the devil on our behalf.

    This is a great image. Hang on to Mary!

  20. acardnal says:

    Tina in Ashburn,
    have you ever been to Our Lady of Hope in Potomac Falls, Fr. Wm. Saunders pastor? That’s my former parish.

  21. The Cobbler says:

    Mary is always loving, but is only always gentle if by “gentle” one means not “soft” but “avoiding cruelty”.

    I kinda feel about her the way people, even liberals, raised on farms feel about strong women — “My mother was stronger than any of the ranch hands and they knew it. She could put a bullet through a rabbit’s eye at the end of the field from in her kitchen, which is why the gun hung over the stove in our house. So when people talk about ‘stereotypical gender roles’ and ‘repressed conservatives’ I never understand what they’re talking about, blimey.”

    Granted, most farm mothers probably aren’t as royal and dignified as the Queen of Heaven, but that’s kinda the general idea — if anyone thinks she’s not the tough one around here, they haven’t been paying attention around here long enough.

    Or, you know, what the picture says — Mary protects kids, beats devils. With bug ugly clubs. Oorah!

  22. Tina in Ashburn says:

    acardnal – yes I sang in the choir there for some years. You aren’t there anymore?

  23. acardnal says:

    Nope, moved back to Wisconsin where I grew up and now live in Bishop Morlino’s diocese. God bless him for speaking the Truth and fighting the large number of liberals and non-believers here!

  24. acardnal says:

    @Tina in Ashburn: FYI, I still listen to Fr. Saunder’s homilies via the Internet. This one is my favorite because he said it on the tenth anniversary of 9-11; some folks even walked out on him:
    http://ourladyofhope.net/wp-content/uploads/homily/091111_frs.rm

  25. Supertradmum says:

    I always took it to me that Mary is the protector of the unborn as well as abused children, like runaways who are used in the sex trade and such. The devil wants to snatch these little souls and does all he can to bring them to hell, while Mary, with her purity and grace, is the strongest power against such evil.

    Also, I am reminded of the beautiful scene in The Passion of the Christ, where Peter, after he denied Christ, ran to Mary and knelt before her before running off in shame and repentance. I am sure her intercession saved him from the devil as well.

  26. Supertradmum says:

    sorry to mean not to me….