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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Madonna of Zbraslav

Madona zbraslavská, Národní galerie v Praze

Madonna of Zbraslav

The Madonna of Zbraslav comes from the parish church of St James the Greater in Zbraslav, a municipal district of Prague. This painting is in the tradition of earlier Italian-Byzantine examples of the Madonna and Christ art. However, this composition presents a more human and intimate relationship between the mother and child. In the previous er Byzantine examples, the mother offers the child as an object of worship.

The Madonna has a white head covering and a bright blue cloak with green lining decorated with gold stars. The Madonna’s cloak and veil and the sheer shirt of the child are embellished along their hems with gold embroidery. The gilded gold background is decorated with curly vines and leaves. The stones and pearls on the crown, halos, hems and clasp are mounted over the paint and to give a raised texture to the icon.

The origin of this picture is not known. However, tradition states that the picture was dedicated to the monastery by its founder King Wenceslaus II (1278–1305). In 1420 the monastery was burned down by the Hussites, a pre-Protestant Christian movement, and the picture was found two hundred years later in the rubble, restored and exhibited in a newly built church in 1654.

Madonna and Child

Christian worship of Mary as powerful intercessor was brought from Greek into the Latin tradition in the 8th century. With the growing popularity of the cult of the virgin came its prominence in medieval art. The term “a Madonna”, or “a Madonna with Child” is used of specific works of Italian art. A “Madonna” may alternatively be called “Virgin” or “Our Lady”.

The earliest representations of Mother and Child were developed in the Eastern Empire. Byzantine examples show the Madonna enthroned, even wearing the closed Byzantine pearl-encrusted crown with pendants, with the Christ Child on her lap.

The Madonna image is a central icon for both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The word Madonna is from Italian meaning ‘my lady’. The Madonna and Child type are prevalent in Christian iconography and are divided into many traditional subtypes especially in Eastern Orthodox iconography, often known after the location of a notable icon of the type or descriptive of the depicted posture.

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Reflections

  • How much of the Byzantine influence do you see in this painting?
  • What does this image mean for you?

Madonna of Zbraslav

  • Title:                        Madonna of Zbraslav
  • Čeština:                   Zbraslavská Madona
  • Artist:                      Unknown
  • Year:                        ca. 1340–1350
  • Medium:                Tempera, beech-wood on both sides covered with canvas
  • Dimensions            89 cm × 60.5 cm (35 in × 23.8 in)
  • Museum:                National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic

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“May the Lord grant me a sword and no need to use it.”
– Czech Proverbs

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Photo Credit: 1) Narodni galerie v Praze [Public domain or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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