The text below is the excerpt of the book The Virgin in Art, written by Kyra Belán, published by Parkstone International.
The image of the Madonna has been embedded in the arts of the Western World for nearly two thousand years. In all these Euro-centric cultures, she embodies the purest form of unconditional love and is perceived as the compassionate and forgiving nurturer of all Christian people. The Madonna is also seen as the loving mother, and the protector of all humanity. Her followers believe that only she can fully understand human grief, passions and happiness; she forgives, mediates, and consoles, and she is the connection between human beings and their God. She has been venerated as the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of All, and as the embodiment of compassion. She is seen as selfless, humble, and caring, and represents the feminine spirituality within Christianity. She is also known as the Virgin Mary, Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, and the Blessed Mother of God.
For many centuries the Madonna has inspired thousands of artists who laboured innumerable hours creating her images using different styles, materials, and techniques. This huge body of artwork, a cultural legacy of major proportions, represents a social system that still dominates the world. Art museums, galleries, palaces and private collections are filled with her icons.
Through the centuries, images of the Virgin were created according to the religious interpretations of beliefs, myths, iconography and symbolism prevalent at the time. Today, Mary represents different things to different people, yet her universal message of unconditional love is accessible to all. The proof for contemporary Marian devotion may lie in the frequent sightings of apparitions of the Madonna all over the globe, and in her prominent presence on the Internet.
The images of Mary are familiar to most people on this planet. As centuries unfolded, and as the roles of women within society were modified, diminished, or expanded, the role of the Madonna was understood and interpreted in a new way. The dialogue about Mary’s divine nature, her dogma, her conventional and occult symbols, and her origins continues among the theologians, the philosophers, and the sociologists of the new millennium. Although modern artists are no longer obligated to produce religious images, many – particularly women – are often inspired by her traditional or expanding role. To create their art, they often choose new forms of artistic expression.
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