With so much available material, the student of Madonna art would be discouraged at the outset were it not possible to approach the subject systematically. Even the vast number of Madonna pictures becomes manageable when studied by some method of classification. Several plans are possible. The historical student is naturally guided in his grouping by the periods in which the pictures were produced; the critic, by the technical schools which they represent. Besides these more scholarly methods, are others, founded on simpler and more obvious dividing lines. Such are the two proposed in the following pages, forming, respectively, Part I. and Part II. of our little volume.
The first is based on the style of composition in which the picture is painted; the second, on the subject which it treats. The first examines the mechanical arrangement of the figures; the second asks, what is the real relation between them? The first deals with external characteristics; the second, with the inner significance.
Proceeding by the first, we ask, what are the general styles of treatment in which Madonna pictures have been rendered? The answer names the following five classes:
1. The Portrait Madonna, the figures in half-length against an indefinite background.
2. The Madonna Enthroned, where the setting is some sort of a throne or dais.
3. The Madonna in the Sky or the “Madonna in Gloria,” where the figures are set in the heavens, as represented by a glory of light, by clouds, by a company of cherubs, or by simple elevation above the earth’s surface.
4. The Pastoral Madonna, with a landscape background.
5. The Madonna in a Home Environment, where the setting is an interior.
The foregoing subjects are arranged in the order of historical development, so far as is possible. The first and last of the classes enumerated are so small, compared with the others, that they are somewhat insignificant in the whole number of Madonna pictures. Yet, in all probability, it is along these lines that future art is most likely to develop the subject, choosing the portrait Madonna because of its universal adaptability, and representing the Madonna in her home, in an effort to realize, historically, the New Testament scenes. Of the remaining three, the enthroned Madonna is, doubtless, the largest class, historically considered, because of the long period through which it has been represented. The pastoral and enskied Madonnas were in high favor in the first period of their perfection.
Our next question is concerned with the aspects of motherhood displayed in Madonna pictures: in what relation to her child has the Madonna been represented? The answer includes the following three subjects:
1. The Madonna of Love (The Mater Amabilis), in which the relation is purely maternal. The emphasis is upon a mother’s natural affection as displayed towards her child.