Example Of Antonio Rossellino’s Madonna And Child Research Paper

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Jesus Christ, Children, Art, Marriage, Portrait, Relationships, Family, Chastity

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/07


This research paper explores the motivation behind the Madonna and Child portrait as well as the meaning of this portrait. This portrait was sculpted by Antonio Rossellino at around 1475. Madonna and Child represent Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. The research paper finds out who was Antonio Rossellino and the representation of Madonna in art. The historical context of this sculpture is explored, and the portrait is examined closely. The various elements in the portrait space have specific meanings, and these meanings are unraveled. Art can be stretched to any level as seen in this sculpture. The sculpture has significance for both marriage and religion and all these aspects will be explored in this essay.
Antonio Rossellino was one of the exceedingly gifted sculptor and his sculptures depicting the Virgin Mary, and Child have been celebrated for centuries. He was born in Settignano in Italy in 1427 but died in 1479 in Florence (Lightbown, 1962). Antonio learned sculpturing from Bernardo, his elder brother, and the two worked in collaboration to create sculptures of marble. Rossellino was introduced to the “flattened relief” technique by Donatello, and he immensely used this technique in the sculpture of Madonna and Child. The technique involves depicting space within the marble sculpture, together with the inclusion of elements such as flowers, gardens, birds, clouds, and even soil within the sculpture (Lightbown, 1962). The Madonna and Child sculpture was sculpted by Rossellino in about 1475. In this sculpture, Virgin Mary is holding Jesus, and the two are seated in front of a garden having both white and red roses.
Madonna, in Italian, represents Mary, the mother of Jesus. The images of Mary mother of Jesus, either alone or with infant Jesus, are iconic especially in Catholic churches (Sorabella, 2000). Madonna in Italian means “my lady.” In art, the representation of Mary and the infant Jesus in a sculpture has many meanings borrowed from the characteristics of the biblical Mary. Sculpted or painted images of Mary together with baby Jesus are used especially by Catholics to venerate themselves religiously.

Historical context of the sculpture

The underlying messages in this sculpture can be unmasked by considering the life of the biblical Mary and Jesus Christ. The Gospels tell about the extraordinary birth of Jesus, and by considering events that surround the birth of Jesus, it is possible to understand the motivations behind the sculpture and the underlying messages. It was in Nazarene that Angel Gabriel approached Mary, a virgin who was betrothed to get married to Joseph, to bear the news that she would bear a child and the child will be the Son of God (Pentecost, 1981). The angel appears at a time when both Joseph and Mary were extremely poor. This situation is revealed during the offering they make when baby Jesus is presented in the Temple. During betrothal, Joseph and Mary’s relationship was considered to be sacred. Many months had passed before the official marriage could be solemnized.
The angel approached Mary to announce the blessings that God had given her. God had favored Mary to be the one to give birth to Jesus (Pentecost, 1981). Mary is troubled with this news, but angel Gabriel comforts her by uttering reassuring words to her. The blessing that angel God was conferring to Mary is a gracious gift, and there is nothing special Mary had done to warrant them. Gabriel announced to Mary that she will carry a child and subsequently give birth to a Son. The Son that Mary will bear will be called Jesus. From the preceding, the conception of a child to be born as Jesus by Mary is quite extraordinary.
Furthermore, angel Gabriel enumerated the various attributes of the Child to be born by Mary. The Son would carry immense greatness within himself, and he will live eternally just like God. This Son was christened to receive a human body while in the womb of Virgin Mary (Pentecost, 1981).
These news astounded Mary because she was still a virgin and not yet officially married to Joseph. She asked Angel Gabriel how this would possible yet she was still a virgin. It was still inconceivable for Joseph and Mary to have a physical relationship since Mary had not been officially presented to Joseph as his wife.
Mary did not expect that this child would be due to her physical relationship with Joseph; hence she sought an explanation from angel Gabriel of how this would be possible. The angel Gabriel explained to her that she would conceive Jesus by the Holy Spirit’s power. This indicates that Jesus would lack a natural father. Having a natural father, it would have meant that Jesus would receive a part of Adam’s nature. This would essentially mean that Christ would have been born a sinner since he would have inherited Adam’s original sin. The role of Jesus was saving the people from sin, and it was necessary that he be born without a tinge of sin. That would only be possible by being conceived by God. God is sinless, and thus Jesus would be born sinless. This background shows that Jesus conception in Mary’s womb would only be made possible by supernatural means (Pentecost, 1981).
In addition, Mary’s chastity would remain intact since Jesus had not been conceived by natural means. The Jesus' virgin birth of was miracalous and enabled Jesus to assume a human form but still maintained his deity characteristics (Pentecost, 1981). A similar supernatural thing had happened to Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife. She was barren and advanced in age, but despite this, she was going to bear a child albeit supernaturally. After Angel Gabriel had explained to Mary how she would conceive the child, she submitted to this by acknowledging that she was a servant of God (Pentecost, 1981).
These preceding events were responsible for Antonio Rossellino’s sculpture of Madonna and Child. The woman in the portrait represents Virgin Mary, and the Child represents Jesus Christ. There were family crests traces on the lower corners of the sculpture thus indicating that relief was presented to celebrate a marriage (Richter, 1941). In the Bible, Mary had maintained chastity by remaining a virgin all her life. She conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit’s power and not by engaging in a physical relationship with Joseph. Therefore, she is a perfect symbol of purity that is desired in marriage. In many cultures, premarital sex was unacceptable and seriously discouraged. People were expected to maintain their purity by maintaining chastity until they married. The presentation of a Madonna’s portrait at a marriage thus symbolized the maintenance of purity both for the groom and bride.
Furthermore, Rossellino’s portrait includes a child, and this child represents Jesus. Baby Jesus is was associated with childbirth (Sorabella, 2000). For couples that are getting married, building a family is a crucial motivation of marriage. A woman and a man get together to form a union and bear children together. The children are important for the continuation of the family line.
Therefore, the commissioning of a portrait of baby Jesus during a marriage serves to bless the marriage to be fruitful and bring forth off springs. Therefore, in the portrait, Mary represents faithfulness in the new marriage and baby Jesus represents a fruitful marriage. These are two most important themes that are central to couples who are newly wedded. The portrait would always remind them of the need to be faithful to each other and aim to build a fruitful union.
Moreover, the portrait serves a religious function because of the several elements that have been included in the space of the portrait. There is an enclosed garden that is behind Mary. This garden symbolizes the chastity Mary had maintained her entire life. Even in her betrothal, she maintained her virginity. For a Christian audience, this depiction in the portrait serves to implore them to maintain sexual purity until their marriage.
Chastity is valued in religion, and it enables people to serve God with undivided attention. In addition, the garden has white roses that symbolize Mary’s purity.
White is a color associated with being pure, clean, untainted, and uncontaminated. Mary had maintained chastity all her life hence she was sexually pure. The religious significance of this is to urge people to avoid sexual immorality and adultery. Thus, they should be pure like the white rose in this portrait.
Additionally, red roses are present in the garden, and they are used for a specific reason. The red roses symbolize the blood of Jesus that was shed during His crucifixion (Pope-Hennessy, 1970).
In the Bible, Jesus suffered a brutal death by being nailed to a cross. He shed a lot of blood, and this blood is represented by red roses. Despite the shedding of blood, his death was to the take the sins of people upon himself.
The analysis above shows that the portrait has messages on both marriage and religion. The most probable place that the portrait hung is in the private quarters of the couple, and it is here they conducted their prayers. In this setting, the two themes of salvation and fidelity assisted the faithful to appeal to Mary, the divine inspiration.


Lightbown, R. W. (1962). Giovanni Chellini, Donatello, and Antonio Rossellino. The Burlington Magazine, 102-100.
Pentecost, J. D. (1981). The words and works of Jesus Christ: a study of the life of Christ. Zondervan.
Pope-Hennessy, J. (1970). The Altman Madonna by Antonio Rossellino. Metropolitan Museum Journal, 133-148.
Richter, G. M. (1941). The New National Gallery in Washington. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 174-183.
Sorabella, Jean. "The Birth and Infancy of Christ in Italian Painting ". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/birt/hd_birt.htm (June 2008)

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