Madonna Enthroned by Cimabue (c. 1280)


The main reason this painting struck me is because every person pictured is looking directly at the viewer. With somber faces, the angels surround the woman holding her child as if to surround them in a (very serious) protection. This massive painting, formally named “The Madonna and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Angels” was created by Cimabue was in c. 1208.

The painting is incredibly symmetrical — this might be telling of the painter and/or the period. Figuring that this is a religious painting, and was commissioned to be placed above church alters, I find the balance incredibly pleasing. I suppose it would feel odd to have abstract art, open for interpretation in a place (the Catholic Church) that doesn’t always leave much h room for interpretation elsewhere.

I also find it interesting that the woman and the two cherubs closest to the top seem to not have golden crowns, but if you look closely, you can still see the direction of the brush, circling their heads. While she is the largest figure in the painting, all 6 cherubs and the baby seem to have stern, serious expressions on their faces. The baby is making a loose fist with his left hand, with the index and middle fingers extended. In his right hand, he holds a scroll. Looking at this again, I also find it interesting that the angels seem to be quite gender fluid. We know Madonna (The Virgin Mary) is a woman, and the baby looks like a boy… but the angels could honestly be whatever they wanna be! After a bit of research though, you find out that even the frame of the painting has been designed to tell of Jesus and his Apostles.

In short, paintings like this make me ask: Where are the women?!? In my opinion, most religions (and societies) regard women as creatures meant to be submissive and serve… still, there are a few women who have gained noterity and respect, but mostly only because of whoever they nurtured. “Motherhood” is often regarded to as a “natural” thing, as if no conscious or extra effort needs to be applied, as if a woman doesn’t need to learn to be a parent, just as a man does. As beautiful as this image is, I blame images like this for how pressured some women may feel to be the perfect wife/mother/person, because anything else isn’t accepted. What if you don’t want children? Does that truly make you a cold person? Or is motherhood truly the only and/or most important thing we have to offer this world?

This painting certainly spurred a bunch of feelings in me, what does it make you think? Did you relate to anything I saw or felt in the image? Drop your thoughts below. This here is a safe space 😉



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