Mamma is cherished in Italy and has always been the bedrock of the family. Mother’s Day — La Festa della Mamma — was “officially” recognized in Italy in 1958 about fifty years after it was established here in the States. A parish priest began the now annual tradition in the Umbrian hilltown of Assisi in 1957, with surrounding towns joining the celebration of Mamma and her unconditional love. The local festa was so popular, La Festa della Mamma was immediately adopted all across Italy. But even before then a special day for mothers — Giornata Della Madre e del Fanciullo — “The Day of the Mother and Child” had been celebrated in December.
Not surprisingly, images of the Virgin Mary with her son are among the most beloved in Christian art. Devotion to Mary in her dual role as the human mother and a divine being reached its peak in the 14th to 16th centuries, creating tremendous demand for mother and child depictions. The term Madonna is Italian for “my lady” and was conferred as a title of respect or high rank, but came to be synonymous with the mother of the holy child and with tender representations of the two.
This slideshow features 32 Madonnas by Italian artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea della Sarto, Luca della Robbia, Bellini, Tiepolo and Barocci from major museums, including those in Washington DC, London, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dresden, St. Petersburg and New York (The Met), as well as the Walter’s Art Gallery in Baltimore, the Vatican Museum, and Michelangelo’s exquisite Madonna from The Church of Our Lady in Bruges.