Madonna and Child,
Painting by Franz Ittenbach (1813-1879),
Painted in 1855
Oil on canvas
© Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
Reflection on the painting
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates the Immaculate Conception and sinless lifespan of the Virgin Mary, exactly nine months before the feast of her Nativity which we celebrate on the 8th of September. The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
From the beginning of Christianity, the early Fathers of the Church held a special devotion to Mary because they understood that without Mary salvation would never have happened. The Church teaches that the Blessed Mother was given this very special grace of liberation from the effects of sin. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception asserts that, "from the first moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of Mankind, kept free from all stain of original sin."
Our German painting from 1855 is by Franz Ittenbach. The artist was a devout Roman Catholic and largely painted religious subjects. The composition and overall feel of the painting is evocative of Raphael (1485-1520). We see Mary with an almost porcelain-like skin holding Jesus. They are both reaching out for a white lily, the main attribute of Our Lady, signifying purity, innocence and immortality. In the background on the left we see a flock of sheep, evoking Christian community life. Beneath the white lilies we also see some red roses, symbolising Christ's future martyrdom; and some figs to the right of Christ, symbolic in the Old Testament for the prosperity of Israel. The frame, also designed by the artist, is inscribed "Mater Amabilis," meaning "Mother Most Lovable."
Share this Gospel Reading
Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?
Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading
Readings related to Luke 1:26-38
Join our community
In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: