Tilman Riemenschneider of the Day: Madonna and Child

The final artwork of this series on Tilman Riemenschneider is a wood carving of the Madonna and Child suspended in an oval frame. The figures are carved on both sides, so that the work is visible from two directions. Mary, solemn and beautiful, noble in bearing, yet simply dressed, is showing the Christ child to the world.

We probably all have our favorite images of Mary, and as Christmas nears we see a lot of Madonna and Child depictions. It may be timely therefore to reflect on how we picture the mother of Jesus, and how art shapes our theological imagination concerning her role in the history of salvation. What is your favorite image of Mary and why? Conversely, what sort of depictions seem inadequate or disengaging to you?

I have to admit, I like this image. It seems to me this is a courageous Mary, the sort of woman who could utter the Magnificat in a convincing way. She is an eschatological figure, the one who stands at the threshold of the age to come. I see her as the embodiment of hope.

Madonna and child


  1. Thanks, Rita, for the short course in sacred art!
    You describe this piece as “suspended in an oval frame.” It’s not entirely clear from the picture, but it looks to me as if the frame is in fact a “mandorla” – an almond-shape frequently used in icons and other art to signify the presence of the Divine. Mandorla is the Italian word for almond. There are many examples of this use of the mandorla in sacred art to be found via the internet. See http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-mandorla-in-icons-revealing-mystery/
    Riemenschneider was born in the spa town of Heilbad Heiligenstadt – “Holy City”! On a personal note, my mother’s paternal grandfather was Tilman Fassbender.)
    At Christmas we echo the song of the angels: “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” G K Chesterton has a poem, “Gloria in Profundis” – a reflection that the birth of Jesus brings the glory of God to the “lowest.” With the Nativity, the mandorla as in this work of art reveals the presence and glory of the Divine no longer confined to the highest, but incarnate now among us.

    1. @Pádraig McCarthy – comment #1:
      I must disappoint you on the mandorla front, however. Nice idea, but — the frame wasn’t a mandorla. I’ve checked my recollection on that. It really is an oval, not a vesica piscis.

  2. Thank you Padraig! I don’t know that this has been a course, only a collection of musings and a sharing of thoughts and images. But if it were a course, you’d certainly qualify as my best T.A.!

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