Our May tour of Rome’s Little Madonnas brings us to the humble Virgin as she watches over the rulers of the world.
We continue with our daily tour this month through a particular artistic expression of Marian devotion: Rome’s “Madonnelle” (“little Madonnas”). These are images of Mary—some of them miraculous—scattered throughout the streets and alleyways of the city. They are the object of much popular devotion. Follow the series here: Little Madonnas of Rome.
While they are the symbol of popular devotion, the Madonnelle often peek out from palaces of nobles and of the most powerful residents of Rome. And not only in the past. A small shrine is located on the corner of the Palazzo Chigi, a 16th century palace which, today, is the seat of the Italian government.
This shrine, which probably dates back to the 19th century, rests on a console decorated with acanthus leaves. A rather large lantern illuminates the oval medallion, which is in a thick gilded frame. The image shows a very young “Madonna with Child” in the style of Della Robbia, which is to say, it is a bas-relief image in white terracotta, on a blue background representing a sky barely rippled by small clouds. The Virgin is portrayed seated upon a throne of clouds, the arms of which are cherubic faces. The Child Jesus is standing, supported by his Mother, in the act of blessing.
Going west from Palazzo Chigi through Monte Citorio Square, passing the House of Representatives, we find three shrines within a short distance of each other, facing Via Uffici del Vicario. The first we come across—a 19th-century shrine—is located on the corner of Via della Missione, where there is a side entrance to the House of Representatives. Under a fringed wooden canopy, there is a stucco oval medallion with an inner wooden frame, inside of which is an 18th-century painting portraying the Madonna della Pietà.
The second is found on the corner of this same street with a short dead-end alley. The Virgin is shown half-length, wearing a mantle, with her head bowed as she admires her Child, whom she supports on her knee with one hand. The oval image is surrounded by an ornate stucco frame, completed by a small lamp which illuminates the image from below.
The last of these three Madonnelle is found at the crossroads with Campo Marzio, protected within a beautiful 18th-century shrine, as if in a shell. It is a stucco statue of the Immaculate Conception, emerging from the depths of a blue almond-shaped niche surrounded by clouds, the faces of cherubim, and cupids. One of the angelic figures holds back from above the folded hem of a heavy mantle, which serves as the background of the shrine, and which also hangs above it to protect it; this same drapery forms a rather original canopy.
Follow the series here: Little Madonnas of Rome
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