Unknown Artist

Pauline Chapel, Santa Maria Maggiore Rome, Italy

Thick slab of cedar wood

117 X 79 Centimeters

Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, is depicted throughout Christian art. Her presence and religious power is portrayed be depictions of her holding the infant Jesus Christ. The oldest known icon of Madonna and Child is at Santa Maria Maggiore in the Pauline Chapel called “Salus Populi Romani” (Savior of the people of Rome). This 117 by 79 centimeter work has no known author although some believe that St. Luke the Evangelist was the artist. History only dates back to the early 13th century; however, it is much older. Some historians date the piece to the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431 where it was declared that the Mother of Jesus Christ is the Mother of God and that a church should be erected in Rome in honor of Her.

Mary’s gold laced, blue attire and red tunic all symbolize her respectable power and authority with in the church. Different than later Madonna and Child paintings, She gazes out to the spectator while Jesus stares at His Mother.

Hanging in a specially designed reliquary above the alter in the Pauline Chapel, “Salus Populi Romani” has been a highly praised icon in the Catholic faith. Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) was known to pray devoutly to Mary “Queen of the Apostles” for guidance and wisdom. During the plague that disrupted Rome, according to history, he paraded this icon around the city while droves of people solemnly followed in prayer. The procession ended at Castel Sant’Angelo where it is said that an angel appeared to the gathered masses, St. Michael. Upon his arrival he replaced the statue that had originally stood atop with one of him holding the sword of vengeance.