It is now about fifteen centuries since the Madonna with her Babe was first introduced into art, and it is safe to say that, throughout all this time, the subject has been unrivalled in popularity. It requires no very profound philosophy to discover the reason for this. The Madonna is the universal type of motherhood, a subject which, in its very nature, appeals to all classes and conditions of people. No one is too ignorant to understand it, and none too wise to be superior to its charm. The little child appreciates it as readily as the old man, and both, alike, are drawn to it by an irresistible attraction. Thus, century after century, the artist has poured out his soul in this all-prevailing theme of mother love until we have an accumulation of Madonna pictures so great that no one would dare to estimate their number. It would seem that every conceivable type was long since exhausted; but the end is not yet. So long as we have mothers, art will continue to produce Madonnas.

With so much available material, the student of Madonna art would be discouraged at the outset were it not possible to approach the subject systematically. Even the vast number of Madonna pictures becomes manageable when studied by some method of classification. Several plans are possible. The historical student is naturally guided in his grouping by the periods in which the pictures were produced; the critic, by the technical schools which they represent. Besides these more scholarly methods, are others, founded on simpler and more obvious dividing lines. Such are the two proposed in the following pages, forming, respectively, Part I. and Part II. of our little volume.

The first is based on the style of composition in which the picture is painted; the second, on the subject which it treats. The first examines the mechanical arrangement of the figures; the second asks, what is the real relation between them? The first deals with external characteristics; the second, with the inner significance.

Proceeding by the first, we ask, what are the general styles of treatment in which Madonna pictures have been rendered? The answer names the following five classes:

1. The Portrait Madonna, the figures in half-length against an indefinite background.

2. The Madonna Enthroned, where the setting is some sort of a throne or dais.

3. The Madonna in the Sky or the "Madonna in Gloria," where the figures are set in the heavens, as represented by a glory of light, by clouds, by a company of cherubs, or by simple elevation above the earth's surface.

4. The Pastoral Madonna, with a landscape background.

5. The Madonna in a Home Environment, where the setting is an interior.

The foregoing subjects are arranged in the order of historical development, so far as is possible. The first and last of the classes enumerated are so small, compared with the others, that they are somewhat insignificant in the whole number of Madonna pictures. Yet, in all probability, it is along these lines that future art is most likely to develop the subject, choosing the portrait Madonna because of its universal adaptability, and representing the Madonna in her home, in an effort to realize, historically, the New Testament scenes. Of the remaining three, the enthroned Madonna is, doubtless, the largest class, historically considered, because of the long period through which it has been represented. The pastoral and enskied Madonnas were in high favor in the first period of their perfection.

Our next question is concerned with the aspects of motherhood displayed in Madonna pictures: in what relation to her child has the Madonna been represented? The answer includes the following three subjects:

1. The Madonna of Love (The Mater Amabilis), in which the relation is purely maternal. The emphasis is upon a mother's natural affection as displayed towards her child.

2. The Madonna in Adoration (The Madre Pia), in which the mother's attitude is one of humility, contemplating her child with awe.

3. The Madonna as Witness, in which the Mother is preëminently the Christ-bearer, wearing the honors of her proud position as witness to her son's great destiny.

These subjects are mentioned in the order of philosophical climax, and as we go from the first to the second, and from the second to the third, we advance farther and farther into the experience of motherhood. At the same time there is an increase in the dignity of the Madonna and in her importance as an individual. In the Mater Amabilis she is subordinate to her child, absorbed in him, so to speak; his infantine charms often overmatch her own beauty. When she rises to the responsibilities of her high calling, she is, for the time being, of equal interest and importance. Æsthetically, she is now even more attractive than her child, whose seriousness, in such pictures, takes something from his childlikeness. Chronologically, our list reads backwards, as the religious aspect of Mary's motherhood was the first treated in art, while the naturalistic conception came last. Regarded as expressive of national characteristics, the Mater Amabilis is the Madonna best beloved in northern countries, while the other two subjects belong specially to the art of the south.

It will be seen that any number of Madonna pictures, having been arranged in the five groups designated in Part I., may be gathered up and redistributed in the three classes of Part II. To make this clear, the pictures mentioned in the first method of classification are frequently referred to a second time, viewed from an entirely different standpoint. Since the lines of cleavage are so widely dissimilar in the two cases, both methods of study are necessary to a complete understanding of a picture. By the first, we learn a convenient term of description by which we may casually designate a Madonna; by the second, we find its highest meaning as a work of art, and are admitted to some new secret of a mother's love.