Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ave Regina Caelorum –The Queenship of Mary

Filippo Lippi, Coronation of the Virgin
Italian, 1467-1469
Spoleto, Cathedral
Although the memorial of the Queenship of Mary was instituted in 1954 by Pope Pius XII in the encyclical “Ad Caeli Reginam1 the idea of Mary’s Queenship of Heaven is a very old one. Its antiquity is testified by the number of medieval images (following a visual tradition that goes back even further as demonstrated below) and by the several well-known medieval hymns that present it, the Salve Regina, Ave Regina Caelorum and Regina Caeli among them, and, of course, the final decade of the Rosary, which has been prayed for centuries, is the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There is clearly a close relationship between the Assumption of Mary and her Queenship. It is, therefore, appropriate that the memorial of the Queenship of Mary, which was originally placed on May 31 by Pius XII, was moved by Pope Paul VI in 1969 to August 22, the octave of the Assumption, replacing the memorial of the Sacred Heart of Mary. 2

In the visual arts the image of Mary as Queen exists in two types: the Coronation of the Virgin and Mary as Queen of Heaven.  The image of the Queen of Heaven is older than that of the Coronation (see below).  However, although the Coronation is the newer theme chronologically, it is a logical development from the image of Mary as Queen of Heaven for, if Mary is a crowned queen, there must have been a moment of coronation,  and so, precedes it in this discussion.

Coronation of the Virgin

Coronation of the Virgin
Gothic, ca. 1250
Strasbourg, Cathedral
The images of the Coronation of the Virgin clearly present the crowning of Mary by Christ alone, by God the Father alone, by the Holy Trinity or by angels in the presence of God. Among the earliest monumental images are the tympanum of the south transept of Strasbourg Cathedral (above) and the apse mosaic from Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (below).
Giacomo Torriti, Coronation of the Virgin
Italian, Mosaic, 1296
Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore
Early images concentrate on the figures of Mary and God, whether Christ alone or the Trinity. Sometimes the scene is shown in direct relationship to images of the Dormition and Assumption of Mary, as it is in the first four images below.
Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castille
French, c.1225
Paris, Bibliotheqe nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 29v

Master of the Parement de Narbonne
Tres Belles Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry
French, c. 1380
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 76

Hours of Louis of Savoy
French (Savoy), 1445-1460
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France,
MS Latin 9473, fol.64v (detail)
Raphael, Assumption and Corornation of the Virgin
Italian, c. 1504
Vatican City State, Pinacoteca

Other images focus solely on the coronation itself.
Jean Fouquet, Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French, c. 1450
Chantilly, Musee Conde

Master of Jean Rolin II, Book of Hours
French (Ile-de-France), 1460-1470
New York, Morgan Library
MS M1027, fol. 115r (detail)

Some images present the event on a more cosmic scale so that it is seen against the entire panoply of heaven, before crowds of angels and saints.

Limbourg Brothers, Tres Riches Heures of the Duc of Berry
South Netherlands, c.1410
Chantilly, Musee Conde

Master of the Ecrivainage and collaborators
from City of God
French (Paris), 1375-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Francais 28, fol.273v (detail)

Fra Agelico, Coronation of the Virgin
Italian, 1434-1435
Paris, Louvre

Enguerrand Charenton, Coronation of the Virgin
French, 1454
Villeneuve-les-Avignon, Hospice

Michael Pacher, Coronation of the Virgin
Centerpiece of St. Wolfgang Altarpiece
Austrian, 1479-1480
St. Wolfgang, Parish Church
Tintoretto, Coronation of the Virgin
Sketch for decoration in the Palace of the Doges (Venice)
Italian, c. 1580
Paris, Louvre
In the Baroque era the scene narrowed down again to present just the main actors.
Annibale Carracci, Coronation of the Virgin
Italian, after 1595
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Velazquez, Coronation of the Virgin
Spanish, 1641-1644
Madrid, Prado

Mary, As Queen of Heaven

Jean Bourdichon, The Katherine Hours
French (Tours), c. 1480 - 1485
Los Angeles, J.Paul Getty Museum
MS 6, fol.72

These images of the Queen of Heaven present Mary, crowned, on her own or in company with either the Infant Jesus or the enthroned Christ. In some instances the crown is held above her head by attendant angels. 

Virgin Enthroned
Roman, 6th-7th century
Rome, S. Maria Antiqua

The earliest image of the crowned Virgin that is currently known comes from the sixth or seventh century. This fresco adorned the church known as Santa Maria Antiqua, built in the fifth century, which was abandoned and buried in the ninth century, following an earthquake.

One can just about make out the image of Mary, seated on a cushioned and jeweled throne, wearing an imperial robe and crown (similar to those worn by the contemporary Byzantine empresses), with the child Jesus on her lap. She is surrounded by angels and saints. This is a court scene, not a symbolic image such as that of the Seat of Wisdom or the Theotokos, two images common at this period, although it bears a resemblance to both.

Later, medieval images of the crowned Virgin continued to include an image of the Christ Child, which she carries or who is seated on her lap. This image was particularly popular in sculpture of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.
Virgin of Notre Dame
French, 14th century
Paris, Caathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris

Madonna and Child Supported by Angels
German (Lower Bavaria), 1510-1520
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Cloisters)

Ivory Triptych
German, ca. 1325-1350
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In painting, court scenes seem to have predominated, in both miniatures and full size paintings.
Jean Fouquet, Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French, c. 1450
Chantilly, Musee Conde

Master of the Legend of St. Lucy
Mary as Queen of Heaven
Flemish, c. 1485-1500
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art


Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Madonna and Child
Dutch, 1480s
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

Sometimes, especially in later images, Mary’s status as queen is indicated, not by a crown (although this is sometimes present), but by the presence of a cloth of state behind her, a baldachin above her or by her location within the painting. 

Raphael, Madonna and Child with Saints
Italian, 1504
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Federico Barocci, Madonna and Child with Saints
Italian, ca. 1567
Urbino, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche

Paolo Veronese, Madonna and Child with Saints
Ventian, 1562-1564
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia

Peter Paul Rubens, Madonna and Child with Saints
Flemish, c. 1628
Antwerp, Church of St. Augustine

I will end with this rendition of the Ave Regina Caelorum composed by Isabella Leonarda, a woman composer from the second half of the seventeenth century.  Hail, Queen of Heaven!

1, Pope Pius XII, “Ad Caeli Reginam”, Encyclical, October 11, 1954. It can be accessed in full at

2.  See section entitled "Feast of Queenship" at
© M. Duffy, 2011

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