By Jacqueline Leinbach
Published online by The Mint Museum (2006)
Introduction: This study will focus on representations of the Virgin Mary and her son, the Christ Child, portrayed with black skin and Aryan features. It does not refer to artworks which portray them as Africans and which are created to convey the message that the Christ is trans-cultural. The latter are mostly a recent occurrence. The ones that we will study are mainly medieval in origin from the 12th to 15th century and even earlier.
Ean Begg, author of The Cult of the Black Virgin reports the existence at one time or another of 450 artworks depicting Black Virgins, mostly in Europe, with 272 in France alone. Many more are cited in literature but some were destroyed during the French Revolution and various religious wars. Usually they are found in churches and chapels. Most are scultped out of wood, some are paintings, and several are attributed to St.Luke. Legend has it that he painted the Virgin’s picture while she told him stories about Jesus’ life. The images have persisted because they are usually associated with miraculous occurrences and powers.