It was fairly common throughout much of history to paint the Madonna and Child not in historically accurate clothing and situations, but in period clothing and places. For example, this Madonna and Child by Raphael is dated to about 1510 and the woman is wearing clothing typical of the time. We see this and do not think twice about it. This is just the way it was done.
But think about how odd it would be to see a similar Madonna and Child but in contemporary clothing and locale. Obviously, the clothing on Raphael’s Madonna is that of the wealthy noble class. You would expect nothing else for the Blessed Mother. So how would people react to a Madonna and Child painted today that showed her wearing Donna Karan fashions and the Child Jesus in a Calvin Klein jumpsuit?
It would be jarring, wouldn’t it? But would it be wrong? If it is wrong, then how do we justify the earlier paintings? Or is about more than just clothing? Perhaps the depiction of the Blessed Mother and the Divine Child as contemporary nobles in an earlier age says something about how people viewed nobility then and now. A noblewoman of the era elicited respect and trust because of her aristocratic position, and even more if her life reflected that noble birth. But a woman wearing a fancy and expensive outfit today is merely a woman who can afford to spend a lot of money on clothing.
I’m not saying one or the other is right or wrong—although I don’t think I’d like a Madonna and Child in Fifth Avenue clothing myself—but it’s something to consider.
- garvaghMadonnajpg.jpg: Raphael, "Aldrobrandini Madonna" | Public domain