medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
i have OCRed the short text in her _The Throne of Wisdom; wood sculptures of
the madonna in Romanesque France_ (Princeton University Press 1972) wherein
Ilene disposes of this "Black Virgins" nonsense and would be glad to send
anyone who is interested the whole 2.5 pages in a .doc (36Kb) email
here's an even shorter summary, without some details and the extensive
Romanesque Madonnas were not intended to be "Black Virgins" despite the
tenacity with which that view is held. Many of these so-called Vierges noires
do indeed have dark faces today (e.g. Madonnas at Avioth, Chastreix, Cusset,
Dorres, Moulins, Marsat, etc.), and the general assumption is that they must
have been conceived that way. Curious explanations have been advanced to
account for the blackness. Most commonly, the poetry of the Songs of Songs has
been adduced: "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem....(Song of
Sol. 1:5-6). It would be difficult to understand why the Christ Child should
also have been blackened if this passage were of significant inspiration for
Swarthy Byzantine icons have also been credited as a possible source for Black
Virgins,39 along with vaguely envisioned oriental models, e.g. Isis figures
brought by Syrian merchants, Crusaders or even St. Louis, and converted into
Vincent Sablon explained the black or "Moorish" color of the Virgin at
Chartres by conflating several of these theories. He referred to the Virgin's
origins in a country where exposure to the sun darkened the skin, to the color
which could be imagined from Solomon's Song, and to Nicephoras' description of
the paintings of the Virgin by St. Luke in which the color of Mary's skin was
the "chestnut" color of ripened wheat.
An ingenious theory was put forward by Rohault de Fleury. He thought that the
darkness of the silver which was used to ornament Byzantine icons representing
Mary, and which had blackened through oxidation, was misunderstood in the West
as original. It was imitated there, introducing Black Virgins into Europe. The
more sober view of Olivier is that the dark look was caused by a build-up of
smoke and grime, or a natural darkening of the wood, then thought intentional
He realized, however, that such blackness for images of the Virgin cannot be
traced beyond the sixteenth century. No documentation known to me indicates an
earlier occurrence of the phenomenon.
Indeed the Black Virgins cited above are archaicizing, post-Romanesque works
or are known to have been blackened long after the twelfth century. The
Majesties at Avioth, Cusset and Moulins are sculptures of relative modernity
as is the Madonna at Chastreix, about whom parishioners complained in the last
century that their Virgin had been made a negress. Notre-Dame de Marsat (Fig.
101, no. 35) is known to have [p. 22] been blackened in 1830 and again
recently.46 Notre-Dame de Montvianeix (Fig. 60, no. 3) was black until the
cleaning of 1931 revealed the original, natural flesh tints beneath the dark
paint.47 Notre-Dame de Bon Espoir (Fig. 155, no. 88) has had a similar but
more complicated history. A cleaning in 1945 uncovered a fair-skinned face,
but out of respect for tradition, it was again blackened. Now that tastes have
changed, the face has been re-cleaned and is today seen as it was originally
intended, in natural color. The reasons for these alterations have to do with
religious customs of the communities in which the Majesties are honored and
their analysis is obviously beyond the scope of the present study. The
evidence we have indicates that such customs were not common to the Romanesque
world which saw in the Madonna an equally complex but very different form of
the Mother of God.
as far as i'm concerned, Forsyth's opinion is good enough.
even if she doesn't mention the Templars at all, not one time.
"What about the older ones [Indians] ?"
"Well, we can't seem to cure them of the idea that our Everyday Life is only
an Illusion, behind which is the Reality of Dreams"
--Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo"
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