Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell

Second Advisor

Amy Nygaard Mickelson

Third Advisor

Victoria Young


Black Madonnas are depictions of the Virgin Mary and Christ that have black skin. They are usually paintings or sculptures, depicted as free standing or seated upon a throne, the statues usually made of wood or stone. They have generally been found in European countries such as Germany, Poland, Italy and France.

In Moss and Cappannari’s earlier writings, they theorize that there are pagan correlations with them, for example in Italy, syncretization with earlier Roman goddesses of the earth. There are other scholars, like Elisa Foster and Monique Scheer who propose that the Black Madonnas were intentionally painted or stained black to indicate age, importance, and proximity or association with the Holy Land.

The vast majority of Black Madonnas are generally believed to be created during the medieval period and their creation was categorized into three sections by American scholars Dr. Leonard Moss and Dr. Stephen Cappannari in the 1950s: Madonnas that are matching the genealogy of the indigenous population, Madonnas that have turned black as a result of environmental or outside factors, and Black Madonnas for which there is no explanation, which they later renamed as miraculous Madonnas, a new name but the same with the same characteristic, Black Madonnas for which there is no explanation. The Madonnas that I will be researching fall into this category.

I will discuss the scholarly significance of my work by examining the historical origins of Black Madonnas through a literature review, two case studies and the individual factors for each. This research will question the presence of Black Madonnas for a white audience and discuss that the physical presence of the Madonnas is part of their miraculousness.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.