ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

‘Madonna in the Church': What Does This Painting Speak?

Updated on August 30, 2018
Paul Dickens profile image

Paul Joseph is a popular freelance journalist and column writer. He is famous on the internet for his matchless poetical language and style

The Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia Cathedral church, Barcelona
The Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia Cathedral church, Barcelona | Source

The Origin of Gothic Art

The Gothic art originated in the 12th century and developed along with the emergence of Gothic architecture throughout Europe. It underwent experiments over the course of the next centuries until it gave way to Renaissance art. This art form relied on various media including but not limited to panel painting, sculpture, fresco, glass, manuscripts, and monuments. Undoubtedly, this art form had a typological nature and initially developed as a Christian art performed on the walls of Cathedrals and abbeys.

Among the numerous Gothic works, Jan Van Eyck’s Madonna in the Church has its unusual position in several respects. A detailed study of this painting will show that it reveals certain social distinctions that contributed to the structure of the Gothic Cathedrals.

Art and architecture themselves were the dominant media for expression during the Gothic period that extended from the 12th to the 16th century. The new form of art attained its fullest realization in the service of the Catholic Church, the sole builder of the Middle Age. Massive structures of the cathedrals were one of the unique factors that determined the quality of the paintings. The growth of the Gothic art started with the eruption of a series of massive cathedrals throughout Europe. A close evaluation of Jan van Eyck's work would prove these factors.

Madonna in this painting represents three things; the mother of Christ, the Church, and the Queen of Heaven

The Biblical Themes in the Gothic Arts

Both the New Testament and the Old Testament served themes for Gothic artists. Bible characters, the Virgin Mary, and saints were the themes in many works. However, various tasks completed over the course of the 12th to 16th centuries clearly show the conceptual alterations and ideological developments swept across entire Europe. For instance, although Virgin Mary in the early Gothic works was an iconic Byzantine form, she was changed into an affectionate mother cuddling her infant or even a noble aristocratic lady playing with her child.

Madonna in the Church by Jan Van Eyck
Madonna in the Church by Jan Van Eyck | Source

Madonna in the Church & Eighteenth-century Europe

Jan Van Eyck, the famous painter from the Netherlands depicted Mary as the Queen of Heaven carrying the child Christ. Mary is wearing the royal crown and a dark blue robe that reminds Byzantine tradition. Under the robe, there is a red dress in different fabrics. The child Jesus clutches the hem of his mother's dress and keeps his feet on her left arm. As Harbison comments, “the virgin is a block, a shelf, a surface on which the Christ Child can be displayed” (Harbison, 1995, p. 78).

The painting contains several other objects like wood panels, carvings, and images of angels all which collectively depict episodes from the life of Mary. Several objects and the interior of the Cathedral are realistic and depict a 15th-century cathedral. However, the image of Mary is unrealistically big when compared to the surrounding objects. At the base of the image, the Virgin is addressed as “You are called the flower among flowers” (Normore, 2015, p. 132). There is a gentle flow of candlelight coupled with the brilliant daylight.

This painting represents a period of rapid and far-reaching change that occurred in eighteenth-century Europe concerning societal, cultural, and theological scenarios. This painting like many other masterpieces has a link to the contemporary social context. The artist has given much focus on the representation of societal and cultural aspects related to gender roles, oppression, and race. It was an age that believed in physiognomy, the theory that physical appearance reflects a person's character.

Jan Van Eyck, a Portrait
Jan Van Eyck, a Portrait | Source

Madonna in the Church reflects eighteenth-century Europe's rapid change concerning societal, cultural, and theological scenarios

Madonna in the Church: A Critical Evaluation

The painting has gained extensive discussion and interpretation from several experts. However, like any other masterpieces, Madonna in the Church also became a bone of contention among critics due to the indefinable and meticulous attention the painter had given to detail every inch of the work. In other words, the excellence of the work outsmarts all wildest interpretations. One who looks at the painting of Van Eyck will surely get impressed by the depth of its illusion and reality.

The work gives reference to our immediate world and real-life experiences, which at the same time transcends from the notion of invisible things. Admittedly, the influence of the medieval theology is visible in his work, especially in the work of Madonna in the Church.

The representation of Satan and angels in Gothic art demonstrates this adherence to the above-said theory. Satan possesses physical traits associated with evil. Angels in the painting represent divine providence, affection, and vigilance, while at the same time theological implications of characters are apparent in this painting. Mary and the child have pure and pleasant faces that represent divinity. The images reveal the changing rigid gender roles. The Madonna in the painting points to an unusually strong female character of the age where the independent behavior of a woman would have harshly got criticized.

A Play of Realism

In total, Van Eyck’s Madonna in the Church is a play of realism. Eyck was an artist and inventor whose ideas were centuries ahead than the time he lived. Van’s reputation as a famous painter rests with Madonna in the Church, which is one of the most precious arts in the world. The virtuoso quality of the work rests with the painterly techniques he deployed. Van’s exceptional ability is apparent in his larger body of drawings, which later influenced the painters all over the world.


Harbison, C. (1995). Jan Van Eyck: The Play of Realism. US: Reaktion Books.

Normore, C. A. (2015). Feast for the Eyes: Art, Performance, and the Late Medieval Banquet. US: University of Chicago Press.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)