Images of the Madonna and Madonna and Child are one of the central icons of Christianity, representing the Madonna or Mary, mother of Jesus, by herself or, rather more often, with her son Jesus. After some initial resistance and controversy, the ''Mother of God'' was adopted officially by the Christian Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431, beginning the period of over a thousand years when images of Mary were central to Western art.
All mainstream Christians maintain that Mary was a virgin at the point of the conception of Jesus, as well as at least until the birth of Jesus. Most Protestants do not specifically claim that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus, but the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, many in the Anglican Church, and some Protestant sects maintain that Mary also remained a virgin throughout the rest of her life.
The term Madonna' was used in medieval times to describe a woman of noble birth or great importance. The original Madonna and Child refers to an Italian Renaissance wood panel painting of the early 14th century. For centuries afterwards, the Madonna and Child was immortalized by some of the greatest painters, sculptors and artists Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Matisse and Dali to name just a few. Their paintings showed the Virgin as a tender, loving mother. She is seen with the Child in her arms or seated on her lap in many different perspectives and settings. The color blue came to be associated with Mary, representing Truth and Hope. Angels often showed up in paintings of the Madonna, since she was as much a resident of the celestial realm as of earth.
''Madonna'', if used to describe a work of art, rather than a single figure in one, means a portrait-style image of Mary, but is often loosely used for those of the ''Madonna and Child'' as well, and the presence of angels will not affect the use of the term, as opposed to an altarpiece of the "Madonna and Saints", or a narrative painting of a scene from the Life of the Virgin, which will have a specific title for that scene, such as the Annunciation to Mary. Most often, and nearly always if holding Jesus, Mary is seated, and shown at half-length or full-length, but in various types of image she is shown alone, at full-length and standing.
Madonna and Child tattoos have long been one of the fundamental symbols of Christianity and a very popular tattoo design for over a hundred and fifty years. Tattoos of Mary and Child were popular with early sailors, as a symbol of the need to remain virtuous. The design remained popular in the "Old School" tattoo genre and more recently has been an iconic symbol in Latino culture, which is heavily influenced by the religious imagery of the Catholic Church. The design is also popular in memorial tattoos, particularly when remembering children.
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