Barbara Longhi's Madonna Purissima

The Immaculate Conception


  • Liana De Girolami Cheney Researcher in Art History Universidad de Coruña, Spain



Barbara Longhi, Counter-Reformation, Immaculate Conception, Christian symbolism, clouds, moon, sun light, stars


The essay considers the Christian symbolism in the Immaculate Conception (1620) by Barbara Longhi of Ravenna (1552–1638). The painting depicts the Virgin Mary (Madonna) as the Woman of the Apocalypse described by the Evangelist Saint John in the Book of Revelation (12:1, 2 and 5): “A great sign appeared in Heaven … A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”  From a cloud of light the Virgin Mary emerges standing on a crescent moon holding her son. Rays of light emanate from her being and continue to expand in vortices within a nimbus (mandorla) to a ring of twelve stars crowning the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.  Her virginal nature embodied in the divine golden light ascribes her as Madonna Purissima. The stars forming a celestial crown metaphorically symbolize immortality and wisdom. In the doctrinal precepts of the Counter Reformation in Italy, the Virgin Mary became honored as the Virgo Sapientissima and Gloriosa, the Queen of Wisdom, and Regis Coeli, the Queen of Heaven. 

Author Biography

  • Liana De Girolami Cheney, Researcher in Art History Universidad de Coruña, Spain

    Dr. Liana De Girolami Cheney is presently a Visiting Scholar in Art History at the Università di Aldo Moro in Bari, Italy, and Investigadora de Historia de Arte, SIELAE, Universidad de Coruña, Spain. She is an emerita Professor of Art History, Chairperson of the Department of Cultural Studies at UMASS Lowell. Dr. Cheney received her BS/BA in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Miami, Florida, her MA in History of Art and Aesthetics from the University of Miami, Florida and her Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance and Baroque from Boston University, MA.


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