Madonna della Misericordia

                                                          A Venetian Icon

I stumbled upon the Madonna della Misericordia in Carmel on a sunny December morning in 2003. She was standing on a coffee table at Brinton's, a beautiful store now defunct. As I was leaving the store with a couple of Christmas ornaments in my hands, I was compelled  by a strange force to go back and take her home. I didn't know her name, I wasn't even sure she was the Madonna, but I was drawn to her beauty and the aura of tranquil protection she radiated. According to the saleswoman she was, perhaps, the Madonna of the Streets, as the people gathered under the folds of her cloak suggested. A sticker placed at the bottom of the base revealed her name: Mother of Mercy.

Later I realized that I had seen and photographed similar images all over  the streets of Venice but hadn't noticed her. My next trip to Venice in September 2004 was in search of the Madonna della Misericordia. A pursuit that continues until now.

I know of thirty-two representations of the Madonna della Misericordia scattered all over Venice; a few are in churches and museums, tucked away from general view, but most are not; they are in the streets of Venice offering protection to passersby as they have been doing for centuries; all we have to do is lift our eyes.

Curiously, the locations on the map seem to delineate the contour of Mary's cloak, with her head at the Scuola Vecchia della Misericordia, where she once reigned over the main portal and where only a scar remains now. The relief was taken to London and placed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it can be admired today.

I am very grateful to Annie from Churches in Venice who has a very keen eye for the reliefs of the Madonna and spotted a few that were unknown to me and graciously shared her pictures with me.

At the same time that I started my research on the Madonna della Misericordia in Venice, a student from the Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, C. Lena, started her senior thesis on the same subject.  Her work, finished in 2004, did not become known to me until the beginning of 2009 when most of this page was already published. It was with great satisfaction that I realized that I have not missed any of the important representations of the Madonna della Misericordia, still her thesis made me aware of three images of which I had no knowledge: the Madonna at Corte Sabion (#30), the Madonna at the Church of the Eremite (#31) and the Madonna at Corte dei Meloni (#32).

The numbering of the representations on this page loosely follows the order in which I discovered them rather than the most logical system of geographical proximity. That's why Madonna #7 and Madonna #25, which are a stone's throw away from each other, are separated by 18 numbers. But this is Venice after all, and when it comes to numbering, I'm endeared to the long-held Venetian tradition of putting logic aside.

If you want to see all the representations in one day, which I do not recommend unless you are on a strict schedule or on a strict lose-weight program, I suggest that you follow this order: 30; 15-17; 31; 18-21; 26; 11 (viewed from San Stae); 32; 10; 23; 24; 14; 13; 1; 12; 9; 8; 5-7; 25; 2; 3; 28; 29; 4; 27 and 22.

Chiesa di San TomaSalve Regina

Marchetto Cara (1450(?)-1525)

Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae:
Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exsules, filii Evae
Ad te suspiramus gementes et flentes
In hac lacrimarum valle.
Eja ergo, advocata nostra,
Illos tuos misericordes oculos
Ad nos conerte. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui
Nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O Clemens: O pia:
O dulcis Virgo Mario.


                                       A Little History...

Nobody knows for certain the origins of the iconography of the Madonna della Misericordia. The image appeared almost simultaneously in Central Italy, Cyprus and Armenian Cilicia in the second half of the XIII century. It is likely that it evolved from the Byzantine Icon of Virgin Orans or Platytera (meaning: "More Spacious than the Heavens"), which depicts the Virgin wrapped in a densely pleated mantle, her arms outstretched towards Heaven. Christ rests in a circle on her chest. The Platytera shown on the left can be admired in Campo San Luca.

Some of the earliest works of the Madonna della Misericordia are "Madonna of the Franciscans" by Duccio (ca. 1280); the Marshal Oshin Gospels (1274) and an icon of the enthroned Virgin and Child in the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia (late XIII century).

The mendicant orders of the Franciscans and Carmelites with their many ties in Asia Minor, played an important role in disseminating the image. Duccio's Madonna can be admired in Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale. The Marshal Oshin Gospels are in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

                                      Locations in Venice

             venice map

Scuola Vecchia della

Museo Correr

Merceria de

Calle dei Baloni

Calle del
(facing calle)

Calle del
(facing bridge)

Santa Maria
by Vivarini

Calle de Mezo

Ponte dei Gesuiti

Ca' d'Oro
by Simone da Cusighe


Tabernacle on
Fondamenta della

Corte Nova on Fondamenta de

Scuola dei
at Madonna de

by Jacobello del Fiore

by Andrea da Murano

by Paolo Veneziano

Scuola dei Varoteri
at Campo Santa

Chiesa di San Tomà

Scuola dei Calegheri
e Zavateri at
Campo San Tomà

Chiesa dei Frari

Santa Maria del

Campiello de

Campo San Alvise

Campo Santa
Maria Formosa

Scuola San
Giovanni Evangelista

Corte de l'Albero



Corte Sabion

Chiesa delle Eremite

Campiello dei

                                      Outside Venice


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