By Maggie Bell
December 8 is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, a Roman Catholic holiday that celebrates the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin. There was a centuries-long debate regarding the immaculate nature of the Virgin, though it was only officially recognized by the Catholic Church in 1854 when Pope Pius IX declared: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.“
Paintings of the Immacolata tend to emphasize the Virgin’s youth, beauty and purity. The standard iconography for these images, taken from the book of Revelations, depicts Mary surrounded by light, standing on a crescent moon and crowned by twelve stars.
Italian cities often have public celebrations of the feast day, which is a national holiday, such as the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in front of the Cathedral of Florence.
Levi D’Ancona, Mirella. 1957. The Iconography of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. New York: Published by the College Art Association of America in conjunction with the Art Bulletin.
Guido Reni, The Immaculate Conception, 1627, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.