»The Woman of the Apocalypse« and the Moon


»The Woman of the Apocalypse« is a depiction of a Virgin Mary that is surrounded by sunrays (hence she is also called sun-crowned Madonna), and shows a moon crescent underneath her feet. Quite often stars can also be seen around her head. This portrait goes back to the biblical text »The Woman and the Dragon« in the Revelation of John, chapter 12. This describes the fight of heaven against the red dragon that embodies the evil in the world.

Revelation 12, verse 1
(Translation: New International Version)
The Woman and the Dragon
[1] A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.


The first visual representation of this Madonna can be found in the work of the High Medieval Period the »Hortus Deliciarum« (lat. Garden of Delights), drawn up at the end of the 12th century by the abbess Herrad von Landsberg (approx. 1125–1195). This is the first encyclopedia written by a woman; thereby it was for the first time as well that »The Woman of the Apocalypse« was portrayed by a woman.

Portraying Madonnas with the moon crescent became increasingly popular in centuries that followed, encompassing numerous paintings and sculptures that were particularly shown in churches and can still me admired today.

Also the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) depicted the Virgin Mary standing on a moon crescent in his painting »The Virgin as the Woman of the Apocalypse« (1623–25), in which he painted the Moon as a sphere, and the moon crescent was visualized by a darkening of the clouds. The same kind of representation of the Moon can also be found in the painting »Immaculate Conception« (1628/29). Moreover, there are sunrays and the sun crown is visible above Mary’s head.


It is fascinating how these old iconic portrayals emerged and the role the Moon plays in them. This is how we are reminded of infinity and forget our small and everyday worries.

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