Motifs in Artwork of the Immaculate Conception

by Patrick Werick February 11, 2014 1 Comment

You weren't in the 17th-century artists' club until you took a crack at painting the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception. There wasn't any universally accepted way to portray this abstract theme in the art world until the Spaniard, Francesco Pacheco (1564-1644), wrote down some ground rules on how artists should portray the Immaculate Conception — here are a few: 

1. The sun surrounds a 12-year-old maiden

2. A crescent moon rests under her feet

3. Twelve stars surround her head 

4. She wears a white tunic and blue mantle

Sound familiar? Yep, this description of the Virgin Mary comes mostly from the book of the Apocalypse: 

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Revelation 12:1

Many artists followed the Pacheco guidelines in varying degrees. You'll notice that most are pretty good about painting in a moon, a radiating sun and a crown of twelve stars. The most widely used additions are the Virgin trampling Satan (represented as a dragon), and happy-little-floating-around cherubs decorating the space and holding flowers (this guy went all out).


Our Lady Standing on the Moon

By Anton Raphael Mengs


Mother Mary as the Immaculate Conception

 Jose Antolinez


Virgin of Immaculate Conception

Jose Antolinez


Immaculate Conception

17th Century Anonymous


Our Lady with Crown of Stars

Claudio Coello


Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

Diego Velazquez


Virgin Mary and God the Father

Francisco Goya


God the Father and Our Lady

Mariano Salvador Maella


Mother Mary in the Clouds

Esteban Murillo


Virgin Mary and Crescent Moon

Esteban Murillo


Our Lady and Cherubs

Esteban Murillo


One of Murillo's Most Popular Images

Esteban Murillo


Murillo's Best Immaculate Conception Painting

Esteban Murillo


Our Lady on the Moon

Esteban Murillo


Guido Reni


Sun Shining Behind Virgin Mary

Jose Ribera


Cherubs Surrounding Virgin Mary

Francisco Rizi


Mother Mary Trampling Satan

Peter Paul Rubens


Holy Ghost and Virgin Mary

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo


Our Lady with Folded Hands

Francisco de Zurbaran


Mother Mary in Clouds

Francisco de Zurbaran





Patrick Werick
Patrick Werick


1 Response


October 15, 2019

You explained well the rules of painting the Immaculate Conception but not the rules or guidelines for painting the Assumption of BVM.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Catholic Art Blog

A Closer Look - Tissot
A Closer Look - Tissot

by Joe Thomas July 12, 2022

"And one of them, a doctor of the law, asking him, tempting him: 'Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.' " — Mt 22:35-37

Continue Reading

Madonna and Child near woods

by Isabella Childs January 12, 2021

Continue Reading

saint on papal throne
Portrait of Pope St. Pius X

by Isabella Childs January 12, 2021

Continue Reading