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Our Lady of the Hermits (The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln)

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Switzerland (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1800 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woodcut on paper, coloured paper, foil, printed fabric, wood, glass and metal pins

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, box Black Madonna Topic Box

In art history, a black madonna is a painting or sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary with dark or black skin, created in Europe in the late Medieval period. Some are made of dark or black materials such as ebony, others are said to have become blackened from the soot of candles, although this explanation and the significance of the Virgin's skin colour is contested. There are several hundred black madonnas in Europe and the topic has attracted a considerable literature in recent decades approaching the subject from anthropological, art historical, feminist, psychoanalytical and Afrocentric perspectives .

The Abbey of Einsiedeln is a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits and located in the village of Einsiedeln twenty miles southeast of Zurich. According to 9th and 14th century sources, the hermit St Meinrad (d. 861) was especially devoted to the Virgin and was given a miracle working statue of the Virgin and Child by Abbess Hildegard of Zurich around which he built a chapel. Following his murder, a church was built over this chapel. The new church was dedicated but not the chapel. In 948 Conrad of Constance was praying in the chapel when he witnessed Christ and the angels performing the dedication rites. A papal bull of 11th November 966 allowed the celebration of the anniversary of this miracle and granted remission of sins to pilgrims to the shrine.

Probably published for sale as a souvenir of the shrine, this print is "dressed" with coloured and foil papers and printed woven textiles just as the carved and polychromed sculpture (likely a 14th century replacement) is dressed with robes woven with gold thread and jewels. The bright colours and foils used on the print suggest it may have been intended to have candles placed before it.

Physical description

Framed image printed in black ink on white paper depicting the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln standing in front of a row of votive candles and flanked by two hanging votive lamps. Beneath the figure of the Madonna an inscription in German and French flanked by vignettes of the lady chapel and monastery at Einsiedeln. Holes have been cut or torn in the print allowing pieces of coloured paper, foil and printed fabric to show through. Contemporary wooden frame, glazed and backed with rough paper or card held in place with metal pins and strips of glass.

Place of Origin

Switzerland (made)


ca. 1800 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Woodcut on paper, coloured paper, foil, printed fabric, wood, glass and metal pins

Marks and inscriptions

'Wahre Abbildung des Gnadebildes / MARIAE zu Einsidlen aufdem Altar / inders von Gott geweihten S. Shapelle. / Contrefait de l'Image miraculeuse de N. / DAME des Hermites, déssus l'Autel dans la Chapelle qui lui a été sacrifié / de DIEU.'
(from the French) Copy of the miraculous image of Our Lady of the Hermits above the altar in the chapel consecrated to her by God.
Lettered within the image in German and French


Height: 36.7 cm, Width: 28.6 cm, Depth: 1.7 cm

Descriptive line

Print, framed and hand-decorated woodcut depicting the 'Our Lady of the Hermits (The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln)', Anonymous, Swiss, ca. 1800.

Subjects depicted

Sculpture; Votive lamps; Black madonna; Lady chapels; Monasteries; Votive candles


Black History; Christianity; Frames; Prints; Religion


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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