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  • Place of origin:

    Italy (Made)

  • Date:

    1860-1880 (Made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Letterpress, embossing, piercing, appliqué, photography, paper and organza

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Tim Travis in memory of Leslie Travis

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

In art historical terms, 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, or sometimes an older image whose documented popular cult dates from that time. 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 Madonna’s skin colour is contested. There are several hundred black Madonnas in Europe. The topic of black Madonnas has attracted a considerable literature in recent decades approaching the subject from the perspective of various academic disciplines including anthropology, psychology, art history, feminism, and Black history.

The Basilica della Santa Casa (Basilica of the Holy House) is a shrine in Loreto, Italy, where the house in which the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived is preserved. Local lore recounts that the house was miraculously flown from Palestine to Loreto by angels just before the final expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land. According to this narrative, the house at Nazareth in which Mary had been born and brought up, received the Annunciation, and had lived during the childhood of Christ and after his Ascension, was converted into a church by the Twelve Apostles after her death. In 336 the Empress Helena made a pilgrimage to Nazareth and directed that a basilica be erected over it, in which worship continued until the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The legend relates that, threatened with destruction by the Turks, the house was carried by angels through the air and initially deposited in 1291 on a hill at Tersatto (now Trsat, a suburb of Rijeka, Croatia), where an appearance of the Virgin and numerous miraculous cures attested its authenticity. In 1294, angels carried it again across the Adriatic Sea to the woods near Recanati; from these woods (Latin lauretum, Italian Colle dei Lauri or from the name of its proprietress Laureta) the chapel derived the name which it still retains (Sacellum Gloriosæ Virginis in Laureto). From this spot it was afterwards removed to the present location in 1295. It is this house that gave the title Our Lady of Loreto sometimes applied to the Virgin; the miracle is represented in religious art and popular iconography with the house borne aloft by angels, sometimes with the picturesque detail of the Virgin and Child enthroned on the roof.

The documented history of the house dates from at least the close of the Crsades. It is briefly referred to in the Italia Illustrata of Flavius Blondus, secretary to Popes Eugene IV, Nicholas V, Calixtus III and Pius II; a fuller account appears in the Redemptoris Mundi Matris Ecclesiæ Lauretana Historia by a Teremannus, which is included in the Opera Omnia (157) of Baptista Mantuanus. Bulls in favour of the Shrine at Loreto were issued by Pope Sixtu IV in 1491, and by Julius II in 1507, the last alluding to the translation of the house with some caution, 'ut pie creditur et fama est'. In the late 17th century, Innocent XII appointed a missa cum officio proprio (a special mass) for the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House to be celebrated on December 10th.

The statue of Our Lady of Loreto enshrined in the Holy House is a black Madonna carved from Cedar of Lebanon and, like the Holy House itself, has a miracle-working reputation. In the 1600s a mass and a Marian litany was approved. This 'Litany of Loreto' is known more widely as The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the five litanies approved for public recitation by the Church.

This holy card souvenir has a (duly certified) fragment of the black organza mourning veil worn by the statue on Holy Thursday and Good Friday attached. After Easter the veil would be cut up into little pieces and distributed among the pilgrims as relics - a custom that continues today.

Physical description

Rectangular holy card (portrait format) with lace paper border and central 'tipped on' photographic image of the Black Madonna of Loreto within simple geometric patterned border; lettered in Italian and Latin around and below the image in black; a strip of black organza overlays the image held in place by a green paper seal embossed with another image of the Virgin and lettered within the design Loreto.

Place of Origin

Italy (Made)


1860-1880 (Made)

Materials and Techniques

Letterpress, embossing, piercing, appliqué, photography, paper and organza

Marks and inscriptions

Lettered in black, around the image

Attesto io sottescritto Custode della S.
Casa di Loreto, che il velo nero qui an-
nesso con sigillo, sia stato indosso il Gio-
vedi e Venerdi Santa alla S. Statua e
poi toccata nelle SS. Mura e nella S.
Scodella della B. V. In fede ecc.
Loreto dalla Custodia li
Il Custode
I, the undersigned Custodian of the Holy
House of Loreto, attest that the black veil here at-
tached with a seal, was worn on Holy Thurs-
day and Good Friday by the Holy Statue and
then touched to the Holy Walls and the Holy
Bowl of the Blessed Virgin. In faith etc.
From the Custodianship at Loreto
The Custodian

Lettered in black, below the image


Height: 12.0 cm sheet, Width: 8.4 cm sheet

Descriptive line

Souvenir of Our Lady of Loreto, Italy, 1860-1880.


Paper; Ink; Organza


Embossing; Piercing; Die cutting; Photography; Letterpress; Applique

Subjects depicted

Black Madonnas; Statues



Production Type

Mass produced


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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