“Thus we must restrict, adorn, compose, comb, and wash our passions which, just like hair, spring up from our hearts.”
–Petrus Bercorius, 1340

The Virgin’s elaborate hairdo may seem showy for the virtuous mother of Christ. In fact, it serves as a symbol of her moral integrity. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, hair—especially women’s hair—was viewed as the seat of the passions. Sinful women like Eve were often depicted with free-flowing tresses, suggesting their emotions were wildly unbound. By contrast, the Virgin’s carefully combed and tightly knotted coiffeur serves as the resplendent crown of her virtue.



  • Title: Virgin and Child
  • Creator: Jan Gossaert (Mabuse)
  • Date Created: circa 1525 - 1530
  • Physical Dimensions: 18 3/4 x 14 1/2 in. (47.6 x 36.8 cm)
  • Credit Line: Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.
  • Medium: Oil on panel

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