Titian: Madonna of the Rabbit or “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine


Titian’s so-called “Madonna of the Rabbit,” currently hangs in the Louvre. The Museum’s website notes the popular title but more accurately labels the painting as “The Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and a Shepherd, known as the Madonna of the Rabbit.” Actually, a better title would be “The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine,” a common devotional subject during the Renaissance.

Today, I placed in the page section of this site an interpretive essay on the painting that originally appeared on January 7, 2014 as a post on my blog, Giorgione et al…  In the essay I take issue with the Louvre and others about two important details in the painting.

In the first place, I do not believe that Titian has depicted a shepherd in this painting.  In my interpretation the man dressed in rustic attire in the mid-ground is St. Joseph, the protector of Mary and the infant Jesus. He is often included in versions of the Mystic Marriage by Venetian renaissance artists.

Secondly, although the label, “Madonna of the Rabbit” will probably lnever be changed, I disagree with the Louvre’s explanation that the white rabbit is a sign of Mary’s virginal fecundity. X-ray examination has shown that the rabbit was not originally present. Initially, Titian placed Mary’s left arm on her lap. Why, on second thought, did he add the white rabbit?  My essay argues that the white rabbit is the equivalent of the Eucharistic host.