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La Bruna

La Bruna — Icon of Carmel

The icon belongs to the Carmelites’ basilica church in Naples, Italy. It bears the title "La Bruna," or "the dark one". It derives its title from the dark color of the flesh tones applied to Mary. This touching image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is frequently imitated in other depictions of Mary, Queen Beauty of Carmel around the world.

The style of the icon captures a certain "tenderness," in which the Mother's head lies in fond proximity to that of her Child. The Greeks nicknamed this type "the sweet kiss" icon.

The Carmelite exemplar was painted in the first half of the thirteenth century, on wood, measuring 1 by .80 meters (39 in. x 31 in.), and in accordance with Byzantine criteria for iconography.

Tradition says it came from Mount Carmel, the Carmelites' birthplace. Recently historians have claimed that Marian images of the "tenderness" style are the ones venerated from the earliest stages of the order's existence.


What is "LA BRUNA"?

The Icon of Mary, "La Bruna", is the oldest image of Mary that has been adopted by the Carmelites.

Factual details:

  • Name: "La Bruna" ("The Brown One"): from the dark colour in which the complexion of Our Lady is painted.
  • Place where the original is preserved: Naples (Italy), Basilica of Carmine Maggiore.
  • Origin: traditionally, it is said to have come from Mount Carmel, from the place where the Carmelites were founded.
  • Date of composition: first half of the 13th century.
  • Size: 1 metre by 80 cm.
  • Type of iconography: Eleusa, or of tenderness.
  • Apart from Carmelite churches, devotion to "La Bruna" has spread to many other places and parishes, especially in Europe and in Latin America. There are now many modern reproductions inspired by this icon.
  • Crowned by the decree of the Vatican Council: 11 July 1875.
  • Special day of devotion to "La Bruna": Wednesday of each week, with a liturgy, devotions, and the commitment to show Christian love towards those who are in most need.

Explanation of the Icon:

The composition of the picture contains a number of interesting details which help to illustrate the values of Mary herself, values moreover which should inspire our lives and our Marian devotion.

We can discover in this painting, the following symbolic elements and details, which can be explained as follows:

La Bruna explanation
  1. The golden haloes and the golden background to the picture denote, (gold being the colour of the sun), the holiness of the Mother and Child, infused always by the presence of God.
  2. The blue colour of Mary's cloak (the colour of water, symbol of fertility) proclaims her divine Motherhood.
  3. The red colour (symbolising love) of her dress underneath her cloak part of which covers the Child, shows the strong love of the Mother towards her Son Jesus.
  4. The star with a tail, attached to Mary's cloak, is the sign of her virginity, before, during and after the birth.
  5. The colour of the Child's sleeve (lambskin) proclaims: Behold the Lamb of God.
  6. The Baby's face is not "babyish", as if to indicate the eternal existence of the Word made flesh.
  7. Mary's left hand, which holds her Son safely in her arms, is a sign of her loving care? The right hand, in a response to our request: "Show us Jesus, the blessed fruit...", indicates: "Behold, the way, the truth and the life".
  8. The faces of the Mother and the Son are close to each other in an expression of gentle togetherness.
  9. The eyes of Mary and of Jesus are turned towards us, out of the picture, and thus they express the redemptive mission of Jesus and the co-redemptive participation of Mary.

Conclusion: all the composition of this picture, an icon of the eleusa or tenderness type, speaks to Carmelites and to those devoted to Mary of the presence of the Virgin Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, and invites us to a closeness, familiarity and to imitate Her and her divine Son, our Saviour.

Source of this explanation of the icon:
The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute
, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390.

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