by Alicia Ezpeleta, New York: Harry N Abrams, 1996 Submitted by Yuri Klitsenko, Russia
Rabbits have equally symbolized chastity and purity. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, rabbits - white rabbits in particular - were often included in depictions of the Madonna and Child; here the timid defenseless creatures represent unquestioning faith in Christ.
In Titian's Madonna with the Rabbit, the white rabbit being held by the Madonna also stands for the control over and purification of sexuality.
Another reason for rabbit's presence in images of the Madonna and Child is that, throughout the Middle Ages, people believed the female rabbit could conceive without a male. Some medieval encyclopedists even thought the rabbit could give birth without ever losing its virginity, further strengthening the rabbit's association with Mary and the "Virgin Birth."
Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow. He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.