Madonna and Child from the Book of Kells, ca. 800
Ink on vellum
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
This is said to be the oldest known Western Madonna and Child, though that may depend to some degree on how you define "Western." I know there are some 4th century Italian carvings showing the Nativity, and I would be inclined to call Italy a western country. Perhaps it would be best to say it's the earliest known Madonna and Child outside the Mediterranean region? Sure, why not.
One thing I find curious about this work is this bit of detail from the right side of the page:
Who the heck are those guys? At first glance I thought they might be Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who show up repeatedly throughout the Book of Kells, but when I looked closer I realized there are six of them, not four. So who are they? Shepherds? Magi? Self-portraits? The world may never know.
Previous Advent posts:
2003: Rejoice and Be Merry
2004: Madonna of the Stars
2005: Mele Kalikimaka e Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!
2006: Bethlehem of Judea
2007: Madonna of Foligno
2008: Same Old Lang Syne
2009: From Gospel (coincidentally, set at another venerable university of the Atlantic Archipelago)