Where did the title “Madonna” come from for Mary?

“Madonna” is an Italian term meaning “my lady.”   It has been used for Mary since late medieval times, and helps to emphasize the relationship between Mary and those who honor her (its French equivalent is “Notre Dame,” or “Our Lady.”)

The term is very familiar to art historians.  Traditionally, the name “Madonna” is used for images of Mary holding the infant Jesus (do a quick Google search to see hundreds of examples of “Madonna and Child.”)  More rarely, it’s used for images that depict Mary without Jesus.   Though it was initially used only for Italian art, it has since become an accepted term for Marian art from all cultures.