'Picturing Mary' Exhibit Explores Womanhood Through The Figure Of Jesus' Mother

The Virgin Mary has played a central role in Christian art throughout the centuries, most often depicted as a holy mother with the infant Jesus. Now a new exhibit organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts takes a comprehensive look at Mary beyond -- and encompassing -- her role as Jesus' mother.

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea runs from December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C.

Read a statement on the exhibition by National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Chief Curator Kathryn Wat:

From the sixth to the eighteenth century, Mary, the mother of Jesus, inspired innumerable works in Western art. Organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, on view December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015, explores the concept of womanhood represented by the Virgin Mary. Paintings depicting the familiar image of Mary holding her baby son are paired with other paintings, sculptures, drawings, enamels, and liturgical vestments that narrate many moments from her life.

Divided into six thematic sections, Picturing Mary presents images of the Virgin as a daughter, cousin, and wife; the mother of an infant; a bereaved parent; the protagonist in a rich life story developed by believers through the centuries; a link between heaven and earth; and an active participant in the lives of those who revere her.

The Renaissance- and Baroque-era masterworks in Picturing Mary are drawn from the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery, and other public and private collections in Europe and the United States. Paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Orsola Maddalena Caccia—an Ursuline nun who ran a bustling painting studio in her convent in northern Italy— highlight the varied ways in which women artists conceptualized the subject of Mary. Their paintings are featured alongside treasured works of art by Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Pontormo, and others.

During the presentation of Picturing Mary at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the museum’s website will feature an online exhibition exploring global traditions in Marian imagery, further contextualizing the artworks on view. This virtual exhibition features representations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Black Madonnas from Europe and the Caribbean, and Marian-themed works from China, Ethiopia, India, Bolivia, and other communities.

The exhibition’s catalogue deepens the ecumenical framework of the Picturing Mary project. In addition to examining religious traditions of representing the Virgin Mary, catalogue essays explore the political and social functions of Mary’s image, including her place in encounters between Christian and Muslim communities in the medieval and Renaissance periods. Picturing Mary is part of NMWA’s ongoing program of major historical loan exhibitions that examine humanist themes related to womankind.

Vittore Carpaccio, Marriage of the Virgin (Sposalizio della Virgine), also called Miracle of the Flowering Staff (Miracolo della Verga Fiorita), ca. 1502–35; Oil on canvas, 56 3/4 x 60 in.; Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Federico Barocci, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Il Riposo durante la Fuga in Egitto), also called Madonna of the Cherries (La Madonna delle Ciliegie), 1570–73; Oil on canvas, 52 3/8 × 43 1/4 in.; Vatican Museums, Vatican City; inv. 40377

Lorenzo di Credi, The Annunciation and Three Stories from Genesis (Annunciazione e Tre Storie della Genesi), ca. 1480–85; Tempera on wood panel, 34 5/8 × 28 in.; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; inv. 1890 n. 1597

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Oil on canvas, 34 × 27 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Maison Samson, Deposition from the Cross and Mourners (Deposizione della Croce, i Dolenti), late 19th century; Grisaille enamel on copper framed in gilded wood, 33 1/4 × 26 3/4 in.; Diocese of Prato (Deposit from Private Collectors); inv. RF853

Artemisia Gentileschi, Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), 1609–10; Oil on canvas, 46 1/2 × 33 7/8 in.; Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence; inv. 1890 no. 2129

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Madonna of the Goldfinch, ca. 1767–70; Oil on canvas, 24 13/16 × 19 13/16 in.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Samuel H. Kress Collection; inv. 1943.4.40

Master of the Orleans Triptych (?), Nativity (Natività), ca. 1500; Enamel on copper, 7 5/8 × 6 7/8 in.; Diocese of Prato (Deposit from Private Collectors); inv. RFO445a

Gerard David, The Annunciation, ca. 1490; Oil on oak panel, 13 11/16 × 9 3/16 × 1 in.; Detroit Institute of Arts, City of Detroit Purchase; inv. 27.201

Albrecht Dürer, The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, 1510; Woodcut, 11 7/16 × 8 1/8 in.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.3630

All images courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.



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