Through April 12, 2015
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Crowned with a halo and gauzy veil, a young woman sits with a child on her lap and a prayer book open before her. The figures—instantly recognizable to many—depicted in Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna and Child (left) are Mary and Jesus.
For the past two millennia, Mary has been one of the most popular subjects of Western art. Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, a new exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, DC, showcases images of Mary from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The exhibit includes the works of many well-known artists, including four women: Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia and Elisabetta Sirani.
While the subject matter does not vary, images demonstrate the variety of ways that artists chose to depict the Virgin Mary. She came to represent many things: mother, saint, queen and ideal, among others.
In some pieces, she is contemplative—even morose—while in others, she radiates joy. Some depict her haloed and regal, almost as queen of heaven, but in others, such as Elisabetta Sirani’s Virgin and Child (right), she appears humble and approachable—human, a mother gazing affectionately at her child. The exhibit highlights the different facets and roles embodied in the Virgin Mary—and how this relates to the concept of womanhood. From paintings and sculptures to textiles, the images in this exhibit come from all over the world; for some Picturing Mary marks their debut in the U.S.
The exhibit is accompanied by a catalog, replete with essays by specialists and 100 color images, as well as an online exhibition with global representations of Mary. These supplements allow anyone anywhere to enjoy the exhibit and experience Mary as a woman, mother and idea.
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