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;
Landmark exhibition explores images of Virgin Mary by renowned Renaissance and Baroque artists
Many works on view for the first time in the United States
Appearing throughout the entire world, her image is immediately recognizable. In the history of Western art, she was one of the most popular subjects for centuries. On view Dec. 5, 2014–April 12, 2015, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, is a landmark exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), bringing together masterworks from major museums, churches and private collections in Europe and the United States. Iconic and devotional, but also laden with social and political meaning, the image of the Virgin Mary has influenced Western sensibility since the sixth century.
Picturing Mary examines how the image of Mary was portrayed by well-known Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Botticelli, Dürer, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Gentileschi and Sirani. More than 60 paintings, sculptures and textiles are on loan from the Vatican Museums, Musée du Louvre, Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and other public and private collections—many exhibited for the first time in the United States.
“Among the most important subjects in Western art for more than a millennium was a young woman: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her name was given to cathedrals, her face imagined by painters and her feelings explored by poets,” said exhibition curator and Marian scholar Monsignor Timothy Verdon, director, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy. “This exhibition will explore the concept of womanhood as represented by the Virgin Mary, and the power her image has exerted through time, serving both sacred and social functions during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.”
Picturing Mary is the newest project in an ongoing program of major historical loan exhibitions organized by NMWA, including An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum (2003) and Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and other French National Collections (2012). In addition to illustrating the work of women artists, NMWA also presents exhibitions and programs about feminine identity and women’s broader contributions to culture. Picturing Mary extends, in particular, the humanist focus of Divine and Human: Women in Ancient Mexico and Peru, a large-scale exhibition organized by NMWA in 2006.
The Picturing Mary exhibition is curated by Monsignor Verdon, in consultation with Kathryn Wat, chief curator, NMWA; and facilitated by Hugh Dempsey, former director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, Washington, D.C.
Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., with the support of MondoMostre, Rome. The exhibition is made possible with lead support from several anonymous donors, Alejandra and Enrique Segura, and Paul and Rose Carter. Additional funding is provided by Albert Baker Knoll, Albert Halprin and Janice Obuchowski, Bertha Soto Braddock, and others. NMWA gratefully acknowledges its partnerships with the Embassy of Italy and The Catholic University of America.
Picturing Mary will offer insight into the manner in which both female and male artists conceptualized their images of Mary. The exhibition features the work of four women artists: Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia and Elisabetta Sirani.
“Although women artists during the Renaissance and Baroque periods were expected to focus on still life or portraiture, Picturing Mary demonstrates the intriguing ways in which women artists engaged with the narratives and symbolism that developed around the subject of Mary,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “Both female and male artists contributed to the rich and varied visualization of Mary in these periods.”
In conjunction with the physical exhibition, NMWA is presenting an online exhibition, featuring global representations of Mary, including the Virgin of Guadalupe and Black Madonnas from Europe and the Caribbean. In addition, NMWA has partnered with MapHook, a location-based journal and social networking application, on an interactive program that will enable a global audience to trace the route of exhibition works arriving from major international museums and learn more about them.
A 160-page, full-color catalogue published by NMWA and Scala Arts Publishers will accompany the exhibition; it features four essays and one hundred color images. The essays, by Monsignor Verdon; Melissa R. Katz, Luther Gregg Sullivan Fellow in Art History, Wesleyan University; Amy G. Remensnyder, professor of history, Brown University; and Miri Rubin, professor of medieval and early modern history and head of the School of History at Queen Mary University of London, deepen the ecumenical approach of NMWA’s Picturing Mary project, offering an expansive view of historical Marian art. The central essay, by Monsignor Verdon, discusses works in the exhibition and provides an incisive view of Mary through both socio-historical and theological lenses. Essays by historians Amy G. Remensnyder and Miri Rubin situate Mary within the broader social context of European history. Remensnyder centers her discussion on the Virgin Mary as a key player in encounters between Christian and Muslim nations in the medieval and Renaissance eras. Rubin surveys Christian traditions of representing Mary (including those developed in monastic communities) and their influence on political and cultural realms. Including discussion of a sculpture type known as Vierge ouvrante, in which the Virgin’s body serves as a set of doors that open to reveal other motifs, art historian Melissa R. Katz considers the devotional function of Marian imagery and the remarkable fluidity of its meaning through time. The catalogue will retail for $45.
The exhibition Picturing Mary will be accompanied by diverse programing, including interactive gallery talks, lectures, workshops and musical performances. A schedule will be announced in fall 2014.