The National Museum of Women in the Arts Exhibit


Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea

The National Museum of Women in the Arts exhibit, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, is an extraordinary opportunity to view the woman most frequently depicted in Western Art until the 18th century. It offers patrons the chance to experience the Virgin Mary as she was envisioned by prominent artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo, Tiepolo, Gentileschi, Pontormo and Sirani. Many of the pieces are on view for the very first time in the United States.

Featured artists, male and female, provoke stunning images of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ. Their works depict Mary as a passionate and devoted woman with notes of strength and tenderness. Spiritual models are also represented in many of the pieces through reflections of theological ideals in the portrayal of Mary. The exhibit gathered these masterworks from the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery and other museums, churches and private collections in both Europe and the United States. The exhibit is divided into six thematic sections: Images of Mary as a daughter, cousin, wife and faithful servant to God; a protagonist in her own rich life story; the mother of an infant; a bereaved older parent; a link between Earth and heaven; and an active participant in the lives of those who turn to her. Mary is represented through paintings, textiles, sculptures and decorative objects from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The concept of womanhood varies tremendously through the exhibit, with conceptualization of Mary striking a balance between the simplicities and complexities of her role as a sacred mother. The exhibit rooms meld together a strong sense of cohesiveness despite the differences in the interpretations.

There are intimate moments in Picturing Mary, such as Elizabeth Sirani’s “Virgin and Child,” in which Mary is shown as a peasant woman caring for her young child. In Artemisisia Gentileschi’s “Madonna and Child,” Mary is portrayed as the earthly bond between mother and offspring. Meticulous details appear throughout works in the exhibit, like delicate roses referencing the Virgin, an ox representing Jesus’ death and a lectern with open pages of the Gospel, which appear in Orsola Maddalena Caccia’s painting, “St. Luke the Vanagelist in the Studio.” Symbols are intertwined in each painting, both subtle and grand, which represent not only Mary’s humility but also her essence of majesty.

The more than 60 different depictions of Mary and accompanying interpretations is artistry at its best. Each piece contains its own informative narrative with extensive historical descriptions outlining the perception of Mary during the time of its rendering.

Picturing Mary is an exhibit for everyone, regardless of faith. Individuals who seek to marvel at the creative talents of the Renaissance and Baroque artists will find it especially thrilling. The Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea exhibit is currently running at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, through April 12, 2015. Gallery Talks take place on select Wednesdays at noon and Scholar Talks occur on select Fridays at noon.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, is the only museum in the United States solely dedicated to celebrating the diverse artistic achievements of women. It opened in 1987 and is housed in a former Masonic Temple. The museum honors women artists of the past, promotes women artists of the present, and will undoubtedly embrace women artists of the future.

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