Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea

Exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts
December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015

This landmark exhibition explored images of Virgin Mary by renowned Renaissance and Baroque artists. Many works were 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, was 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 image4 of the Virgin Mary has influenced Western sensibility since the sixth century.

Picturing Mary examined 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 was one of many projects 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 presented exhibitions and programs about feminine identity and women’s broader contributions to culture. Picturing Mary extended, 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 was 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 was 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 sponsorship from Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Jacqueline Badger Mars, as well as Barbara and Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr., Rose and Paul Carter, and Alejandra and Enrique Segura. The museum is grateful for the generosity of Bertha Soto Braddock, Vincent C. Burke III, Marcia Myers Carlucci, Betty Boyd Dettre, Albert Halprin and Janice Obuchowski, Albert Baker Knoll, Marlene A. and Frederic V. Malek, and TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, and for substantial support from several anonymous donors. The exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. NMWA gratefully acknowledges its partnerships with The Catholic University of America and the Embassy of Italy (on the occasion of Italy’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union).

More about the Picturing Mary Exhibit >

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