In the Canticle of Mary, found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we read Mary’s prophetic words that “from this day forward, all generations will call me blessed.” A possible example of the fulfillment of this prophecy is currently found in a secular museum in the Nation’s Capital. From December 5, 2014-April 12, 2015, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is hosting a magnificent exhibit, “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea.”
The exhibit brings together a diverse collection of powerful and inspiring works of art depicting the Blessed Virgin from all over the world, including the Vatican Museum and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The NMWA has collected 60 of the most important pieces of Marian art in the world. Artists include well-known figures such as Fra Filippo Lippi, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, as well as women artists such as Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi; Orsola Maddalena Caccia, an Ursuline nun; and Elisabetta Sirani
The curators have added descriptions of these treasures that celebrate Mary’s importance to all mankind, not just to Catholics and other Christians. This sort of celebration from a secular institution is remarkable and should gain wide respect for the NMWA.
The descriptions of each painting contained genuine insight, so much so that you might have thought they were written by some sort of curator saint! But most stunning of all to me, were the words from Dante’s Paradiso that were boldly displayed, standing alone painted on a wall.
“O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son,
humble beyond all creatures and more exalted;
predestined turning point of God’s intention;
Thy merit so ennobled human nature that its divine Creator did not scorn to make Himself the creature of His creature.
The Love that was rekindled in Thy womb sends for the warmth of the eternal peace within whose ray this flower has come to bloom. ”
Dante, Paradiso, XXXIII
NMWA’s exhibition of marian masterworks is deeply respectful of the artistry, history, cultural and religious significance of the pieces on display. I was deeply touched by the reverence, awe, respect, and devotion expressed throughout the exhibit. There were no oblique apologies or tacit qualifications attached to the exhibit. Each depiction of the Blessed Virgin was allowed to speak for itself and nothing in the museum’s associated descriptions diminished their impact.
Each section, meditating on Mary as a Woman, a Mother, and an Ideal, captured far more than Mary’s cultural impact and importance on a modern world — it fulfilled Mary’s prophecy that all generations would call her blessed. And this exhibit does no less. Truly, She is blessed above all other women, and even a secular institution mired in feminist ideas can recognize the Queen of the Heavens for who and what She truly is.