The Catholic University of America

Dec. 4, 2014

Picturing Mary Exhibit Opens

  Monsignor Timothy Verdon leads members of the press on a tour of Picturing Mary.

At a preview for the media, National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) Director Susan Sterling Fisher acknowledged the contributions of The Catholic University of America and the Embassy of Italy to the landmark exhibition Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea.

“Their help and involvement were invaluable to the project,” said Fisher as she addressed reporters at the museum, where the exhibit opens Friday, Dec. 5.

Catholic University is providing program support as a partner to the Picturing Mary exhibit that draws on the scholarship of University faculty from several disciplines. Among CUA’s auxiliary programs are a lecture series, courses, performances, and a two-day graduate student conference.

These events and programs are detailed on the University’s new website Honoring Mary: Scholarship, Art, and Faith. The website also features images of CUA’s own collection of Marian artwork.

The exhibit features “Italian art from the 14th to 17th centuries, a period when images of Mary change from the reserved queenly figure that we see in the Middle Ages to a more emotive, relatable, and accessible woman,” explained NMWA’s chief curator Kathryn Wat at the preview. She noted the Virgin Mary is one of the most prevalent subjects in historic Western art.

Wat introduced Monsignor Timothy Verdon, the exhibition curator and world-renowned Marian scholar. He is the director of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy.

Monsignor Verdon said the collection of works was put together in a way “that will really speak to people, really allow the works to do what they were originally intended to do and that is to touch people’s hearts” both in a religious dimension and a human dimension.

He led a tour of the exhibit at the Dec. 3 preview noting the six different thematic sections: Madonna and Child, Woman and Mother, Mother of the Crucified, A Singular Life, Mary as Idea, and Mary in the Life of Believers.

“Imagine a woman at once young and uncertain. There are several scenes of the Annunciation. Mary clearly displays her disbelief and incapacity to understand what is being proposed to her. ‘How can this be? I know not man,’ she says to the angel, who tells her God wants her to be the mother of his son,” explained Monsignor Verdon as he began the tour.

More than 60 paintings, sculptures, and textiles by many of the best-known Renaissance and Baroque artists are part of the exhibit, which runs through April 12, 2015.

Landmark exhibit Picturing Mary opened at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Dec. 5.  

The exhibit features the work of four women artists: Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia, and Elisabetta Sirani. In addition, the exhibit features the work of well-known Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Botticelli, Dürer, Michelangelo, Titian, and Caravaggio.

Monsignor Verdon’s tour featured stops at Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child (1466-69), Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book (1480-81), and Elisabetta Sirani’s Virgin and Child (1663).

In the fourth section of the exhibit, A Singular Life, he stopped at Caravaggio’s massive Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1594-96). He drew attention to the dominant image of St. Joseph holding a sheet of music while an angel plays a violin.

Then viewing the masterpiece from left to right, he pointed out Mary and her baby slumbering after a long journey. The obvious love between mother and child he noted is one of the most beautiful and touching images of Mary and Jesus depicted in art.

Nora Heimann, chair of CUA’s Department of Art and associate professor of art history, says the Caravaggio painting is her favorite piece in the exhibit. “It is a stunning piece that grabs you by the throat and forces your attention. It draws you into a moment of astonishment and you can’t help but have a visceral reaction,” says Heimann.

“We can see in Mary so much humanity. She is sitting on the ground in an act of humility. She has no shoes, her head rests on her child, and her hand falls in fatigue. You become part of that sweet, unexpected moment.”

With the exhibit now open to museum goers, CUA is gearing up to launch its auxiliary programming in January at the start of the spring 2015 semester, starting with the first lecture in a series sponsored by the School of Theology and Religious Studies. On Jan. 16, Rev. Stefanos Alexopoulos, assistant professor of liturgical studies/sacramental theology, will present “Mary as Woman, Mother, and Idea in the Byzantine Tradition.”

On March 20 and 21, the University will co-host with NMWA a graduate student conference with sessions at the museum and on campus. The keynote speaker will be Miri Rubin, author of Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary, and professor of medieval and early modern history and head of the School of History, Queen Mary University of London. The opening day of the conference will be held at NMWA, and the second day will take place at CUA.

“It is tremendously exciting to have one of the world’s most prolific Marian scholars headlining the conference,” says Vanessa R. Corcoran, a teaching fellow and Ph.D. candidate in CUA’s Department of History, and the graduate coordinator for the University’s Honoring Mary project.

Corcoran’s dissertation topic titled The Voice of Mary: Late Medieval Representation of Marian Communication, is devoted to the Blessed Mother.

“Our complementary programming is designed to show people that we are never done learning about Mary. There are always new ways to understand her extensive presence both in history and in our own time,” says Corcoran.


The museum is located at 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Students, faculty, and staff are admitted free to the exhibit with a valid CUA ID. For more information on the exhibition, visit For more information on CUA’s programming, visit

MEDIA: For more information or to arrange for an interview, please contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy Hines at 202-319-5600 or




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