The Catholic University of America

Nov. 4, 2014

Picturing Mary: University Partners with Museum on Landmark Exhibit

  Lorenzo di Credi, The Annunciation and Three Stories from Genesis (Annunciazione e Tre Storie della Genesi), ca. 1480-85; Tempera on wood panel, 34 5/8 x 28 in.; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; inv. 1890 n. 1597

With program support from scholars at The Catholic University of America in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Washington, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) will host Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea — a landmark exhibit opening Dec. 5 that features more than 60 paintings, sculptures, and textiles by many of the best-known Renaissance and Baroque artists.

As part of this unique partnership, Catholic University is developing auxiliary programming for the exhibition that draws on the scholarship of University faculty from several disciplines.

“The University’s partnership is such a natural fit,” says Nora Heimann, chair of CUA’s Department of Art and associate professor of art history.

“Students and faculty from across our campus — theologians, art historians, actors and playwrights, musicologists, historians, and scholars of literature — are all excited to explore the enduring relevance of Mary’s inspiration, while at the same time seeking to enhance understanding of the historic works in this show. We are eager to approach this venerable subject, which spans two millennia, in a very new and fresh way,” she says.

NMWA has brought together masterworks from major museums, churches, and private collections in Europe and the United States, including the Vatican Museums, the Musée du Louvre, the Galleria degli Uffizi, and the Palazzo Pitti. Many are being exhibited for the first time in the United States.

Picturing Mary centers on the ways in which the Virgin Mary was depicted in Western Europe from the 14th through 17th centuries,” says NMWA’s chief curator, Kathryn Wat.

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Oil on canvas, 34 x 27 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  

“In terms of art, this truly was the age of Mary. Our exhibition concentrates on a particular time in art history, but CUA’s multi-disciplinary programming will offer visitors additional perspectives on how the Virgin’s image functioned in other times and contexts. Our partnership with CUA really helps us make the case for Mary’s profound cultural impact,” she says.

The University will co-host with NMWA a graduate student conference on March 20 and 21, 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.

 In addition:
• The School of Theology and Religious Studies will present a series of lectures in the spring 2015 semester exploring themes of the exhibit.

• The Department of Drama will adapt and present several short pieces about the Virgin Mary from the late-medieval Corpus Christi Plays, a Middle English cycle of 48 mystery pageants that cover sacred history from creation to the Day of Judgment. The production will be held in the spring semester.

• Art history juniors and seniors will be working together under the guidance of a professor and two curators of prints and drawings to co-curate an online exhibition combining Old Master and modern Marian works of art, including engravings by Albrecht Dürer, etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn, watercolors by William Blake, and woodcuts by Käthe Kollwitz.

• Students in the University Honors Program will conduct research projects on Mary under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of a new spring semester interdisciplinary course titled Mary as Woman, Mother, Idea. The course will be team taught by faculty in theology and religious studies, history, music, and English.

• Courses in the theology and religious studies school and the departments of art and drama will also feature classes devoted to the study of Mary in conjunction with the exhibit.

• Readings of Marian poems will be presented by faculty and students in the modern and medieval language of their origin during the spring semester.

• A roundtable discussion will take place on campus at the close of the exhibit on the enduring influence of Mary.

“The involvement of students through their coursework and through the graduate conference was important to us in planning the complementary programming,” said Claudia Bornholdt, acting dean of arts and sciences and associate professor of German. “This is an amazing opportunity for our students to blend academic content with world-class art.”

The exhibit is divided into six thematic sections: Daughter, cousin, and wife; mother of an infant; bereaved

Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), ca. 1466-69; Tempera on wood panel, 45 1/4 x 28 in.; Provincia di Firenze, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence  

parent; protagonist in a life story honored through the centuries; link between heaven and earth; and active participant in lives of those who revere her.

Offering insight into the manner in which both female and male artists conceptualized their images of Mary, 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.

“I love the idea that people attending CUA’s programs can come to the museum and see firsthand how Mary’s powerful presence in liturgy, literature, music, and theater is echoed in the visual arts. The drama of a Corpus Christi play featuring Mary and the beauty of an image of the Virgin painted with lapis lazuli and gold both speak to her inspirational power,” said Wat.

Picturing Mary will be on view at NMWA from Dec. 5, 2014, to April 12, 2015. 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, 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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