Urgent Museum Notice

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea

A young, light-skinned, brunette woman gazes down lovingly at the plump baby she holds on her lap. She wears a loose, tan turban, vivid blue cloak, and red dress with white sleeves. The light-skinned child returns her gaze, leaning back to crown the woman with a circlet of roses.
Dec 05, 2014, to Apr 12, 2015

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea explores the concept of womanhood represented by the Virgin Mary as well as the social and sacred functions her image has served through time. This landmark exhibition organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts brings together more than 60 Renaissance- and Baroque-era masterworks from the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery, and other museums, churches, and private collections in Europe and the United States.

Divided into six thematic sections, the exhibition presents images of Mary as a daughter, cousin, and wife; the mother of an infant; a bereaved parent; the protagonist in a rich life story developed through the centuries; a link between heaven and earth; and an active participant in the lives of those who revere her.

The exhibition features works made by both female and male artists. Paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia (an Ursuline nun who ran a bustling painting studio in her convent in northern Italy), and Elisabetta Sirani highlight the varied ways in which women artists conceptualized the subject of Mary. These artists’ works are featured alongside treasured Marian paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and others.

Picturing Mary is part of NMWA’s ongoing program of major historical loan exhibitions that examine humanist themes related to womankind.


Delicate portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in early Renaissance style. The image shows a light-skinned woman with flowing blonde hair, her face surrounded by gossamer veils and an elaborate golden halo, gazing downward.

Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81; Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 × 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443

Exhibition Sponsors

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., with the support of MondoMostre, Rome.

The exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of an anonymous donor, Jacqueline Badger Mars, and Alejandra and Enrique Segura, with additional funding provided by Barbara and Thomas Hale* Boggs, Jr., Vincent C. Burke  III, Rose and Paul Carter, Friends of Picturing Mary, The Honorable Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, and TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.

The museum is grateful for the generosity of Bertha Soto Braddock, Marcia Myers Carlucci, Betty Boyd Dettre, the Friends of Picturing Mary, Albert Halprin and Janice Obuchowski, Sue J. Henry and Carter G. Phillips, the Kappaz Family, Albert Baker Knoll, Marlene A. and Frederic V. Malek, the Mississippi State Committee of NMWA, Monica Moreno and Erwin Flores, Marjorie and Philip Odeen, John D. Reilly*,  J. Christopher and Anne N. Reyes Foundation, Shirley and Patrick Ryan, Mr. and Mrs. B. Francis Saul II, K. Alex Stewart, and the Texas State Committee of NMWA, in addition to substantial support from several anonymous donors.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. NMWA gratefully acknowledges its partnerships with the Embassy of Italy and The Catholic University of America. Special thanks to His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl and the Archdiocese of Washington.

    Related Media

    Online Exhibition

    Explore NMWA’s exclusive online exhibition which delves into the global impact of Mary. A complement to the exhibition on view in the museum’s galleries, this exhibition looks at works of Mary from around the world through detailed images and short videos.


    Watch a compiled playlist of related videos about Mary from Smarthistory, Art History at Khan Academy.