PICTURING MARY

Our train from Washington D.C. to Boston was scheduled to leave at 10. At night. We had to be out of the hotel room by 11. In the morning. Basically, we had an entire day to wander around. We had a list of record shops to visit; but that would take only a few hours. What to do with the rest of the time?

We had another list of monuments and museums. All the important ones (Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery, Arlington) had already been visited. Of the ones that were left, there were a handful that I wanted to go to – but not enough time for all. How do we choose which museum to visit?

One wasn’t open on Mondays. So that’s off the list. Another one turned out to be temporarily closed. Ka-pow.

We were on Google. We had a million tabs open. We had to choose.

And then I saw her.

Mary.

A Botticelli Mary.

Sandro BotticelliSandro Botticelli

Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino),

also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro)
1480–81
Tempera on Panel
58 x 39.6 cm

On special loan from Milan, for a limited time only as the centerpiece of the Picturing Mary exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which is open on Mondays.

Picturing Mary is a beautifully curated exhibit; with a small interactive portion that explained the aspects of Mary that was focused on: Woman, Mother, Idea. Some of the symbolism overarching all the traditional portraits was discussed: donkeys, dogs, grapes, pomegranates, roses. The ways in which she is depicted: Heavenly and Human, a Flesh-and-Blood Woman and an Unattainable Goal. How artists interact with her, how she becomes a personal muse. How she is just a woman, just like me, gently taking on Motherhood with grace, knowing that her baby is destined for greatness, but also for incredible suffering.

I looked at these images. I reflect back on them now. The baby gestating within the vastness of my cramped uterus is nudging my ribs out of place. I don’t know his destiny. I can only dream. I can only hope to be a graceful and loving mother. I am shit scared about the journey ahead of me, and excited, and I wish he could stay inside me forever, and I wish he could be born now so I can meet him.

Mary is the Ideal Mother. But she was also just a woman. She is an archetype, one that I can embody.

I look at the sorrow, the gentleness, the ease with which she holds her baby. I feel soothed by these images. Mary is an archetype I can access. I can do this Motherhood thing.

Fra Filippo LippiFra Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino)

ca. 1466–69

71 x 155″