Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Art Show for Your Wish List

For press release 2Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea
National Museum of Women in the Arts
December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015

Landmark exhibition explores images of Virgin Mary
by renowned 
Renaissance and Baroque artists
Many works on view for the first time in the United States

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Appearing throughout the entire world, her image is immediately recognizable. In the history of Western art, she was one of the most popular subjects for centuries. On view Dec. 5, 2014–April 12, 2015, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, is a landmark exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C., bringing together masterworks from major museums, churches and private collections in Europe and the United States. Iconic and devotional, but also laden with social and political meaning, the image of the Virgin Mary has influenced Western sensibility since the sixth century.

Picturing Mary examines how the image of Mary was portrayed by well-known Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Botticelli, Dürer, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Gentileschi and Sirani. More than 60 paintings, sculptures and textiles are on loan from the Vatican Museums, Musée du Louvre, Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and other public and private collections—many exhibited for the first time in the United States.

Botticelli-Sandro_Madonna-of-the-Book_Poldi-Pezzoli 2“Among the most important subjects in Western art for more than a millennium was a young woman: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her name was given to cathedrals, her face imagined by painters and her feelings explored by poets,” said exhibition curator and Marian scholar Monsignor Timothy Verdon, director, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy. “This exhibition will explore the concept of womanhood as represented by the Virgin Mary, and the power her image has exerted through time, serving both sacred and social functions during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.”

 Picturing Mary presents images of Mary as a daughter, cousin and wife; the mother of an infant; a bereaved parent; and the protagonist in a rich life story developed through the centuries. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue reflect the project’s ecumenical approach, offering new views of Mary through a range of contemporary art-historical perspectives.

Picturing Mary is the newest project in an ongoing program of major historical loan exhibitions organized by NMWA, including An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum (2003) and Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and other French National Collections (2012). In addition to illustrating the work of women artists, NMWA also presents exhibitions and programs about feminine identity and women’s broader contributions to culture. Picturing Mary extends, in particular, the humanist focus of Divine and Human: Women in Ancient Mexico and Peru, a large-scale exhibition organized by NMWA in 2006.
Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts with the support of MondoMostre, Rome. The exhibition is made possible with multiple sponsorships including an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Exhibition Highlights
Picturing Mary will offer insight into the manner in which both female and male artists conceptualized their images of Mary. The exhibition features the work of four women artists: Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia and Elisabetta Sirani.

“Although women artists during the Renaissance and Baroque periods were expected to focus on still life or portraiture, Picturing Mary demonstrates the intriguing ways in which women artists engaged with the narratives and symbolism that developed around the subject of Mary,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “Both female and male artists contributed to the rich and varied visualization of Mary in these periods.”

In one of the earliest works in the exhibition, Puccio Capanna, a student of Giotto, depicted an enthroned Mary as Queen of Virgins. She is surrounded by female saints, a grouping that alludes to Mary’s position as a model of virtue and faith for all women. Early regal depictions of Mary prevailed until the concept of Mary as an approachable, empathetic persona began to take hold in medieval monastic communities.

Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child (1466–69) was made for the influential Medici family, patrons of the arts who helped foster the Italian Renaissance. The artist’s image of Mary reveals wealthy Florentines’ desire for a Madonna who reflected their own lives: the Virgin is dressed in a rich brocade gown and a head scarf trimmed with gold and pearls. The mother and child’s touching cheek-to-cheek pose first appeared in Florentine sculptures of the same period.

Picturing Mary offers the first opportunity to see two mid-15th-century works by northern Italian artist Cosmè Tura side by side. A painting of the Madonna and Child on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and a related terracotta relief attributed to Tura from the Grimaldi Fava Collection in Italy both depict the Virgin with elongated fingers and a wide forehand. These deliberate distortions were meant to signify Mary’s spiritual intensity.

Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna and Child (1480–81) depicts Mary and Jesus in a domestic setting as Mary reads from a book of prayers. Her melancholy expression and the darkening sky beyond the window suggest Mary’s premonition of Christ’s death. Botticelli was favored by the leading aristocratic families of Florence and enjoyed the patronage of Pope Sixtus IV.

Considered the most important woman artist before the modern period, Gentileschi was the first woman to run a large studio with many assistants and was also the first woman follower of Caravaggio. Her life story has inspired a number of contemporary novels and films. Gentileschi’s Madonna and Child (1609–10) depicts Mary as a nurturing peasant woman. With Jesus wrapped in a plain cloth and a barefooted Mary wearing simple, everyday clothes, Gentileschi presents a markedly humble conception of the Virgin.

Sirani’s Virgin and Child (1663), part of NMWA’s collection, portrays Mary not as a remote queen of heaven, but rather as a very real young Italian mother. She wears a turban favored by Bolognese peasant women and gazes adoringly at her plump baby. When Sirani died at 27, she had already produced two hundred paintings, drawings and etchings. She became famous for her ability to paint beautifully finished canvases so quickly that art lovers flocked to her studio to watch her work. Her portraits and mythological subjects, especially her images of the Holy Family and of the Virgin and Child, gained her international fame.

Online Exhibition
In conjunction with the physical exhibition, NMWA is presenting an online exhibition, featuring global representations of Mary, including the Virgin of Guadalupe and Black Madonnas from Europe and the Caribbean. In addition, NMWA has partnered with MapHook, a location-based journal and social networking application, on an interactive program that will enable a global audience to trace the route of exhibition works arriving from major international museums and learn more about them.

A 160-page, full-color catalogue published by NMWA and Scala Arts Publishers will accompany the exhibition; it features four essays and one hundred color images. The essays, by Monsignor Verdon; Melissa R. Katz, Luther Gregg Sullivan Fellow in Art History, Wesleyan University; Amy G. Remensnyder, professor of history, Brown University; and Miri Rubin, professor of medieval and early modern history and head of the School of History at Queen Mary University of London, deepen the ecumenical approach of NMWA’s Picturing Maryproject, offering an expansive view of historical Marian art. The central essay, by Monsignor Verdon, discusses works in the exhibition and provides an incisive view of Mary through both socio-historical and theological lenses. Essays by historians Amy G. Remensnyder and Miri Rubin situate Mary within the broader social context of European history. Remensnyder centers her discussion on the Virgin Mary as a key player in encounters between Christian and Muslim nations in the medieval and Renaissance eras. Rubin surveys Christian traditions of representing Mary (including those developed in monastic communities) and their influence on political and cultural realms. Including discussion of a sculpture type known as Vierge ouvrante, in which the Virgin’s body serves as a set of doors that open to reveal other motifs, art historian Melissa R. Katz considers the devotional function of Marian imagery and the remarkable fluidity of its meaning through time. The catalogue will retail for $45.

National Museum of Women in the Arts 
Founded in 1981 and opened in 1987, NMWA is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 4,500 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker and Nan Goldin, along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware and botanical prints.

NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days take place on the first Sunday of each month. For more information about NMWA, visit nmwa.orgBroad Strokes BlogFacebook or Twitter.

Image Credit Lines
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

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Oil on canvas, 34 × 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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In the Footsteps of St. Paul with David Suchet

David Suchet, a British TV actor best known for his role as Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot, received a 1991 British Academy Television Award (BAFTA) nomination.
            As an actor he travels a lot, and one day he picked up a Bible in a hotel-room drawer. He read the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, and in the interview below he talks about that experience, which led to a life-long interest in and respect for the apostle:

One result of reading Romans is that Suchet set out on a personal journey around the Mediterranean to uncover the story of the man he has longed to play since that experience. David Suchet: In theFootsteps of St. Paul is the documentary he created in association with the BBC. The two-part series ran last Christmas and may run again at Easter. But it's also now available on video. Suchet and the BBC are now in production for a similar journey with St. Peter.
In this 90-minute work, Suchet takes viewers along as he visits ancient and modern locations; interviews Jewish, Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Orthodox experts; and deciphers evidence from the latest archaeological research. The film contains beautiful scenery on the way to and in places relevant to Paul such as Tarsus, Antioch, Jerusalem, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessaloniki, Caesarea, and Philippi.  
Mostly I loved this film. Really loved it. Suchet's enthusiasm for his subject made the content come alive. And his use of Paul's own words at appropriate times in the contexts of where they would have been heard added clarity to their meanings. Additionally, the scenery in the places where Paul walked, sailed, and lived is beautiful throughout, making this a visual feast. That feast can help readers of the New Testament easily envision the world Paul inhabited. 
But while I heartily recommend this work, I must give some qualifications. Being an actor, at times Suchet imagines what drove Paul's actions. His conversion, for example, is treated as a result of inner turmoil and an identity crisis rather than the biblical text's depiction of it as a supernatural encounter with the living God that made him do a 180.
 Sometimes Suchet refers to finding out what really happened, leaving the viewer wondering if the text's explanation is untrue. And the result is that in his passion to reach the Gentiles, Paul comes off as a bit of a maverick driven by a newfangled religious idea rather than being motivated by the love of Christ. I understand that sometimes we have to fill in the blanks when we have incomplete information about people we're profiling, but Paul gave us insight into his own motivations when he wrote "the love of Christ constrains me" (2 Cor. 5:14).
In one scene, Suchet stands on the steps of the Ephesus library, which was completed in AD 135. The expert with him says they know a synagogue existed in Ephesus in Paul's day because a menorah appears on the stone steps to this library. But Paul was in Ephesus long before the middle of the second century, when those steps were hewn. Perhaps a synagogue did exist there in Paul's day, but those steps aren't the evidence. Suchet also refers to the Ephesian Artemis as a fertility goddess, and anyone familiar with my dissertation knows that a conflation of Artemis with the local Ephesians' goddess might have meant she was associated with fertility in earlier centuries, but not by the time Paul was there.
Suchet concludes that Paul saw life in black and white. Yet Paul became "all things to all people" rather than being rigid. John the Baptist saw things in black and white. But Paul ate meat sacrificed to idols, insisting that in the gray areas, believers should "let each person be convinced in his own mind."
Those studying the role of women in NT times will be interested in knowing that the experts Suchet asks about Paul's take see the apostle as pro-women and somewhat of a radical in his times on that topic. Suchet himself says this is a real shift in perspective for him. 
The film ends with a look at how tradition says Paul died (beheading, the merciful option, because he was a Roman citizen) and where he is believed to have been buried. Following an intriguing look at the evidence about Paul's last days, Suchet shifts from guide to actor. He closes with a dramatic reading of some of Paul's words about the resurrection. In the context of having just walked with Paul for some of the ten thousand miles he traversed in the ancient world, the words of Scripture in closing come off as quite moving.
I recommend viewing/purchasing this video and reading Walter Wangerin's novel, Paul, as a companion guide. The DVD comes with a small helpful booklet, but strangely it calls into question the Pauline authorship of the Book of Ephesians while not raising such a question with the pastoral epistles, which for many is more hotly debated. A bio of the actor is included as an "extra" in the video. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bible Transmission Not Like "Telephone"

“It's time to fly home for dinner!” we read in the new children’s book, Telephone. In this witty tale from award-winning, bestselling author Mac Barnett, a mama on a wire passes a message for her son, Peter, to the next bird down. But as the message travels to Peter, each subsequent bird hears Mama's message according to its own hobbies. For example, the baseball-loving bird thinks Peter is supposed to hit a fly ball. Hilarious stuff.
Did you ever play the game of telephone as a kid? I know when my friends and I played it, we would purposely distort the message to make the outcome funnier.
Sometimes people think that’s how the Bible’s oral history happened. Bill Nye the Science Guy made this exact analogy, in fact. Such folks argue that nobody has a clue what the original message was because it got so distorted in transmission.
But that analogy is flawed. Deeply. It shows an ignorance about oral culture. When you have no paper or iPhones, you remember stuff better as part of everyday life. Because you depend on memory. And you're trying to remember precisely.

Consider just one of the ethnology texts from Genesis. (An ethnology is like a genealogy except that it sometimes leaves out generations in which pretty much nothing happened). Imagine passing this down the telephone line:  

Cain knew his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch…To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael. Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. Lamech took two wives for himself; the name of the first was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the first of those who live in tents and keep livestock. The name of his brother was Jubal; he was the first of all who play the harp and the flute. Now Zillah also gave birth to Tubal-Cain, who heated metal and shaped all kinds of tools made of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah (Genesis 4:17–22).

People learning such oral histories memorized them, repeating them back till they got every detail right before passing down the information to the next generation. And they had a motivation to get it all perfect: it was their own family's story. They themselves did not want to be forgotten, so they required exact precision from those to whom they passed the histories. Unlike my friends and me, they had a strong motivated to get it right.

The movie, The Chosen, demonstrates what such a transmission was like. In one scene, Hassidic young men memorize together ethnologies in Scripture. The elders would sometimes change one word or name to catch the young men in imprecise transmission. That's because everyone understood that oral history had to be passed down with word-perfect precision.

Today’s translators go all the way back to the oldest transmissions rather than using the message from the closest person on the wire. In the bird-on-the-wire analogy, they skip the last 20 birds and get as close to “Mama’s message” as possible.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NAE Finds President's Executive Order Lacking

Press release:

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) regrets President Obama’s decision, announced today, to omit an exemption for religious organizations in his executive order requiring federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in their employment policies.

“The President missed an opportunity to lead the nation toward greater tolerance and social harmony by respecting diverse viewpoints on divisive issues,” NAE President Leith Anderson said. “Religious groups that have longstanding and principled positions should be allowed to compete for federal contracts on an equal basis.”

As federal contractors, religious organizations provide overseas relief and development services in partnership with USAID, services on contract with the Bureau of Prisons, and research, technical assistance and other services for other federal departments and agencies. These organizations are often the best-qualified applicants for federal contracts or subcontracts. It is counterproductive to bar them from offering their services due to their religious convictions.

Last month President Obama announced his intentions to issue an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring decisions. The NAE met with White House officials to provide input, and leaders from a long list of organizations and denominations signed a letter to the president asking for robust religious freedom protections in any executive order. Another letter asked for similar protections. However, the president failed to include either group’s recommendations in the order issued today.

“Our entire society suffers when our government discriminates against religious groups and loses access to their services. Instead of bringing us together, the president’s actions today sow the seeds for continued polarization,” Anderson said.

The NAE calls on Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to issue regulations that fully protect religious contractors.

For the Beauty of the Earth

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I sometimes get beauty-withdrawal in Texas. The state has some fantastic beauty, but not the kind that makes me feel I'm "home." I got a lot of that in Italy, and I'm still so grateful. That time provided deep soul-rest, and part of that rest came from the beauty that surrounded me day and night.

Here's the song I've been singing in gratitude. Savor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Art + Bible = Salome

Stained glass windows. Flannelgraphs. Fill-in-the-blank studies with small groups. What's your favorite way to learn Bible stories? And have you given opera a shot? This fall you will get your chance.

"Salome"—it's a set-in-Judea, biblical tale of lust and betrayal in King Herod's court, and it reveals humanity at its most depraved. As you may recall, Salome's dancing led to the beheading of the one whom Jesus described as the most righteous man ever. Oscar Wilde wrote the rendition, and The Dallas Opera will tell it in song.

Tickets are on sale now for performances between October 30 and November 8.
John the Baptist was imprisoned in the bowels of this mountain before Salome
asked Herod for the prophet's head. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Three Documentary Recommendations

I spent a lot of time in the air over oceans recently, which means I had time to catch up on movie watching. "Monuments Men" is definitely worth seeing. But here are three documentaries you might not have heard about that you should also consider:  

Tim's Vermeer
Tim Jenison, an inventor, attempts to solve one of the greatest mysteries in all art: How did seventeenth-century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") paint so photo-realistically—150 years before the invention of photography? He embarks on a research project in total-tech-geek fashion to test his theory, and he makes an extraordinary discovery. Spanning eight years, Jenison's adventure takes him to Delft, Holland, where Vermeer painted his masterpieces, on a pilgrimage to the North coast of Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney, and even to Buckingham Palace to see a Vermeer masterpiece in the collection of the Queen. While he seems to have missed the whole point about art and beauty, he does have a fascinating theory. I'm a believer. 

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

In this 2014 HBO documentary, Goldberg takes a look at the work and influence of the comedy pioneer with the floppy hat and toothless grin who tells it like it is. Moms Mabley rose to fame in the early decades of the 20th century on the chitlins circuit—comprised of stages that employed black entertainers during segregation. Her career went on to span five decades, during which time she pushed back against racial and gender barriers. Goldberg traces the comic’s life and features or talks with performers who were influenced by Mabley, including Sammy Davis Jr, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Sidney Poitier, and Harry Belafonte.

Six by Sondheim
NBR gave high marks to “Six by Sondheim,” an HBO documentary that pays tribute to the Broadway composer and lyricist. The film includes performances of six of Sondheim's signature songs:

"Something's Coming" (West Side Story)
"Opening Doors" (Merrily We Roll Along)
"Send in the Clowns" (A Little Night Music)
"I'm Still Here" (Follies)
"Being Alive" (Company) 
"Sunday" (Sunday in the Park With George)

This film pays attention to “craft” in a rewarding way—especially satisfying for creative types.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Act Like Men: What Does Paul Mean?

This week's Tapestry post: 
A few weeks ago I received an announcement that an organization committed to teaching what the Bible says about being masculine and feminine had published an updated guide available for free.
Because the history of ideas about gender, especially within Christendom, is one of my fields of academic study, I eagerly downloaded and began reading. But only a few pages into chapter one, “Being a Man and Acting Like It,” an alarm went off. Here’s what I read:
“Paul writes to the leaders in the church at Corinth, ‘Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).” His was using the ESV.
But the addressees in the apostle’s letter were not the leaders of the church. Paul addressed the entire congregation, establishing this in chapter 1, verse 2: “To the church of God that is in Corinth to those who are sanctified in Christ who are called to be saints.”
In the context of the actual verse quoted, which falls in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul has just finished his wonderful description of the hope for us all in the resurrection. And he is still speaking to the entire church, not a sub-group among them. Never does he narrow his audience.  
So what does he mean when he writes to everyone, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (emphasis mine)? It is worth noting that the NIV renders the phrase I italicized as “be courageous”; the NET goes with “show courage.” And indeed the emphasis is not about gender, but maturity—about being a grown-up. Paul made a similar contrast between “adult man” and “child” when he wrote three chapters earlier, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (13:11). So in summary, he contrasts being a man with being a child, not with being a woman. And he is not criticizing children. Children act like children! But adults are not supposed to do so.
Paul is consistent in his concern for maturity, not in pursing masculinity and femininity. In his letter to the Ephesians, he describes the ultimate end of discipleship: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, KJV). Again, later translators have clarified that Paul is not suggesting some sort of transgender goal for women—that all women become perfect men. Rather, he has in mind full human maturity. Paul uses the idea of “man” to be fully mature, as opposed to being immature. He is not insulting women. Nor is he insulting children, whom we expect to act like children.
The writer in question, in explaining “act like men” (16:13), concedes that Paul includes a contrast with being children, but he goes on to say, “When Paul says to ‘act like men,’ he means something different from ‘act like women.’” The author says, “To ‘act like men’—or ‘be courageous,’ as the NIV puts it—is to act in a way that is somehow different from a boy, in terms of maturity, and is somehow different from a woman, in terms of gender.” Do you see the insult in this interpretation? It reminds me of how we disparage girls and boys when we say, “You run like a girl” or “You throw like a girl.” Have you seen this video? 
What, then, does Paul mean? The Greek word translated “act like men” or “be courageous”—andrizomai—occurs only once in the New Testament. But other uses of it outside of the Bible suggest it has to do with bravery and courage, which explains why the NIV and NET rendered the word the way they did.
This is how many church fathers have understood it. Consider this from Didymus the Blind, writing in the fourth century: Paul tells them to be courageous and strong, like an athlete or soldier of Christ, doing everything with love toward God and each other “ (Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church).
Writing in that same century, Ambrosiaster said of this verse, “They were to stand firm, being bold in confessing what they had been taught. They were to be strong in both word and deed, because it is the right combination of these which enables people to mature” (Commentary on Paul’s Epistles).
Paul’s point in the exhortation: Men and women alike are to be mature and courageous. He is not telling the women to act masculine, nor is he telling the men to avoid acting feminine. He exhorts both men and women to have courage. (As I have written elsewhere, courage is for women, too. Think of Esther, or of Peter’s exhortation to wives that they not be “frightened by any fear” [see 1 Peter 3].)
So through the apostle Paul in his word to the entire church at Corinth, God is not calling his people to act according to social norms of what is “masculine.” Rather, he wants all of his children to demonstrate the bravery and courage lacking in the immature in the faith.
Indeed, Paul’s vision was not for women to find some cultural ideal that is womanly. Nor did he envision men making as their goal ultimate masculinity, whatever that is. His vision was for all of us, male and female, to become mature adults in Christ. Our task, then, is not to pursue some nebulous change-with-the-times, stereotypical gender norms. Rather, our goal is to follow hard after him, to grow in maturity, and thus to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit—whether we are embodied as males or as females.