WASH DC – DAY 2: Tickle the Lord Edition

I am at the National Gallery for Women in the Arts for an exhibit of images of Mary.

UPDATE: I read that on 2 March the group Anonymous 4 is to give a concert at the NGWA.  Wow!

I must admit that my initial reaction to the name of the place made brought to my minds eye all manner of horrors. But the gallery seems fairly tame and reasonable. It is a fine building.

The exhibit is splendid. If you are near DC or can plan a trip before it closes, you don’t want to miss it.

I couldn’t take photos but some images are online.

You all know Caravaggio’s lush Rest on the Flight into Egypt so I won’t bother you with that.

Among my favorites were a wonderful marble by Tino da Camaino (+1337). Madonna and Child. The little Lord seems to be attempting an escape but his hand is raised in blessing. I suspect there may have been other figures.


And there is a wonderful Andrea Pisano marble in which Mary is ticking her Son.


And there is Tiepolo and the Madonna of the Goldfinch. You know what kind of Goldfinch, don’t you!


There are quite a few paintings by women of whom I was entirely ignorant, though Artemesia is well known.

I’m having a bite at the mezzanine cafe and the off to the big Gallery for some El Greco before I meet friends for supper at the Army Navy Club.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    I liked the exhibit as well. I know one of the major sponsors and she is a devout Catholic.

  2. NBW says:

    Beautiful paintings! Thanks for sharing Father!

  3. Dialogos says:

    Wish I could see it. I am almost positive the Wall Street Journal reviewed this exhibit in the recent past.

  4. MrsMacD says:

    That relief of Mother Mary tickling baby Jesus is wonderful. It makes me giggle.

  5. yatzer says:

    How come baby Jesus is so often shown completely unclothed? I would do a web search, but am afraid of what might turn up. I thing there must be a symbolic reason, sort of like the goldfinch.

  6. NickD says:

    yazter, it may be similar to picturing him holding a cross or nails. That is, it may be a foreshadowing pointing to his complete stripping on the Holy Cross

  7. The Cobbler says:

    Once a kid is too wiggly for swaddling clothes… to be honest, it’s hard to keep them even in modern form-fitting clothing.

    I once read a discussion of medieval art depicting Mary breastfeeding Jesus and St. Francis de Sales (I think it was him anyway) talking about the beatific vision… but I can’t seem to find it again.

  8. marthawrites says:

    Yes, Dialogos, the WSJ had a lovely review on January 8; I clipped it for my bulletin board. The color photograph is of Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book, a painting the reviewer said is worth the trip to D.C. to view. The exhibit closes April 12, so that gives us travelers time for the snows to melt and the trees to bud.

  9. gramma10 says:

    Plan to go to exhibit as the weather warms up! Loved Mother Mary tickling her baby Jesus. Thank you for sharing.
    This brings Mary into human light. Most paintings show her in Heaven with angels and a halo. I can’t wait to go see it.

  10. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    With the encouragement of the WSJ review and Fr. Z, I will head downtown next weekend. I have not gone to the NMWA, being put off by its name and some of the nonsense in earlier exhibits of “women’s art,” but it seems it will be worthwhile. Anyway, the building used to be a Masonic Temple, so it will be good to see something reclaimed from those guys.

  11. RAve says:

    Those going to the “Picturing Mary” art exhibit: the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist created a simple web site with 10 reflections to accompany 10 of the exhibit’s paintings, written by their Sister John Paul, OP. http://www.picturingmary.com/

  12. The Drifter says:

    A pity that the Filippo Lippi is not free-standing, thus conceiling the drawing on the back of the panel. Otherwise, it isan impressive exibition, my absolute favourite Mantegna’s “Vergin of he stone-cutters”.

  13. Clinton R. says:

    “That relief of Mother Mary tickling baby Jesus is wonderful. It makes me giggle.”

    Yes, it is reflective of Our Lady’s unique role as the Mother of God. How she held in her arms her God and her Divine Son. And Jesus’ human nature is evident in his giggling. Very beautiful image.

  14. jflare says:

    Regretfully, I’m nowhere near the area, so I’ll be required to enjoy Fr Z’s presentations instead. I have a sudden thought that there’s an art museum here in town that I’ve visited once; I even had the opportunity to walk through the Louvre years ago. It’d be interesting to pay a visit to both sooner or later again. I don’t recall anything precisely religiously inspired in either place, but since I wasn’t precisely looking for Catholic works, you never know.

    By the way, does anyone know if Catholic colleges teach any of this sort of material to their undergrads? I recall taking Art History those many years ago, but a secular school likely wouldn’t worry much about Catholic symbology in particular.

  15. nzcatholic says:

    I can’t see it, a massive ocean and continent between us. But I pray that after my life my eyes will see the Blessed Virgin in Heaven!

  16. RAve says:

    Nzcath: go to the link and make a virtual trip!

  17. frjim4321 says:

    “How come baby Jesus is so often shown completely unclothed?” – Yatzer

    Body shame is a relatively new phenomenon. [A thoroughly inadequate and misleading answer. In art the Child is often portrayed in that way to emphasize His true humanity, not rarely in conjunction with some attribute such as a book. He is Word made flesh among us.]

  18. frjim4321 says:

    Yes, that too.

  19. Mike says:

    Body shame: Genesis 3:7.

    Nothing new here, move on.

  20. Bender says:

    Thanks for the note about the Anonymous 4 performance. Just got tickets.
    I went to see the exhibit back on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I concur with the high praise. At least in this exhibit. Some of the other works on the next level up are what you would expect from modern “art.”

    As for clothing, there were quite a few scandalized by Michelangelo’s nudes in the Sistine Chapel, so they painted britches on many of the figures.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Showing Baby Jesus naked emphasizes His humanity and masculinity, without making it a purity issue for the viewer. You can even get into things like the “man child” (masculus) references in Scripture.

    There’s a similar point made when Jesus is drawn not as a normal baby/toddler, but as a “little man” who is shaped to look thinner and older than his age. This emphasizes His divinity, and the way He already knew what would happen to Him.

  22. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you’re looking for books, this stuff is called “iconography.” Make sure you specify “Christian” or “Catholic,” or it will all be advertising art. :)

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