A new art exhibit in Washington, D.C., hopes to revive a sense of womanhood exemplified in the Virgin Mary, as depicted by Renaissance and Baroque artists.   “I think one of the messages that the exhibit communicates to all viewers — irrespective of religion or lack of religious interest and commitment,” explained exhibit curator, Monsignor Timothy Verdon, is “the fascination that this woman has exerted across the centuries.” The exhibit “Picturing Mary” is on display at Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts from Dec. 5 through April 12 — “between Christmas and Easter” as Msgr. Verdon explained. It features over 60 Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculptures, and textiles, some of which are on display in the U.S. for the first time. The collection was gathered from world-famous museums like the Louvre, the Uffizi, and the Vatican Museums, as well as other churches and collections in Europe and the United States. Works of esteemed artists such as Caravaggio, Botticelli, and Michaelangelo are featured. Ultimately, the purpose of the exhibit is to show how Mary was depicted as “woman,” “mother,” and “idea” during a time period “a bit after St. Francis of Assisi up to the Counter-Reformation,” the monsignor explained. A world-renowned art historian, Msgr. Verdon noted that after the feminist revolution of the prior decades, there are now some who are looking to recover a lost sense of womanhood, which shines through in the exhibit. “I think the hasty and perhaps even culturally-unprepared visitor grasps easily enough that in this one woman, people were talking about their perception of womanhood, of motherhood, of emotion,” he explained. In the artists’ time period, he added, women “were thought of as closer to the root springs of sentiment, of feeling, and less bound by conventional behavior, and in certain situations indeed closer to nature, more capable of a natural spontaneous reaction.” So if an individual can enter into the world of the artists, they may “discover a world that was remarkably profound and true to human nature. I think that’s one of the marvelous lessons of this.” The idea behind the exhibit was hatched even before the museum’s founding, said Kathryn Wat, the museum’s chief curator. She explained that the founder, Wilhelmina Holladay, was encouraged by her friends to have an exhibit on Mary because “she’s a subject that’s been painted by all the great artists through time.” “She said she never forgot that idea about presenting the Virgin Mary here at the women’s museum,” Wat added. Holladay had decided about five years ago to pursue the exhibit after a conversation with a donor. The exhibit was not easy to put together, Wat said, being a three-year process of negotiations with the other museums and collectors. “It’s a fairly complicated and long-term process to negotiate loans with institutions and lenders from overseas,” she told CNA. But now that the exhibit is completed, she believes it will have a wide appeal, attracting lovers of art and culture as well as those devoted to Mary. “I think that for those who are believers, those who are faithful, those who are interested in Mary from a religious or spiritual perspective, this exhibition is full of inspiration,” she said. “Because a visitor is going to see images of Mary presented in ways they may have not seen previously.”