Madonnas of the World

By Olivia Gillingham, Library Specialist in the Marian Library

Every year, At the Manger at UD celebrates both the nativity of Jesus and cultural diversity through the display of crèches from various countries and regions, each one different but equally as beautiful as the last. Looking at each crèche gives us the opportunity to learn something new, reflect on our own spirituality, and appreciate the beauty of how a single story from the Bible can be interpreted in so many different ways around the world.

Inspired by the At the Manger exhibit, I sought out some culturally diverse depictions of Mary and Jesus from the Marian Library’s print collection. Below are just a few examples of the many ways that artists have interpreted the Madonna and Child in their art, while recognizing and appreciating the spiritual and cultural traditions of other societies.

Our Lady of India imagines Mary in the Lotus Position, a seated pose commonly associated with meditation, and one in which Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhist teachings, is often depicted. In portraying the Virgin Mary this way, the artist perhaps pays homage to the contemplative practices of two of the major religions in India, Hinduism and Buddhism, while also highlighting the importance of personal reflection in Catholicism.

Fr. John Giuliani pictures the Madonna and Child as Choctaws in their native clothing within an icon setting. Icons were traditionally highly symbolic and used as devotional images and a way to give worshippers a window to the divine. Through this icon of Mary and Jesus, Fr. Giuliani not only imbues the figures with sacred power, but by painting them as Choctaws, he seeks to acknowledge the Native Americans as the “original spiritual presence” in America while also celebrating some of the similarities in spirituality between Native American and Christian traditions (Bridge Building Images, Inc.).

Hand painted on cloth, the Japanese Madonna and Child features eye-catching colors and design. Mary and Jesus, seated on a low step, wear traditional patterned kimono. The painting is simple, consisting primarily of the two figures, and without much to suggest a three dimensional space. However, to me the simplicity of the painting demonstrates the same sort of quiet majesty of the other two works, asking nothing of the viewer but contemplation.

To see more prints like these, stop by the Marian Library on the 7th floor of Roesch Library!

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