25 June 2015

Mary, reading

Raphael, 1508

Pinturicchio (1454-1513)

Raphael, 1502

Giolamo di Cotignola (1500?-1559?)

Rubens, 1625-8
A small collection from the Gemaeldegalerie.

Why is Mary depicted with a book? In annunciation scenes from the middle ages she had often been shown with a spindle and wool, because of the popular belief that she had been spinning purple yarn for the temple curtain when the angel appeared to her.

With the rise of literacy, especially women's literacy, in the 14th century onwards, as a role model Mary is given a book. In annunciations, sometimes it's a psalter or a copy of the scriptures, with the page open to Isaiah 7:14 - the prophecy that a young woman will shortly give birth to a child whose name will be Immanuel, "God is with us", and that the threat from the enemy kings will be ended before the child grows up.

In the mother-and-child paintings, on the one hand she has the written word, and on the other, the word made flesh.

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