WASHINGTON (November 27, 2006)—No one knows what she really looked like, yet the Blessed Virgin Mary stands among the most popular artistic subjects in history. In every medium, with every imaginable material, in tiny personal images and gigantic mosaics, artists have depicted her the world over.
Picturing Mary, a stunning new high-definition documentary to debut next month on public television, explores how images of the Virgin reflect numerous traditions, devotional practices and cultures. The one-hour program leads viewers on a pictorial journey through history from the earliest times to the present day and presents a stunning array of art from twelve locations in eight different countries.
Picturing Mary is a joint effort of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) and New York public television station Thirteen/WNET. The documentary follows[KS1] their previous collaboration on the 2001 Emmy award-winning The Face: Jesus In Art. The documentary is narrated by actress Jane Seymour and features quotations read by actor James Keach.
“This program is a Christmas gift from the Catholic Communication Campaign to TV viewers,” says CCC Director of Production Ellen McCloskey. “In fact, many stations will present it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Like The Face: Jesus in Art, Picturing Mary will become a perennial television favorite during the Advent and Christmas seasons.”
Almost all of the artworks featured in Picturing Mary were filmed in situ, that is, in the original settings where they were intended to be viewed hundreds of years ago. Settings include the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, Italy, home of one of the greatest paintings of the Venetian Renaissance,Titian’s 22-foot-high “Assumption.”
Other settings include Bruges, Belgium, where Jan van Eyck used what was then a new medium – oil painting – to astonishing effect on full size pictures of Mary.
The documentary also highlights Rembrandt van Rijn’s work in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where he created hundreds of etchings, prints and drawings to establish himself as the greatest illustrator of Scripture ever. Devoted to realism, Rembrandt depicts Mary in “Death of the Virgin” not as the lovely maiden traditionally pictured, but as a sick old woman.
The use of the latest widescreen high definition technology enables startlingly beautiful pictures from far away places, including Mexico City, site of the magnificent Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and Lake Tana, in Ethiopia, where Christians under siege took refuge in the 16th century.
Picturing Mary allows viewers up-close virtual visits to some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. At the Vatican, for example, the filmmakers capture Michelangelo’s exquisite Pieta from behind the glass shield that has protected it since the early 1970’s.