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VIRTUAL - Beyond the Gospels: Creating a Visual Identity for the Virgin Mary in Late Antique Egypt
October 21, 2021 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm PDT
This is an online event, IL United States.
Sponsored by: Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture
AIA Society: Spokane
Dr. Sabrina Higgins (Simon Fraser University, B.C.)
The Virgin Mary is an enigmatic Biblical figure, one who rises from relative unimportance in the canonical gospels to become one of the most prominent figures in Christianity. The theological discourse that culminated with the declaration of Mary as Theotokos (‘God bearer’) at the Council of Ephesus in 431, is mirrored by a similar fragmented development in Marian iconography. Prior to the Council of Ephesus, Mary is scarcely depicted in early Christian art, appearing only in renderings of the Biblical events at which she is present (i.e. The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes), but as her role within the developing Christology is expounded in the 5th century, there is a greater interest in rendering the Virgin within Christianity’s visual culture. This concern is mitigated, however, by Mary’s limited role within the canonical gospels, ultimately urging artists to turn to apocryphal gospels and long-standing traditions of mother goddesses for visual inspiration. This paper explores the intersection of these materials in the early development of the visual culture of the cult of Mary. It uses Egypt as a case study to highlight the role of the apocrypha within the Marian iconography that develops after the fifth century, ultimately highlighting the artists’ use of these extra-biblical texts to fill-in the perceived bibliographical gaps related to her life within the canonical gospels.