Today, I want to share an artwork that almost got featured in my new book, The Glorious Mysteries. (Thankfully, it did not!)
Now, first! A little bit on the selection process. When I look through images to select for my books, I have a list of criteria that have to be met, in order for me to choose the artwork.
1. I have to fall in love with the image.
These books have taken years to make. I go through literally hundreds of images of the mysteries until I whittle them down to the artworks that are finally in the book. Through the course of making and editing the book, I will look at the images over and over again. Sometimes, I’ll spend hours digitally hand-restoring artworks to bring them back to their original glory. I write blogs about them. I will pray through the Rosary, using these images, to center myself.
This whole selection process feels like an immersion of the gospel through the Rosary, quite honestly!
If, after a couple of weeks, or even months, I get tired of an artwork, I throw it out and pick something else. After all, this is meant to be a devotional book in which you can fully immerse yourself into the mysteries of the Rosary. If I, the author, get annoyed with the image after seeing it hundreds of times, how can I expect you to use this book over and over again in a devotion to the Rosary?
Of course, you may hate a certain image in the book and wonder why I even bothered putting it in. But, trust me when I say that this whole project is truly a labor of love on my part!
2. It has to be high-quality.
Images that are printed have to be superior quality, otherwise the image doesn’t look good.
To illustrate: the standard high quality image on the internet is at least 72 dpi. For print quality, the standard image has to be 300 dpi.
I cannot tell you how many times that I have fallen in love with an image of sub-par quality, used Photoshop to try to bring the image to its original glory, only to finally disregard it in the end.
That’s one reason why I started my Pinterest board, in fact… because I want to make sure that everyone (including myself!) had access to some high-quality artworks. 🙂 (By the way, there are over 2000 religious artworks that are there now, so if you want to immerse yourself in religious artworks, feel free to do so!)
3. It has to be properly cited.
Every artwork in the book is properly cited in the back of the book with its artist, when the artwork was made, and where the artwork is located.
Now, sometimes the artist is unknown. For example, medieval art is usually anonymous, as is the art that comes from Cusco. And sometimes, art historians are not sure when a certain piece was made, especially for the older art. In some cases, the art can only be pinned to the century of which it was made.
But, I do want to know where the artwork is located. Now, some artworks are in private collections. But, many times, the artworks are still in churches or museums. And, hey! What can I say? One of these days, I hope to make a pilgrimage to look at all these beautiful artworks in person, if at all possible. 🙂 And who knows? Maybe you do as well!
4. It has to be relevant and reverent.
…and here is where the problem with this particular image came up!
First of all, these books are made first and foremost to spread devotion to the Rosary, Our Lord, and Our Lady, and to spread the devotion of the Rosary.
Yes, they feature gorgeous artworks from centuries past. Yes, they are a remarkable collection of art from our Christian heritage. And yes, the little art historian in me likes to blabber excitedly on this blog about odd details in the art, like the fact that this picture of the Coronation of Mary is a rough draft of a larger, better artwork that was destroyed in World War II (and did I mention that this picture is also featured in my new book, The Glorious Mysteries?).
This book is made to spread the devotion of the Rosary and to make it easier for people — including and especially myself — to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary using religious art. So it’s necessary for the artwork to be both relevant and reverent.
And… this can be a little bit more difficult to determine than it sounds. For example, take this artwork:
I’ve labeled this artwork, after cross-checking with several sources and determining my hunch was correct, as the “Assumption of Mary Magdalene.”
But! When I first saw this image, for some reason it was simply labeled as the Assumption of Mary. Plus, it looked similar enough to other Assumption pictures that I assumed that it was of Mary, our Mother. After all, normally when the word “Assumption” is used, it refers to our Blessed Mother! And so, I saw this picture, being labeled as “The Assumption of Mary” and thought, “What a gorgeous artwork! Wouldn’t it be lovely for my book?”
And so I stuck it in one of the early drafts of my book!
However, the more I looked at it, the uneasier I became with the artwork. Mind you, I didn’t know why I was uneasy with it at first… just, the more I delved into Assumption pictures, the more stranger this artwork seemed. Something about it was wrong. But I couldn’t put my finger on it.
And yet, still it remained in the book, because, even though I felt something was off, I still liked the artwork, plus it was the perfect size to accompany the scriptural passages of the Assumption — which is not necessarily an easy thing to find.
It was only after I had my baby (and thus was a disheveled mess) that it struck me what was wrong with the picture:
Her clothes were wrong.
Our Lady is typically illustrated as being beautifully gowned. After all, she is the Queen of Heaven! And yet, this Mary seemed to have her clothes falling off her shoulders! Why would this artist be so disrespectful toward our Mother that he would allow her to be seen as such a disheveled mess at such a glorious time? After all, didn’t I make sure to look presentable for pictures, even while in the midst of constantly nursing my newborn?
This can’t be our Mother! I thought.
And so, I began researching the artwork more thoroughly, and sure enough, I had the wrong Mary! It was an image of St. Mary Magdalene, who is traditionally considered to be a former prostitute before dedicating her life to Christ. Thus, her clothes were falling off her shoulder and she was unveiled as an indication of who she was, so that a casual viewer might be able to identify her without too much trouble. And, as she is a saint, it was a rendition of her being brought into Heaven.
So, why was this artwork named “Assumption” which traditionally is used to refer to our Blessed Mother? Well, the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God, was officially declared dogma in 1951. And thus, nowadays the word is used to only signify Mary. But, the belief of the Assumption by Christians stretched long before the Assumption was declared doctrine in sacred tradition. Consequently, there is a rich tradition of religious art spanning many centuries of the Assumption of Mary, long before the Assumption was officially declared doctrine.
But! There is also rich artistic tradition of depicting other saints as ascending to Heaven to be with the Lord. Sometimes, these religious artworks are called “Ascension of Saint X.” Other times, they are called, “Assumption of Saint X.” And, in some cases, the word “Assumption” and “Ascension” are the same in various languages, so the art pieces of the “Assumption of the Virgin” are actually labeled as the “Ascension of the Virgin.”
So, basically, these artworks are not trying to be irreverent! They are simply devotional images of saints, indicating that the saints are indeed in Heaven! It was not a matter of irreverence that St. Mary Magdalene was depicted in this way, as her dress was simply used to distinguish her from other saints.
However! The devotional image was not relevant for my book. And so I took it out and replaced it with another image… which definitely depicted the Virgin Mary!
Trust me: I checked. 😉