Copper as Canvas


Mary, the mother of Jesus, has drawn the devotion of Christians in every generation of the religion. As representational art served to honor great secular and religious figures, Mary became a favorite subject for artists who sought to demonstrate their skill in recognition of its divine origins.

Consequently, any collection of art covering a spread of two centuries is bound to include religious images, and those of Mary will predominate. Copper as Canvas is no exception. Although the unifying element of the exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins is the medium -- paint on copper -- the viewer whose heart ponders the fundamentals of faith will find inspiration.

For example, the show includes a collectorís cabinet by an unknown German artist in 1603. As carpentry, the cabinet is a prodigious puzzle of hidden drawers and hinges. The front panels open to reveal a triptych painted on copper. There one finds scenes from the life of Mary as recorded in the opening chapters of Lukeís gospel: the angelís annunciation to Mary, the visitation of Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and the adoration of the shepherds in the presence of Mary at the birth of Jesus. These scenes became the first of the fifteen mysteries of the rosary in Catholic piety.

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