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Sensitivity About Religious Images Is Not Unique to Islam

Non-Muslims may have some difficulty understanding Muslim concerns about their Prophet Muhammad. But the National Museum of Women in the Arts is being criticized for its exhibit on how the Mother of Jesus appears in European art.

Museum officials say they wanted to show how well-known artists attempted to humanize the Virgin Mary, painting her as a human being, not God-like. But some people have criticized the show for failing to include other works by modern artists.

“In this particular work, we have the work of Sister Orsola Caccia ...”

That is Susan Fisher Sterling, the director of the museum. She says people are sensitive about religion in art.

“I believe that whether it is the Virgin Mary or other religious figures, it is an emotional response. And when you talk about things that are so deeply ingrained in the human psyche and in the human heart, and that desire to raise to a higher level, I think it is a fraught subject.”

Sister Marie-Bernard is a Benedictine nun, a Catholic religious worker. She belongs to a group called “Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” She liked a painting called “Virgin and Child.” It is from a period of history known as the Renaissance.

Not all artists show the Virgin Mary in the respectful way Renaissance artists did. That saddens Sister Marie-Bernard.

“I find it horrifying that that would be allowed, in the public stream of art, to be viewed, when artists throughout the centuries have been trying so hard to depict her so beautifully as they have shown us here.”

Sister Marie-Bernard and other nuns believe there are many ways to respectfully show the woman to whom they have given their lives.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

This report was based on a story from VOA Religion Correspondent Jerome Socolovsky. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.

Words in This Story

figure(s) n. a person, individual or character

exhibit n. show; an object or collection of objects shown to the public

Virgin Mary n. (religious) name given to the mother of Jesus Christ

response n. a reaction to something else

deeply ingrained adj. firmly established

psyche n. the human mind or spirit

fraught adj. full of (something bad or unwanted); showing or producing tension

horrify v. to cause (someone) to feel horror or shock; to frighten

public stream idiom in public

depict v. to show (someone or something) in a picture, painting or photograph

How do you feel about the way members of your faith are shown by artists? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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