Today I did some research on religious art through history for an illustrating job I have. The purpose of this was to study the culture and clothing of the first century as portrayed by various artists. As I scrolled through over one hundred of the most famous paintings, it struck me as funny how each artist’s culture changed his perception of different scenes. There were many that contained historically correct clothing and realistic scenes, but there were many others that did not. I couldn’t help cracking a grin when I saw Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew. This painting was done in 1600 and the persons in the picture were dressed in styles belonging to that century.
I think Mary would laugh if she could sit next to me and see all these paintings. Roughly half of them depicted her. She was painted with everything from blonde and red to brown and jet-black hair, dressed in the plainest frocks and the most elaborate garments from the fashions of the first century to the Regency period.
Sometimes, she was a small young girl, other times a full-figured woman. She sat in barns, caves, thrones, clouds, temples, rocks, and even floated above the clear waters at the edge of a tropical island.
Her waist contracted and expanded and her skin darkened and lightened with the fads through the centuries.
I wonder what she was thinking while she was laboring in a smelly animal cave in the dark and cold night. I wonder if, as she held her newborn baby close to keep him warm and comforted, she knew that what had passed would be recorded and celebrated for millenniums by people all over the world.
Did she understand the significance of that moment? As she lay down, exhausted and sore, on a pile of straw, could she foresee what lay ahead?
Did she dare to imagine that millions would veneer and even worship her? Her hair was matted and messy. She was weary and sore from riding on a donkey all day and giving birth. Her clothes were dirty and old. She and her husband were almost penniless.
There was no floating above the ground in a gold throne while she rocked her baby. He was red, wrinkled, and floppy—and oh, so tiny! He did not sit up gracefully and observe the world with wise eyes.
When the shepherds, stinky and unpolished, came trooping through the entrance, what did she think? When she heard the hosts of Heaven break out into song, did she tremble? These weren’t little fair-haired children with stubby wings, after all. These were mighty spiritual beings like nothing she had ever seen!
What was it like? I always wonder what life is or was like in places and times I’ll never be in. What was it like? The paintings aren’t any help whatsoever. Even the scriptures skim the details. What was it like for Mary? I wonder.