The non-narrative images of Jesus included in this section illustrate his recurring portrayal, from the fifteenth through the seventeenth century, in accordance with the true likeness known from both literary and artistic sources. The evolution of this recognizable portrait, even devoid of attributes or narrative props, is analyzed in the introductory essay of the catalog.
By contrast, the portrayal of the Virgin Mary reveals a different visual tradition. Consistent with depictions of her in a narrative context, iconic images do not use a consistent, recognizable facial type. Mary is identified by her attributes (the lily, a book, the deep blue mantle) and her special relationship to Christ. Thus, when depicted alone, we are sometimes hard pressed to identify the young woman praying, reading, or just gazing at us as the Virgin. A few of the works in this exhibition fall in this category. We identify them based upon the idealized features, the attitude of prayer and humility, or similarities with other representations known to be of the Virgin. But since there is no one dominant type, we cannot always be sure. In the context of our discussion about prototypes, this may well be due to the fact that the arche- typal image of Mary, the Virgin and Child allegedly painted by St. Luke, was an iconographic type rather than a portrait per se.