Abbott Handerson Thayer (Aug. 12, 1849 – May 29, 1921) was an American artist who was often described as 'eccentric & mercurial' was "a parallel contradictory mixture of academic tradition, spontaneity & improvisation in his artistic methods." Largely known as a painter of 'ideal figures' in which he portrayed women as virtuous, (in flowing white tunics or equipped with angel's wings), at the same time he was using methods that were unorthodox, like purposely mixing dirt into paint or using a broom instead of a brush to lessen rigidity.
Life became almost unbearable for Thayer & his wife during the early 1880s, when two of their small children died unexpectedly a year apart. It was around this time that he painted A Virgin, portraying Mary as strong & resolute, walking stoically towards the viewer with a child flanking each side. It's hard not to imagine the representation of the protective Mother of ALL children here, especially his own. This has long been my favorite painting of Mary; well before I read Thayer's troubled story. Her grounded youth is evident; a young yet mature teen at the time of the 'immaculate conception'.* Her hair flies around her as she hurries forward with the resolution required for the difficult tasks that surely lay ahead.
In my assemblage piece, The Virgin, I created a portrait instead, blocking out the cold clouds & bringing in the more peaceful, vibrant scenes of the Mediterranean. This time Mary is flanked by Roman columns & flowers instead of children however; reminding us of the STILL dismissive & rigid patriarchy surrounding her & ALL women then until now.
* The first known use of virgin in ENGLISH comes from an Anglo Saxon manuscript c. 1200: "Ðar haueð... martirs and confessors, and uirgines maked faier bode inne to women", LONG AFTER the Gnostic Gospels were written. The word virgin comes via virgine from Latin virgo, genitive, virgin-is, meaning literally "maiden" or "young girl". The Latin word probably arose based on vireo, meaning "to be green, fresh or flourishing", mostly with botanic reference—in particular, virga meaning "strip of wood". There also is no evidence of the term "immaculate conception" until well into the fifth century AD).