Sinners and Saints
Oscar Wilde said, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future,” acknowledging that we are all works in progress, and most of us struggle with both good and at least somewhat malicious impulses over the course of our lives. Sinners and Saints examines both the labels and the blurred lines as artists present mixed messages in their approach to these twinned themes. Drawn from the permanent collection, this exhibition includes traditional Christian imagery as well as depictions of fallen men and women. The art ranges from the sixteenth through twentieth century and includes an exquisite Guido Reni drawing of the Madonna and Child, along with William Hogarth’s depictions of riotous behavior on Gin Lane and Beer Street.
Historically, saintliness and sin were most often pinned to the female body, whether women bore the representation of spiritual purity or enticed men to indulge in carnal pleasure. Visually speaking, however, what the image says can be more ambiguous than the parable it allegedly portrays, calling into question the artist’s intentions. In a print based on Edward Burne-Jones’s painting The Annunciation, the hovering angel Gabriel is the only clue to the important announcement being delivered; Mary appears as a winsome young woman in clinging draperies. By contrast, The Adulterous Woman of the New Testament story is not shown in shame, but as triumphant in redemption, girded in a metal breastplate. It is easy to understand why no one cast the first stone; she looks capable of leading a crusade.