The commentary of the cover

The Education of the Mother of God by Pierre-Marie Dumont

 Inspired by the Gospel episode featuring Martha and Mary of Bethany (Lk 10:38-42), the emancipation of women was, from the start, a Christian preoccupation—that, beyond their ancestral tasks, every woman might, through knowledge, gain access to that better part. This was one of the causes of the split with Judaism, notably in regards to the organization of places of prayer and worship: for Christians, women must be subject to no discrimination there.

After the age of the barbarians had, alas, destroyed the advances of the early Church in this respect, all had to be rebuilt anew. Fortunately, nuns had kept alive the witness of independent and admirably cultured women, often holding positions of great respon­sibility. It was on their initiative that, from the start of the Middle Ages, the cause of female emancipation was boldly promoted. This allowed for the smooth administration and governance of Christian countries by women in the absence of men during the Crusades, sometimes for decades at a time.

After some highs and lows, the cause of women was relaunched in the French golden age of spirituality, the “Grand siècle,” notably by Saint Francis de Sales († 1622), Madame de Maintenon (wife of King Louis XIV, † 1719), and Archbishop François Fénelon († 1715). It was in the wake of the latter that Francesco Mancini († 1758) painted the work featured here on the cover of your Magnificat. A successor of Carlo Maratta, Mancini had his moment of glory in Rome during the dying days of the Baroque, expressed in the form of the Rococo style.

The veneration of Saint Anne, a model for mothers and patron of educators, played a large role in support of those seeking to restore women to the full exercise of their human and Christian dignity, each within the scope of their own particular vocation. On the initia­tive of these pillars of spirituality, most mothers’ sodalities went on to adopt Saint Anne as their patron. For, indeed, they understood that women’s emancipation must begin with the education handed down by their mothers, and by teaching girls to read and write in order to gain access to culture. And what lovelier incentive could they advance than to show the example of Saint Anne teaching the Blessed Virgin Mary to read? 

 

 Pierre-Marie Dumont

 

Saint Anne with the Little Mary (1732, detail), Francesco Mancini (c. 1694–1758), National Gallery of Umbria, Perugia, Italy. © Domingie & Rabatti / La Collection.