Mary and Judith: Images of Women in the Salt Lake Temple, 1915

In the December 1915 issue of The Relief Society Magazine, there is an interesting discussion of two portraits that were hanging in the Salt Lake Temple at the time. The author noted that, “Few Latter-day Saints realize that we possess several masterpieces, costly, rare and strikingly beautiful”

April_2008_madonna-and-child-slc The first is a picture of the Madonna and Child. This portrait is described as an artistic piece that came from a famous collection which was carried to San Francisco by agents of Samuel Brannan. It was subsequently sold to Alexander Badlam and eventually came into the hands of some wealthy Californians who bought it and presented it to the Salt Lake Temple.

The Magazine describes the portrait in effusive terms, noting:

The exquisite bliss which smolders in the brooding eyes and tender lips of the mother; both joy of possession and agony of forecast mingle in the eyes which look out into futurity. The figure of the boy John is dimmed because the artist focuses his effects in the worshipful glance which the boy casts upon the holy pair. The Child claims our deepest thought and admiration. His is the face of a child, but the love and wisdom of those mysterious eyes thrill you with feelings akin to worship.

Later the next year in the “Theology and Testimony” section of The Magazine, Mormon beliefs about the role of Mary were articulated more fully.

The Latter-day Saints do not envelop Mary in the mist and remoteness that most others do in the Christian world. They do not pray to her as the intermediary between them and her glorious Son. On the contrary, they hold her in a high and substantial reverence – a reverence that has its basis in an intelligent understanding of the great law of life and progress and that would be utterly impossible to a mind beclouded by the generally accepted notions of “the immaculate conception”. (1)

Finding a portrait of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the temple would not seem unusual to us today, however the inclusion and study of Judith would be atypical. The Relief Society Magazine described the second portrait as


    “… a famous old English painting presented to the Temple by a convert, Mrs. Everard, who was a wealthy dealer in art works in London, twenty years ago. She came here for a few months, bringing this picture with her to give to the Temple. The photograph cannot give the exquisite coloring of the picture, which flames with oriental beauty. But the charm of the composition, the striking beauty of the proud Hebrew face, with the glitter of determination shining through the brilliant eyes, the firm chin, the lines of strength in the rounded arms and hands – one of which grasps the sword while the other grimly holds the severed head — these are details which make of this picture a masterpiece”

The study of Judith would be for the most part unfamiliar to modern Latter-day Saint women, at least in Church publications. The author of the “Theology and Testimony” lesson acknowledeges that:

    “Strictly speaking, Judith is not one of the “women of the Bible”. She comes in between the period of the OT days and those of the NT. But she is well worth considering in this series, not only because she was one of the most remarkable of Hebrew women but also because she stands for a type of faith and courage in times of danger for the Chosen People.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of this article is the situation of Judith as an example for LDS women, as well as the author’s use of her as a foil to Esther of the Old Testament.

    “It is interesting to compare and contrast the character of Esther and Judith. Both women were undeniably beautiful. A plain-looking woman, whatever the inference could not, in the one case have won the queenship nor, in the other case, bewitched the unsophisticated Holofernes. Moreover both used their charms according to the notions of the times in the service of religion. Both too, encompassed the death of a powerful enemy of Israel the one through guile and the other her influence with the king, her husband. Besides Esther and Judith were devout, prayerful religionists. But Esther impresses us as a woman who needed guidance, direction, some thing or some body to lean upon. She has little or no initiative. She is more or less timid and hesitating. Judith, on the other hand, although perfectly womanly, is self reliant, courageous daring capable of decisive action in high moments. And yet she is always the woman, and a wonderful woman to smite the mind as well as the eye.”

Modern Relief Society leaders have been far less ambiguous in embracing Esther as a decisive woman who understood her role in the kingdom of God.(2) In another shift, LDS discussions of women in the scriptures frequently place emphasis upon the idea of women as mothers instead of those who prophesy, act as warriors or judges.(3) It would seem that earlier in this century, LDS women experienced a wider range of scriptural sources and examples (as well as as being comfortable with depictions of breast-feeding?). This intersection of art and curriculum provides an unique view of how Relief Society women perceived themselves, their role in the kingdom of God and the women who preceded them.


(1) “Mary’s uniqueness, therefore, consists in the fact that her Child in the words of Dr. Talmage, ‘was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof.’ Nor should this idea shock one’s sense of sanctity who has the conception of woman’s function in life that he ought to have. Rather does it exalt her into companionship with the highest intelligences and place sex relationship among the highest function in individual life.”

(2) See Mary Ellen Smoot, “For Such a Time as This” Ensign, November 1997, p.86 as well as Kathleen H. Hughes, “Lessons from the Old Testament: Coming of Age” Ensign, December 2006.

(3) For an example, see this essay which emphasizes Deborah’s role as mother instead of judge. Kimberli Pelo Robison, Kimberli, “A Mother in Israel”, Meridian Magazine


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Absolutely wonderful, Kris!

  2. Thanks Kris. Beautifully written. I just want to note that breastfeeding in art and photography was not taboo in American culture until after WWII. I don’t think Mormon women would be any different than the culture at large in that regard. This site often showcases photographs from the Library of Congress that show public breastfeeding well into the 1940’s.

  3. 1. Hurrah for another wonderful post from Kris!!

    2. Kudos for putting the link to Meridian in the smallest font in the universe.

    3. Where are these paintings now??

    4. How fairly can we draw conclusions about ecclesiastical attitudes based on the presence of these paintings in the temple?

  4. Kris,
    I’m really struck by the high quality writing that the RSM exhibits. Who was the writer?

  5. Love those pictures. Look at the illustrations in Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast. People loved the notion of milk as holy nourishment specifically from the Marian breast. I used them for a priesthood lession in Cambridge one week. So many different relationships to motherhood, the breast, nourishment, spirit-body, and nutrition over the years.

    thanks for great post.

  6. These images in the temple is especially fascinating in light of Josh Probert’s MHA paper last week. He specifically looked at hair art, but also its inclusion in teh Salt Lake temple and contextualized it within the broader decoration of the SLC, which was focused on imagery of the Saints. Really, really, cool stuff.

  7. KRIS,
    Is Judith a Jewish or Christian Orthodox scriptural figure? Where is her story found?

    Lovely. Do we know what has happened to these works of art?

  8. 3. Where are these paintings now??

    Steve, I’m pretty sure that the first one is in a bathroom somewhere. After all that is the only appropriate place for a mother to nurse in public.

  9. The artist of the Judith was “AL BRENTANO” (I can’t tell whether his initials are A.L., or his name has been shortened from, say, Alberto, or even whether “al” might be an article, as in El Greco), a 19th century Italian artist. Lorenzo Snow personally accepted the donation from Sister Sarah Everard.

    The painting hung in the Salt Lake Temple until 1984, then was sent to storage; it was displayed in the church museum in the summer of 1986, and is back in storage. That figures /she said, cynically/

    The portrait as shown in the RS Magazine may be cropped, because the cataloguing notes say that she is discretely holding a sword and a man’s severed head, which I can’t make out in the reproduction.

    Still looking for more, and trying to identify the Madonna from museum cataloging. Will return and report.

    Great post, Kris.

  10. she is discretely holding a sword and a man’s severed head

    Really, is there any other way of holding such things? (grin)

  11. Thanks Ardis!

  12. Thanks, all.

    Mmiles, I suppose I have been marked by endless debates over whether one can nurse in sacrament meeting and have assumed a general aversion to displays of breastfeeding by Mormons. Thanks for the context.

    Steve, honestly the font was an accident and I was too lazy to fix it after I posted due to my slow dial-up. I have no idea where the paintings are now.[edited – now I do thanks to Ardis] I think the idea that these paintings were in the SL Temple is noteworthy. I guess one could ask the question was it just art or could we assume other inferences about women, particularly those in the scriptures.

    Ronan, the articles did not cite authors. The RS Magazine started publishing in January 1915, with Susa Young Gates as editor, Janette A. Hyde as business manager and Amy Brown Lyman as the asst. manager. These three had also piloted the RS Bulletin before it. It would seem that the general board all contributed to the Magazine, although Gates apparently did a prominent part of the theology course work. I’m not sure who else was on the board at the time right now.

    JA Benson, the book of Judith is found in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and is part of the Bible used by both Orthodox and Catholic churches as far as I know. Maybe some of our bible scholars can give more info.

    Thanks Ardis, I think it is fascinating that the Judith painting made it until 1984.

  13. Also, the photo was really dark but I’m guessing the head is being discretely held in the left hand.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, Judith is in the Apocrypha (or one of the deuterocanonicals in Catholic bibles). Here is some basic information. Her cutting the head off of that guy is an important part of the story.

    (You can also see a brief synopsis in the LDS BD s.v. “Apocrypha”).

  15. Fascinating post. It’d be great to see paintings like this on display in more temples instead of (shudder) Simon Dewey’s blue-eyed, Anglo-American Jesus.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s a copy of Judith if anyone wants to read it.

  17. Thank you Kevin — definitely a flaw in the post to not provide the backstory on Judith.

  18. Thank you for this most interesting post. I think the timing of the removal of the painting (1980s) is just one more example of the general Church backlash (i.e. over-reaction) to the feminist activities of the 1960s/70s. I believe that many of the actions/teachings/policies of Church leaders in the late 1970s and 1980s can be directly linked to what was happening in North American culture at the time (anti-war rallies, ERA, birth control, drugs, etc.). This over-reaction on the part of Church leaders and members resulted in setting back women’s rights in the Church a hundred years or more. However, there are hopeful signs that things are changing, albeit very slowly.
    It’s so interesting to read these articles from the RS Magazine and the old Exponent to realize how things were then and how they can be changed today–not that we want to go back, but that we need to go forward, building on what these women thought and did so many years ago.

  19. Actually Catherine, I think you are mistaken. It is actually a miracle that it lasted so long. The decorations of the temple used to be highly focused on imagery of the Saints. 1986 is too late forte backlash that you propose. This was around the same period of iconoclasm which witnessed the de-19th-centuriazation of the Assembly Hall and other temples.

  20. Still digging —

    The provenance note on the Judith includes this detail I missed the first time through: “It was removed from the temple by the current [1984] matron and placed [in storage] March 1984.”

    Found the Madonna (although not the artist, yet). Brace yourself.

    The Madonna is still hanging in the Salt Lake temple, in the reception area just before the hall splits off to the dressing rooms.

    It has been retouched.

    The Madonna is now modestly covered.

  21. COME ON, they put a fig leaf on her?? Ardis you need to get in there and give us the lowdown.

  22. I’ve never noticed it (I tell you, if it didn’t happen after 1847, I’m oblivious), but several people in the library were very familiar with it. Apparently the retouching isn’t especially skillfully done, either. I may have to trot over there myself very soon.

  23. The retouching makes me want to weep. Truly cry. I didn’t think we did those kinds of ignorant things.

    Oh man. I’m depressed.

    But I love the silent movie star look of the women. It’s beautiful.

  24. Julie M. Smith says:

    “The Madonna is now modestly covered.”


  25. I’ve been looking on the internet for any information about Al Brentano, and only find that he is a 19th Century Italian painter, what we already knew. However, it is too bad that we only have the B&W reproductions of these paintings. I did find here some pictures of another of Brentano’s work, and think we are missing something without the colors.

  26. Researcher says:

    “The Madonna is now modestly covered.”


  27. Researcher says:

    I’ll mention that I’m familiar with the Judith story due to my low taste in literature. That would be the Mary Russell series by Laurie King. The detective’s middle name is Judith.

  28. John Ashcroft would approve. Truly ghastly.

  29. sister blah 2 says:

    What a wonderful post. I love the emphasis on the powerful, decisive womanly woman.

    “The Madonna is now modestly covered.”

    Oh, honestly. I only hope that skillful art restorers will one day be able to repair the damage.

  30. Okay, everybody can take a deep breath again.

    This is NOT the Madonna that was, until fairly recently, hanging in that spot in the Salt Lake temple. *That* Madonna is no longer hanging there, but was fairly recently restored, so that the misguided modesty-making has been undone. *That* Madonna is not currently on display anywhere, but is part of the Museum collection.

    The Madonna of the 1915 Magazine, however, is still a mystery. I haven’t found any catalog record, or anybody who knows authoritatively whether it is still owned by the church, and if so where it is. Yet.

    I’m sorry, Kris, that this became something of a threadjack. You have made me really interested in seeing the Judith, in person, and I’m going to ask a Museum contact whether that is possible. I’ll bet they’d think it was odd to suddenly get a batch of requests from BCC readers for this painting, but wouldn’t it be great if asking about it created enough of a demand that it went on display again?

  31. I’m loving the threadjacks (except for the modest covering — bleh) Keep at it Ardis!

  32. Whoever said the church couldn’t acknowledge its’ mistakes and make good? But I still wonder if correlation knows about these paintings?

    Maybe we could get them moved to one of our chapels here in the Northwest, where the missionaries are using church tours of our regular chapels as a missionary tool. I think they’d be great conversation starters!

  33. $9 – Now that’s a full picture I would love to see in the sealing room!

  34. Ardis, you scoundrel! You stir-upper of misguided outrage! You wonderful source of never-ending and delightful information!

    I would LOVE to see a depiction of Deborah in the temple. She is one of my favorite OT prophets.

  35. Well, hey, Ray, it’s Friday!

  36. Amen Ardis. TGIF.

  37. No, Ardis, it’s Friday at BCC! This fun is unavailable to the unwashed masses on other blogs.


    I’ve been out all day, and just pulled this up- I was delighted by the whole discussion, until I got to the fig leaf. My spirits sunk and my stomach dropped to my feet. No. No no no. It can’t be possible.

    Please, let these archaic, Victorian, repressive attitudes about sex go the way of the Dodo. Someday. Please.

    My only solace is that the art of the restorer is constantly advancing…

    Thank you Kris, for a lovely post.

  39. Ok. I’m calmer now. Sorry.

  40. It’s a miracle! We have seen Tracy’s prayer answered before our very eyes, between 4:01 and 4:04 p.m.!

  41. LOL, Ardis.

  42. Yes, but can we sell it on eBay now?

  43. snow white says:

    What an awesome story. We need more female role models like Judith in our scriptures. Where are all the strong women of biblical times who weren’t also prostitutes? I wonder if prints are available for purchase somewhere?

  44. Where are all the strong women of biblical times who weren’t also prostitutes?

    That’s too funny, SW.

  45. I’m telling you, Ardis, start checking the art in the ladies room. That’s where that bare na-na belongs. Try and post that on Facebook and it’d get taken down. That’s potty portraiture there.

  46. Jami, I’ll look for the smelliest one, with the rattiest furniture. Sound about right?

  47. That’s the one.

  48. Where are all the strong women of biblical times who weren’t also prostitutes?

    The Apocrypha

  49. Judith was a popular musical subject. Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonio Vivaldi wrote oratorios as did the fifteen-year-old Mozart (La Betulia liberata, K 118).

    That other strong woman of the Apocrypha, Susanna, was the subject of a poem that became one of the more widely-set texts of the Renaissance. Check here for the development of the Susanna tune and its various instrumental and choral iterations. Unfortunately, the given translation of the poem is not very good.

  50. Maybe someone can fix my link. For some reason it takes you halfway down the page.

  51. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m about to scold some of you, so *cough* please bear with me. *smirk*

    About 12 years ago I fell in love with Pre-Raphelite art. I understand now why it isn’t to everyone’s taste. (One friend told me that my taste in art was towards Victorian soft porn.) Still, I like the gentle sensuality, the pagan and biblical themes, the deep garden colors and the hint of darkness. Our living room is dominated by La Belle Dame Sans Merci – the Waterhouse version.

    (I’m aware that for many who can enjoy the PRs, Waterhouse is kitsch. I disagree – but there you go.)

    Not terribly horrifying, but probably not exactly what people expect to see on my wall. My taste in art is various, and I only note this to demonstrate what I _like to surround myself with_. I would, too, dearly love to see these kind of paintings, with their humanity and depth, on the walls of the temple. And it is a real loss to us that we are no longer people who can look at them and understand their truthfulness and relevance.

    I am also chagrined at the omnipresence of the current Simon Dewey gentility in Mormon art. Note- I don’t think they are really so awful in and of themselves. A lot of it is rather lovely, if not particularly revealing. And, it is nice to see a gentle Saviour in a gentle repose. It is only the everywhereness of the mood and theme (I recently red it called “Sunset in Arcadia”) that troubles me. I feel that we are losing a more profound vision of Jesus by narrowing our art to only this tempermant and these themes.

    Among Mormon artists, I love the gnostic distance in David Linn.

    However, there is an uptightness, dismissiveness, haughtiness and lightminded-ness in some of the posts here that is _typical_, and I think really really unhelpful; especially since they reinforce to others the steroetypes that keep artistic types on the fringes of our culture. If we really want a broader spectrum of art to be common in the broader culture of the church, I personally believe a few changes will have to happen among those of us who would love to see it.

    We need artists who are living the gospel themselves in a deep way, and are therefore inclined to find depths in the portrayal of gospel themes or human themes in a gospel light. Our own vision needs to be without guile, absent of mockery, willing to see both dark and light, but also genuinely open to the taste of people who love … Holly Hobby or Greg Olsen, or whatever. We need to divorce our ego from the process and pursue a truthful vision. We can’t have our serious artists thinking very much of themselves, or going off chasing cigars and Irish beer. There needs a deeper connection than that demonstrates.

    We have to be in the habit of loyalty, and be willing to speak in loyal terms. I’ve discovered time and time again that my own idiosyncracies are much more easily absorbed because I’m known as a person whose loyalty to the church, to Mormonism and to Christ as we understand Him is _who I am._ It is very unhelpful when those of us who _are_ really loyal distance ourselves from other members of the church by language which is condescending towards things they find to be of real worth. On this ground, I would take most of this thread and flush it, frankly.

    We need to be creating and producing and pressing for more exposure within the accepted voices of the church, as well as creating independent outlets for our art. The latter will be impossible for people whose loyalty is questioned because it is, in fact, questionable.

    Now, naturally, people who don’t have loyalty to the church or gospel still create great and worthwhile art. But those are not the people who will be able to inspire the mainstream culture of the church to accept these kind of paintings on the walls of the temple again. And I want that … really, I hunger for it.

    *\end lecture*


  52. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The latter” should read “the former” in the next to the last paragrph.

    I thanks ye, thanks ye very kindly, fer ye induging me.


  53. Randall says:


    Your thoughts hearken back to SWK’s desire for the LDS church to produce our own great artists on the scale of Shakespeare and Milton. This hasn’t yet happened. Who knows, maybe Stephenie Meyer will yet achieve the acclaim of Anne Rice.

    I think you hit at the exact problem that Mormon artists face. Great art, by its nature, plumbs the depths of humanity. It explores topics and moods that are lost in the sanctified version. It invokes images that need to be edited before broadcast in BYU’s International Cinema.

    Exploring these topics makes for great art, but does so at the cost of reinforcing the separation you describe. When we disavow this art in our homes and temples, did the artist not pass the test, or was it the faithful believer who didn’t make the grade?

  54. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    In 1992 (or there about), I went to the Salt Lake temple. While waiting for the rest of my party to come into the Celestial Room, I turned around the way I had come so that I could see them when they came. Above the veil was a statue that I recognized as the Virgin Mary from my days growing up in New Mexico. I asked one of the temple workers about it. He said that when the temple was dedicated, the Catholic church gave the church the statue. The brethren thought that the most appropriate place for the statue was in the Celestial Room.

    Can anyone confirm that she is still there?

  55. Floyd, there is a female statue mounted in the location you mention. At least, she was there as of late last year.

  56. Thomas Parkin says:


    It is still there. I have really wondered about that statue. I wonder if anyone knows the actual history of it. It looks very much like a usual Virgin Mary statue, I always assumed it was Mother in Heaven. :)


  57. Ditto, Thomas. Isn’t she holding a palm leaf in her hand?

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