Latter-day Saints alter a Nativity painting to make Mary more modest

New version removes cleavage in Carlo Maratta’s 17th-century artwork.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged members to download a painting of Mary and the baby Jesus for Christmas, but it was an edited version — altered to remove a hint of Mary’s cleavage.

On its website, the church shared 18 Nativity images for members to retrieve and share or maybe use as a screen saver on their laptops, tablets or phones. One of those pictures is a painting by Italian artist Carlo Maratta from the 1650s of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child — except that someone modified the painting before sharing it on the website.

In the original Maratta painting, titled “The Holy Night” or “The Nativity,” small angels peek past Mary to gaze at the baby. In the church’s version, the angels have been removed.

(As of Wednesday, after an inquiry from The Salt Lake Tribune, the Maratta image had been removed from the website.)

In Maratta’s original, Mary shows a hint of cleavage as she gazes adoringly at her newborn. In the Latter-day Saint version, someone has not only given Mary a higher neckline but also moved a shawl a bit higher on her left shoulder, giving her added modesty after more than 3½ centuries.

The church declined to comment on the altered artwork.

The edited version of Maratta’s painting was created for the 2016 Light the World initiative, which is intended to encourage acts of Yuletide service. The original painting hangs in the San Giuseppe dei Falegnami church, next to the Forum in Rome.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Visitors take in the size of Carl Bloch's oil and canvas "The Resurrection" at the BYU Museum of Art.

It is not the first time the church has photo-edited a classic painting. There was a bit of a stink back in 2011, when the faith’s Ensign magazine removed the wings from a pair of angels flanking Jesus in the painting “The Resurrection” by Danish artist Carl Bloch — because Latter-day Saints don’t believe angels have wings — and added cap sleeves to the female angels’ attire, because the original shows their shoulders.

(Today, prints of the original version are available for purchase at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art.)

It also is not the only time this holiday season that the church has edited a painting. As reported by the Times and Seasons blog, a concert titled “Witnesses of Christmas | Symbols of Christ” — produced by and for Latter-day Saints in Europe — includes a brief glimpse of a 15th-century Nativity painting of the baby Jesus by the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio — and the newborn’s genitals have been blurred out. (It appears at about 47:40 into the hourlong video on YouTube.)

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