December 14, 2008

"You painters do harm, and if you knew the resulting scandal you wouldn’t paint figures such as these, filling our churches with human vanity."

"Do you really think the Virgin Mary went around dressed as you depict her? I assure you she dressed like a poor girl, simply and modestly, and was so well-covered that all you could see were her eyes....”

IN THE COMMENTS: Sir Archy, our 250+ years-dead ghost, makes an appearance.


Bissage said...

Q: What kind of virgin doesn't float?

A: Link.

peter hoh said...

In other words, if you painters want some added publicity, keep doing what you're doing.

rhhardin said...

I lost track of the biblical Marys. After the first two or three they all blend together.

EDH said...

Stages of dress and undress aside, I have difficulty with the image of Mary gettin' freaky for an aging hipster dufus like Bill Maher in Hef's grotto.

BJM said...

Comparing Savonarola's censorship and purge of Florentine art to Playboy's cover boner is overblown hyperbole.

Although one could make the connection between Sandro Botticelli's Neo-Platonist themes and Playboy from the Holy See's point of view.

What did Mexico Playboy's publishers expect? My guess is a sell-out issue fueled by the controversy.

As it is simply not credible that an adult Mexican would not recognize the resemblance to one of Mexico's most beloved cultural icons.

Rule #1 in Mexico: Do not disrespect Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
Rule #2: See Rule #1.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Well, that's Playboy, gemutlich in a soldier boy mood and provocative, funny also because, like a four year old, it's clear they can't tell a Church from a Sanger-Harris.

reader_iam said...

And so it was that on the afternoon of III Advent, reader_iam put aside her Amazon shopping list in favor of researching and contemplating Mary in hijab and abayah (burqa? chador? jilbab? niquab? khimar?) and such concepts as tzniyat in days of yore and now, and cultures far and wide.

reader_iam said...

Alas, now it's time to get ready for the annual shut-in caroling and chili supper.

Albatross said...

I wonder why so many people -- Florentine Dominicans, documentary makers, editorial cartoonists, etc. -- insist on portraying the Holy Family as poor. Nothing I remember reading in the Bible ever said Joseph and Mary lived in poverty. In fact, the only reason Jesus was born in a stable was because there was no room at the inn. The gospel never said they didn't have the money for a room.

Synova said...

Albatross is right.

They weren't *wealthy*, but there is no reason to think they weren't firmly middle class.

I can't get too upset about silly publicity stunts, but I would also say...

Is there any reason at all to think that Mary lived in a culture where she would cover everything but her eyes?

I don't think so.

Kathy said...

Nothing I remember reading in the Bible ever said Joseph and Mary lived in poverty. In fact, the only reason Jesus was born in a stable was because there was no room at the inn. The gospel never said they didn't have the money for a room.

Read again. When they took Jesus to the temple, they made the sacrifice reserved for poor people, a pair of doves. Had they been middle class, they would have made the normal sacrifice.

Sir Archy said...

To Professor Althouse.

Dear Madam,

As a Ghost of a Gentleman, dead these 260 Years and more, I need not tell you that my Century was famously impious. It may thus not surprize you to learn that th' expos'd Breast of the Virgin Mary does not shock me, for, I have seen Worse in my Time.

Additionally, Madam, I beg your pardon for repeating in this Epistle the Substance of what I have written before on a similar Topick.  I pray the Audience at this Theatre of Topicks (as I call it) will shew their accustom'd Forbearance, if what I write is none too original for their Tastes.  I should like to make it known, however, that I have spar'd no Trouble with such Emenditions as I think necessary to gratify the Publick.

Savonarola may have been a Fanatick & Jew-baiter, a Sort perhaps not unfamiliar to your Audience; but, a Smatt'ring of Knowledge of religious Art will acquaint even the most indolent Student with such Folly, Egoism, Greed & Impiety as to call to question the very Teachings that the Art is suppos'd to inculcate; and, thus to have been the proper Object of Savonarola's Ire.  A Smatt'ring of the History of Religion will likewise inform the Student that Images upon Walls, Statues & Stain'd Glass Windows were created from a supposed Holy Impulse, and, then eras'd & smash'd for the same Reason, sufficient to make a sneering Atheist of the unbias'd Observer.

The Wisdom and Holiness of the Ten Commandments is, however, manifest. GOD taught the Second Commandment to the Hebrews thus, viz.:—

    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven Image, or any Likeness of any Thing
    that is in Heaven above, or that is in the Earth beneath, or that is in the Water
    under the Earth.

Many have been exasperated at the Christian Church for Deviations from this Rule.  Iconoclasts in the Time of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo the IIIrd, and, more recently, Followers of Zwingli & Calvin; not to mention those eccentrick and peaceful Souls belonging to such Sects as the so-call'd Friends, or Quakers; have rent Christianity, some more violently than others, with Controversy about the Need to resort to Images & Statues to inspire the rightful Worship of GOD.

Failing the Second Commandment, that the Image of a Harlot's Breast should be advanc'd to represent that of the Mother of the Messiah would not, I think, have surpris'd Moses; for he had seen Breasts enough on both Walls & Harlots in Egypt. That we have such a Commandment, and, do not shrink from shewing the Virgin's Breast as an Object of Desire is, perhaps, the Reason the Emperor destroy'd the Icons; and, the Puritans whitewash'd the Frescoes.  If a Religion uses no Images, its Adherents may not debase them.

The Debasement of religious Images in refined, yet, pernicious Ways, may be shewn by the Example of this Alterpiece.  You may see another Copy here. This Work was painted about the Year 1445, by a Fleming, one Rogier van der Weyden, an Artist of some Renown in his Age; which was a few Years before that of Savonarola.  It now resides near Berne in Switzerland. I recall seeing it on the Continent during my youthful Tour in the Year 1709.

The noble Art of Painting in Oils, altho' newly invented, had, by the middle of the Fifteenth Century, reach'd a Pitch of Perfection never seen before, or, seldom equal'd since.  The wise Observer will, however, not be deceiv'd by the polish'd Surface of this Work; for the Composition is very defective, and, the Taste yet Gothick.  In the leftmost Panel, we see the Donor, an Italian Banker in the Costume of his Day, piously kneeling, and yet looking like every Banker you may have ever met with.

The central Panel of Christ Crucified remains, however, to the careful Critick, a most curious Performance.

The Figures of St. John and Christ have been met with before in other Crucifixions by the same Artist.  Mynheer van der Weyden seems to have had a Company of Models, including perhaps, ones for the Virgin Mary and other female Figures.  That to the Three familiar Marys is added another unknown Lady, piques the Curiosity of both the Bible-reader and the Art-lover.  In the Centre, we see her reaching to comfort the Virgin Mary.  This young Woman, of no little Beauty, is wearing a well-fitt'd Dress of rich brown Velvet and Gold Brocade, with stockings of the same Colour. A finely-wrought Gold-buckl'd Sandal may be seen upon one of her well-shaped Feet.  The sumptousness of her Costume, and, the Beauty & Italianate Cast of her Person suggest that she is the Wife of the Banker, painted into the Picture, as above.

Donors are often met with in Flemish religious Pictures of this Age.  Commonly, they are a Potato-fac'd Burgher and his long-suff'ring Wife, looking for all the World like a Mædeval Mr. & Mrs. Clinton, kneeling discretely in some Corner.  That someone would have his pretty Wife painted, as if attir'd for a Ball, whilst comforting the Virgin Mary, is astonishing to a later Age.  Perhaps 'twas not regarded as blasphemous to be seen to mingle with the Holy Family if you were well enough drest.

Mary Magdalene is another comely young Woman shewn in this Panel.  She has rais'd her arms in a Gesture of Grief, causing her Cloak to fall about her Hips, and, stretching her fine Linen Shift tightly over her firm Breasts. Not visible in these miserable Copies is the Artist's Skill in depicting the Impressions of her well-form'd Nipples upon her Garment.  That the Banker's Gaze seems fix't, for aught I see, upon her Nipples, and, not upon Christ, should not surprise the Student of either Religion or Human Nature.

The Figure of Christ hovers over all this as if only to give Height and Dimension to the Composition, having little to do with the Action upon the Ground.  In the Churches of the Day, the Crucified Christ would have been chiefly visible to the Congregation; whilst the Priest, bent over the Secreto, could at once proclaim the Transubstantiation of Christ, and, privily enjoy a View of erect Nipples, and, a well-turn'd Ankle.  That many a Priest & Monk would have stain'd themselves in Admiration of this Alter should not, again, surprise our Student.

Keeping in Mind that what many will regard as the Breasts of St. Mary will not be the first, nor, the last, nor, even the worst Impiety ever impos'd upon the Christian Religion; & begging your pardon for the Tardiness & Length of my Writing (which has put me in mind of the Vexations due the Art Critick),

I am, Madam,

Your most humble & obt. Servant

Sir Archy

Albatross said...

Read again. When they took Jesus to the temple, they made the sacrifice reserved for poor people, a pair of doves. Had they been middle class, they would have made the normal sacrifice.

Wow, that's pretty obscure. I think if Jesus' personal poverty were an essential part of his teaching, then the gospel writers would have made it a bit more obvious that that.

Now, where in the New Testament is the outline of animal sacrifices laid out by class and income?

reader_iam said...

Albatross: The reference is to Leviticus 12:8. I realize that's the Old Testament (and part of The Torah), and not the new testament, but then, Mary and Joseph were Jewish, of course.

reader_iam said...

I am neither Old Testament nor Torah scholar, nor do I know ancient languageso I can't comment as to the "poor," as opposed to simply "can't afford."

Kirk Parker said...

Albatross, Kathy,

Uhh, what first-century Palestinian middle class?

Sir Archy,

Ooooh, nice dig at C4!!!

Joe said...

Covering everything but her eyes? Where did that tidbit of bullshit come from? If you're going to debunk myths, at least get your story reasonably plausible.

(And don't get me started on all the freaky stories from Christians--where they get their "facts" is a mystery. [Okay, for me it isn't since I think they whole thing was made up so why not keep doing it? But if you're going to be a believer, at least stick with scripture.)

Kirk Parker said...


And where did your nonsense come from? I'm quite confident Savonarola's ideas of modesty were closer to those prevailing at the time of Mary than yours are.

Kathy said...

I think if Jesus' personal poverty were an essential part of his teaching, then the gospel writers would have made it a bit more obvious that that.

I wasn't aware that anyone was claiming that the gospel writers considered Jesus' poverty an essential part of his teaching. As for being obscure, the reference to the sacrifices made would not have been obscure to the original audience at all, since such sacrifices were an integral part of their daily lives.

Uhh, what first-century Palestinian middle class?

Yes, I realize I should have clarified my response in that respect. Sorry.