Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Modesty and Calvinism...

There is a distinction.

The Apparition of the Madonna to St. Bernard wherein he nurses at her breast. It is a mystical moment in the life of the saint, rarely represented in art.

Presented is the history of the iconography shown here:

" The imagery of Bernard's miracle of lactation is founded on the words purported to have been spoken by Bernard in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Monstra te esse matrem." (show thyself my mother!) With this request the statue is said to have come alive and have 'expressed' a stream of milk to the mouth of Bernard. Louis Réau traces the iconography of the lactation miracle of Bernard back to the 14th century, finding three paintings from that period, six in the 15th century, eight in the 16th, seven in the 17th, and ends with three in the 18th century.165 14th century "Legend of St. Bernard" Majorcan;166 The Virgin Mary stands holding Jesus in right arm, pressing her right breast with her left hand using the p/z gesture; shooting a stream of milk to the kneeling Bernard in a praying attitude as three saints look on (fig. 10). > 15th century "La légende de la lactation" Flemish;167 p/z gesture to breast and holding the Christ child; Bernard holding book and pen; no milk.

ca. 1475 "Maria erscheint dem heilegen Bernhard" flemish;168 breast cupped with left hand, holding Jesus with right hand; Bernard kneels and prays; no milk. ca. 1540? "Aparición de la Virgen a San Bernardo" by Juan Correa,169 Spanish; Virgin in a mandorla cloud presses her right breast with her right hand to shoot a stream of milk to Bernard using the p/z gesture, holding Jesus in her left arm; Bernard kneels as he receives her milk. 15th century "The lactation miracle of St. Bernard,"170 detail of a retablo by the Valencian Master of Burgo de Osma; the Virgin appears to Bernard alone in a mandorla above an altar, pressing her breast between her thumb and second finger to shoot a stream of milk to the lips of Bernard; Bernard holds his hands in prayer and receives the milk drawn in a straight line from the Virgin's nipples to his closed lips. 1659 "La légende de la "lactation" mystique de saint Bernard" Bruxelles;171 The Virgin standing, with the baby Jesus in her left arm, and Bernard kneeling, elevated above the earth on clouds, overlooking Clairvaux, Bernard's newly established monastery; the Virgin squirts a stream of milk into Bernard's waiting mouth; no gesture visible 1665-75 "La visión de San Bernardo" by Bartolomé Murillo,172 Bernard kneeling with his hand on his chest in the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture receiving milk from the Virgin Mary; the Virgin appears in a cloudy mandorla and presses her right breast with her right hand to shoot a stream of milk to the saint, her nipple between her thumb and second finger, while she holds Jesus in her left arm.

(Pictured at left, an image I lifted from "Sacred Weblog of the Universal Inquisition")

Rubens (1577-1640) "Saint Augustin en moine."173 In the painting the figure of the risen Christ holding a cross looks down upon the saint from the left side, while the Virgin on the right presses her right breast with her right hand, presumably to gift Augustine, on whom she gazes, with her milk. Augustine himself kneels between the mother and son looking up into the heavens with his arms crossed. Directly associated with Murillo's painting of the lactation vision of Augustine is the painting by Murillo, "The vision of Saint Augustine" ca. 1678174 in which the bearded Augustine kneels with his hands low and outstretched, with the image of Christ crucified on the viewer's left, gazing upwards towards Mary, to the viewer's right, who is pressing her breast to squirt a stream of milk to his lips; putti fill the upper realms of the painting. ? "Saint Bernard et la Vierge," by the Master of the life of the Virgin, Cologne, the Virgin and Bernard stand in a mundane scene behind a low wall on which the baby Jesus sits; Bernard gazes at the child as Mary, with eyes lowered towards the saint, bares her left breast and holds it with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture; Jesus touches her p/z hand, as Bernard touches the leg of Jesus with one hand while holding a book with the other; no milk. " Breast Feeding

The Puritan and Calvinist influences in our culture do indeed remain intact in the American psyche, even in an atmosphere of so much depravity and overt sexuality, while elements of Jansenism seem to be entering a new renaissance amongst some ultra-traditionalists. These provocative (provocative to a sexualized culture) images of St. Bernard will of course be shocking to some people. I post them because another blogger was recently criticized for a painting he posted on his blog, with a couple of commentators warning him that he was presenting an occasion of sin to those who would visit his site. It all happened on Roman Catholic Blog . (I myself had used the image he uses for his current post once before - borrowed from his earlier use of it.)

At the hospital today I was looking through People magazine - now that is soft porn - and definitely not art. "Brittney - put some underwear on!"

(Don Marco - where are you when I need you!)


  1. Could you describe the Calvinist influence a bit more?

  2. Calvinism and Puritanism are virtually one and the same. Here is a description of my purpose in designating the influence in our culture:

    Calvinist thought:

    "Natural depravity refers to human nature; that is, every human being is by nature corrupt and perverted as a result of Adam and Eve's fall. Calvin is unsparing in his description of natural depravity,
    the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design any thing but what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure, and iniquitous; that his heart is so thoroughly envenomed by sin that it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness; that if some men occasionally make a show of goodness, their mind is ever interwoven with hypocrisy and deceit, their soul inwardly bound with the fetters of wickedness.
    It is because of natural depravity that human beings are, in Calvin's words, "the authors of their own destruction." - taken from:

    Therefore, anything like the art I have portrayed in this post would probably be deemed obscene. The Catholic quivalent is known as Jansenism.


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