Have you ever browsed crudely drawn deviantART pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog fellating Abraham Lincoln and thought, "Wow, what happened to art? You know, like the classy religious stuff they had back in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance?" Well, we're about to either make you feel better about the current state of art or convince you that it's always been full of perverse nightmare fuel. If you browse through artwork from centuries ago, you will see that ...
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That's right. This is not a Photoshop:
Josefa de Obidos
Sometimes Jesus would turn it into grape juice just to mess with people.
You would think that there wouldn't be enough bandwidth on the Internet to sufficiently explain that image in a way that lets it make sense, but we'll try. Keep in mind, religious artwork doesn't necessarily have to be influenced directly by the Bible. Sometimes it can be based on legends and folklore while still remaining true to the fundamentals of church art, like being as uncomfortably wacky as possible. Case in point: the legend of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
The patron saint of Rule 34.
There are two versions of the St. Bernard legend, both of which concern Bernard receiving a vision where he gets to sample breast milk from the Virgin Mary, whose impressive aim has been seriously downplayed in the Scripture. One version of the legend claims that the Virgin Mary let Bernard sample her milk to show him that she's humanity's mother and can totally put in a good word with Jesus, so we should probably pray to her, too. In the other version, the milk was meant to impart the heavenly wisdom of God, but this version also plays heavily on the motif of motherhood.
The original MILF (mother imparting liquid faith).
It's not exactly that complicated of a theme. Mary is supposed to be the mother of God, and mothers breast-feed, so anything to do with breast milk will instantly have "motherhood" written all over it. As for why she had to be cartoonishly squirting the milk at Bernard from 5 feet away, well ... for one, it allowed both parties to maintain a respectful distance from one another, because these are two adult virgins we're talking about. There is church protocol to be followed! Good taste and morality have to be considered, and ...
"The Vision of St. Bernard" remained a popular theme throughout Europe until the Council of Trent brought the fun and games to an end after someone realized that artists were basically painting one guy's wet-but-not-in-that-sense dream.
Just like that time your mom opened your computer folder marked "Biology Homework."
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We're going to go out on a limb and say that no human has appeared in more paintings than Jesus. But if you're browsing an art gallery, you'll start to notice something very, very strange -- people gathering around the baby Jesus and grabbing his penis:
"Bad touch! Bad touch!"
Wow, OK. Not to be insensitive or anything, but this picture kinda looks like Exhibit A from a CPS custody trial. But of course that's just us being our typical immature selves. That's his mother, right? She's allowed to do that. But this is a whole genre of painting, and there's more to it. Notice the strangers in the picture, staring at his junk? Yeah, we cropped the picture -- here's the full crowd:
"Hey, paint a picture, it'll last longer."
Here's another one -- the guy on the left is literally pointing at the baby wiener and glancing at the viewer, as if to say, "Check it, bro."
Giving birth to a tradition that continues in Catholic churches to this very day.
Here's yet another, this time with even more strangers lining up for miles to stare at a child's exposed genitalia, as if to get its autograph:
"Well worth the price of admission."
Stop, stop, hold on. Are we totally sure that we aren't all going to jail for looking at these pictures? Thankfully not, because according to art scholar Leo Steinberg, author of The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Christ's "tree of forbidden knowledge" was a pretty common motif in Renaissance art, which most experts chalked up to the resurgence of secularism and anatomic studies during that time.
Steinberg, however, had his own take on the matter, namely that all those people were in reality bringing attention to Jesus' junk because it's the symbol of his mortality, without which his later resurrection (and thus all of Christianity) wouldn't make any sense. We're kind of willing to agree with Steinberg here, mainly because he was the first person to actually notice this trend.
THIS. This somehow flew under everyone's radar.
That's why there are so many portraits of folks bringing attention to Christ's (*cough*) "humanity," including numerous depictions of one of the three wise men kneeling in front of and intently staring at Jesus' rod and staff to confirm that he really could die for our sins one day:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
"It's a very scientific process."
And another, even stranger thing you'll find in old Christian artwork ...
Everyone remembers Mary Magdalene as the original prostitute with a heart of gold who (literally) found Jesus. However, absolutely no one remembers Mary as a hairy beast whose special services catered specifically to first century furries ... well, no one except Renaissance and medieval artists, apparently:
Prostitute, biblical heroine, discoverer of static electricity.
Yes, it would appear that, once upon a time, artists couldn't get enough of showing Mary Magdalene completely covered in fur from head to toe. Sometimes the fur would seem to be growing directly out of her skin, and sometimes it would be an extension of her luscious locks. Either way, if you were alive a few hundred years ago, you probably pictured the biblical poster girl for redemption as the most apt candidate for laser hair removal.
But never waxing. Dear God, never waxing.
Around the 15th century, the depictions of Mary Magdalene in art started becoming more sexualized to really accentuate her sin before being redeemed by Jesus. And as many artists kept painting her in increasingly salacious poses while whispering "You're a naughty, naughty girl" under their breath, somewhere down the line they began putting more emphasis on Mary Magdalene's hair due to reasons that are creepy and not worth thinking about too much.
Jacopo del Sellaio
"Maybe put her in a vagina cave, too, while you're at it."
Actually, the emphasis on her hair was probably influenced by the motif of sexually promiscuous "wild women," who were often depicted in European art with au naturel fur suits, as it linked them to nature and, by extension, paganism, a lack of morality, and the devil.
"So, does the ... uh, everything match the drapes?"
So Mary's hair is really just a bizarre and kind of lazy metaphor for promiscuity and her past life as a prostitute, which, by the way, she never was. Mary's reputation as a sex worker was actually a total fabrication from the Middle Ages, but as the old medieval saying goes, "Never let the truth stand in the way of your disturbing hair-centered fetishes."
"Hey, leave the boobs alone. We don't want people thinking we're weird."
But it's not like Christianity is the only source of baffling artwork ...