#3. Artists Conflate Female Genitalia, Jesus' Spear Wound
via Terry Jones
You know that old, old visual pun where a kid leafs through a nudie magazine in class by hiding it in a history textbook? Because we should burn the very concept of that joke to the ground and replace it with an even older one, straight from the Middle Ages:
Metropolitan Museum of Ar
You know what that is, and yes, it's in a prayer book.
Images like this are plentiful in manuscripts and devotional books of the era, when objects associated with the crucifixion were popular subjects. Somehow, the artists behind these precious works convinced their patrons that the disembodied labia you see in the picture above (and below) represent the spear wound Christ received in his side during crucifixion, and started drawing it all over the place.
Yeah, Medieval artist dude, that's totally a spear wound.
On the opposite page they'd draw a mighty column. Then, they'd open and shut the book and giggle profusely.
Historians are pretty sure the people who drew these things were well aware of the resemblance. In fact, some argue that it was the point: Because the side wound was seen as a way into Christ's heart, it was a very important aspect in Christianity and believers were actually encouraged to visualize themselves communing with the wound (presumably they added a spear of their own to this visual image). No matter how pious and chaste you are, there's only so much innuendo the world can pile in front of you before you take the obvious route.
If you still don't quite buy the whole vagina theory, consider the fact that the wound was also seen as the "birth canal" that unleashed Christianity into the world:
Still not as painful as giving birth normally.
It also often prominently surrounds Jesus in pictures of his resurrection:
He's his own father and mother.
Yeah, we're calling it: All religious art is legally required to carry creepy undertones.
University of Oxford
Unless you have some other reason for that bullet-riddled potato in your vagina.
#2. Medieval Bunnies Were Just Plain Fucking Evil
Here's the thing about bunnies: They're adorable. Being cute and fluffy is their entire schtick, which is why it works so well when Bugs Bunny starts wrecking shit or the Beast of Caerbannog in Monty Python and the Holy Grail turns out to be a fluffy rabbit that just happens to be made out of murder. Medieval artists knew this too:
"It's better this way. You don't want to be alive for what I'm going to do after."
Rather than overpopulate the pages of children's storybooks, Medieval rabbits wreaked all sorts of sociopathic havoc on the margins of various writings. For instance, a manuscript known as The Smithfield Decretals boasts two rabbit-themed stories that unfold like gruesome flip books at the bottom of several pages. In one, a gang of no-good hares capture a hapless human. In the other one, far more convoluted than any episode of Law & Order, they shoot a hound, tie him up, take him to animal court, and condemn him to hang. The hares finish their power trip by thumbing their nose at the dead dog.
What, you thought we were kidding?
These images were often added in commissioned written works, in a manner not unlike cartoons in a newspaper. Only, their adorable cartoon rabbits do shit like mauling people to death:
via Vintage Printable
Nabbing a lucky human's foot in the process
And go Eddard Stark on their necks:
"The Leporidae always pay their debts."
And just generally hunt them down, presumably for sport:
Because it's rabbit hunting season.
As the old Medieval saying goes: Ya don't mess with the rabbit, y'all.
#1. Syphilitic Codpiece Boners Were Everywhere
Let's say you're the ruler of a small dukedom in a time when all your neighbors want to overtake your land. What better way to show that you are a strong, masculine warrior than by commissioning a portrait of yourself with a big ol' erection?
"My enemies are pests, and I will spray them off my land with my mighty hose. Penis."
Thanks in part to Henry VIII -- king, lover, and innovator in the field of ornate cock-coverings -- powerful leaders in the 15th and 16th centuries were all about the codpiece. It had a humble start as a triangular piece of cloth connecting the top and bottom parts of a man's outfit, but the unfortunate tides of fashion soon turned it into a very specific tool in dick-measuring contests that especially manifested itself in the ridiculously bulging portraits of the era.
However, plenty of historians believe the length and girth of codpieces grew not just because leaders wanted to advertise but because the giant, erect cloth-sack was the only way these powerful men could deal with the first great syphilis epidemic.
"If that thing gets any fucking closer to my face you won't have to worry about STDs anymore."
The only way to treat the symptoms of syphilis back then was to apply soothing ointments and pack soft bandages around those genitals. This left an enormous bulge that the sick person couldn't exactly conceal. Which proved problematic, as it was extremely important for a man of power to be seen out and about, lest his enemies start conspiring. If only there was some way to pack up your swollen, festering junk, all wrapped up in bandages and lathered in staining, red ointment, in a way that is socially acceptable ...
Yeah, that's right. Now, take a look at all those wacky codpiece pictures again, and see how horrifying they've suddenly become.
Carmen Burana would like to thank Carl S. Pyrdum, III at @gotmedieval for his invaluable research into murderous bunnies.
For more art history lessons, check out 19 Mind-Blowing Details You Missed in Famous Works of Art and 24 Famous Paintings (With The Dialogue Included).