5 Hilariously Perverse Trends You Missed in Famous Artwork
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 ...
The Virgin Mary Is Often Squirting Breast Milk at People
That's right. This is not a Photoshop:
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."
There Are Lots of Paintings Featuring People Grabbing Baby Jesus' Dick
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:
"It's a very scientific process."
And another, even stranger thing you'll find in old Christian artwork ...
Mary Magdalene Is Often Portrayed as a Werewolf
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.
"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 ...
Buddha Sometimes Appears as a Human Skeleton
When you hear the word "Buddha," chances are you probably think of something closer to this ...
... than this:
Another victim of Buddha dysmorphia.
And yet, throughout Asia, statues of Buddha as a starving near-corpse with sunken eyes and a protruding ribcage absolutely abound in public spaces as they relieve people's bowels of their material possessions.
"For true wisdom is only found in unremitting horror."
That's because the first image above that kinda looks like your roommate from freshman year is technically "a" Buddha, but not "the" Buddha you're thinking of. The title can refer to either the founder of the religion or anyone who has achieved enlightenment. The Laughing Buddha is the latter: His name is actually Budai, and he was a Chinese Zen monk who over time became co-opted by various Asian religions as the god of abundance and happiness.
By contrast, the historical Buddha was born 1,500 years before Budai, and the statues of him in a state of near-starvation depict the six years during which he pursued enlightenment through extreme asceticism.
Or "modeling," as it is known today.
The Gautama Buddha's excessive fasting might have left him near death, but it was thanks to him experiencing both extreme poverty and wealth (as he was born a prince) that he eventually formulated the "Middle Way," a kind of equilibrium in life that is fundamental to Buddhist teachings. So, it's actually kind of weird that artists would focus on the one part of Buddha's biography that's not representative of his teachings at all AND doubles as a Halloween decoration.
"I'm here to help neighborhood kids achieve enfrightenment."
Shit ... looking at it, it's not that hard to believe that some practitioners of Buddhism would over time get crazy ideas in their heads, like trying to mummify themselves alive:
What? This statue influenced something pants-shittingly terrifying?
Many Depictions of Christ Are Sporting Holy Wood
Have you ever drawn an oversized dick on one of the figures in your history book while bored during class? Don't feel too bad about it, because whatever you did has nothing on Renaissance artists who couldn't stop themselves from drawing giant erections on Jesus Christ himself:
"It's my cross to bare."
Quite popular in 16th century Netherlands and Germany, the Christ-with-an-erection motif existed for more than 300 years without anyone finding anything particularly weird about it.
"Christ has risen."
People apparently just looked at these paintings of their lord and savior in the middle of his own "passion" and decided, "Nope, nothing inappropriate about this at all." Then they went and died painfully of an infected cut at age 22 because, you know, the 16th century and all.
Even for a carpenter, that is a ridiculous amount of wood.
The celestial erection itself was always covered by a loincloth, but it left little to the imagination. Could it be a case of the artists attempting to be super-realistic and depicting a very real case of a postmortem woody? Actually, as with the touching of baby Jesus' package, Christ's morning glory ties to the whole idea of incarnation, and everyone is just too polite to call bullshit.
There's more than one way to make wine.
However, unlike the baby Jesus depictions, this motif was sort of meant to be sexual, although in a less creepy way than it sounds. By focusing on the mortal Jesus' erection in his final hours, the artists were, in fact, saying that sexuality IS humanity and that it's nothing to be ashamed of, seeing as it became the last note Jesus Christ himself left this mortal plane on. We just sincerely hope that that "note" wasn't representative of all males back then, because our inferiority complexes are doing just fine completely on their own.
That's not the wind holding it up.
Related Reading: Just think of all the perverse trends hiding in these hidden works of art. There's gotta be something dirty going on with that $12 million pickled shark nobody gets to see. No amount of hidden filth will ever be as impressive as this liveable Lego house, but maybe we're biased. Ready for some more good old fashioned filthy jokes in ancient art? Follow this link.