Sunday, June 1


Milk and Blood

I'll freely admit that in these modern times, it's perfectly normal to get a little weirded out by old images of the Virgo Lactans or St. Bernard mystically drinking the milk of Our Lady, but the sort of legitimate shock value they possess is not to be sneezed at. (In other words, tough noogies, I'm going to talk about them anyway.) In our post-Freudian world, such iconography dares us to chasten our minds and our gaze, and also challenges us to think, as all Christian art does, about the sacramental reality--and the body is part of that--on a multiplicity of levels and meanings.

I am reminded of the theologian and iconographer Fr. Thomas Loya's comment that sometimes when a young man comes to him complaining of being beset with temptations of the flesh, his prescription is usually to send the man to have a look at the nearest gallery of Old Masters, who, more often than not, could see past their lust to the beauty of the human body, unlike our own sex-acclimated society, where no clear line exists any longer between smut, art, and advertising.

(I imagine this moral-theological technique may work for some people better than others, which is why we still have custody of the eyes. The problem is the last time I tried the old-fashioned way--i.e., looking at your feet--I was a bit over-zealous and walked into the side of a building.)

You've all heard me sermonize on this whole subject, but what occasioned this outburst was something called to my attention by a friend of mine, a description of a Rubens painting found at this web site:
Another scene was particularly inspirational: St Augustine hesitating between the blood of Christ and the milk of the Virgin. "Positus in medio, quo vertam nescio, hic pastor a vulnere, hic lactor ab ubere," St Augustine wrote in his Meditations: "I stand between them, which way shall I turn? On the one side the blood of Christ, on the other, the milk of his Mother." Rubens shows Augustine between Christ exhibiting the wound in his left side, and Mary exposing her breast from which milk is flowing.
Unfortunately, my observant correspondant couldn't find any shots of the original painting, but just a second-rate Flemish copy. Still, it's a fascinating piece of hagiographic esoterica, and I rather like the Virgin, who gives off a very believable and sympathetic beautiful-young-mother vibe.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?