Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"I'm Just Some Art Whose Intentions Are Good..."

"Oh, Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

Zadok also provided us with some beautiful pictures of religious art in Santa Maria Maggiore which could be easily... misunderstood. Let's face it -- if it can be done without violating good theological principles, Catholic art is going to do it, and Catholics are going to love it and keep it and annoy non-Catholics with their insensitive Catholicness.

It's not that Catholics want to freak the mundanes or the Protestants. (Though annoying Jack Chick is something of a bonus... Well, no, it's really not. But poor Jack Chick is going to be annoyed whatever we do. All we can do is pray for him to come to reason and Truth.)

Some images are just so deep in tradition that it's obviously foolish to change them around for the sake of a secular society that's changing every minute, and will soon enough be gone. Some images shock because they insist on the reality of the Incarnation, and hence of the importance of all sorts of bodily functions. Some shock to wake up consciences and minds and hearts, like a sort of koan for the eyes. But mostly, if you can make an image of some important theological truth, you should. It shows proper gratitude to God for showing you that truth, and teaches it to others.

So here's one of Zadok's examples: a carving of the Baby Jesus in Mary's arms attached to a plain cross (with purposeful resemblance to an actual crucifix). You will note that Mary is carefully leaning to the side; it is Jesus who occupies the center here. However, it really is clever how the artist replaces the little "step" common on crucifixes with the crescent moon Mary stands upon, as per the Book of Revelation. Also, Mary is crowned, though Jesus is still a baby. This isn't a crucifixion, obviously. But is it a foreshadowing? Or is it a portrayal of Mary and Jesus outside normal time, with Jesus appearing to His people from eternity with the promise of the Second Coming? Either way, it's definitely designed to make you think.

But then, the same people who might be made uncomfortable by seeing the Baby Jesus pre-crucified, or who might complain about crowning and dressing up Infants of Prague, don't have a problem with a Flash presentation accusing everyone of literally making the Baby Jesus cry. (I'd link to it if I could remember where I saw it.) The impulse is the same; it's only the picture that's different. (And the theology of images, of course.)

The Mystical Bath by Jean Bellegambe. In this triptych panel, we see people literally bathing in the blood of the Lamb -- rub-a-dub scrub and all -- in a bathtub at the foot of the Cross. Check out how fast they're running to be saved! Check out the medieval undies! (This is pretty much a true picture of what a medieval bathhouse looked like, complete with wenches to give you a boost and cakes to eat, transposed with the heart of holiness. The bathing person with the jar is probably St. Mary Magdalen with her ointment, and the boosters are probably supposed to be Mary (given the sun on her headdress) and some other female saint -- maybe the Church herself, since the ship could be the barque of Peter. Very bold. Very weird.)

Snake-Stompin' Jesus and Snake-Stompin' Mary! Or, "The Madonna with the Serpent" by Caravaggio. Yep, that's one way to deal with fuzzy readings of scripture. Not to mention a good visual summation of the Catholic "both-and" as opposed to "either-or". Also note Jesus' obvious masculinity and navel -- another nod to the importance of the Incarnation (and maybe His Jewish identity, too). I like how Mary and St. Anne look like tough Italian ladies.

Mothering God: an article on Maria Gravida, Maria Lactans, and other "shocking" images of Jesus' incarnation and Mary's part in it.

This page has two Maria Lactans pictures, though the one way down at the bottom is the cutest. St. Luke is trying to draw Mary's portrait while she nurses, but Jesus is making silly faces at him instead of paying attention to the task at hand.

A Maria Gravida example in St. Augustine, Florida.

La Virgen de la O and still more pregnant Mary's.

A very pregnant Mary on a donkey.

Of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the best known example of a pregnant Mary today.

Awesome picture of Mary's Immaculate Conception inside St. Anne by the same Jean Bellegambe who brought you bathtime on Calvary. I guess you could call this an example of "Anna Gravida". St. Anne is davening in the Temple, and if you look closely, apparently so is the unborn Mary.

Virtual chapel of the Unborn Jesus and a special page dedicated to Mary's holy womb. Part of an anti-abortion apostolate and memory site.


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