Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Prado, Part III

It's hard to believe, but it was almost a month ago that I went to the Prado for the first time. It was on Sunday, October 2nd. In the interest of catching up, I'll post this (probably) final entry on the Prado, and then go have some gelato. Ciao!

It's hardly surprising that I liked the work by Velasquez, El Greco, Goya and Bosch in this museum. But the stuff that really excited me was by artists I was unfamiliar with. It was that great feeling of discovering something new, re-orienting yourself after encountering something and thinking "what the hell is this?" Below is a brief list. If any of the artists (Stacey, Andrea, Bob, Karl, Julie) or art scholars (Bill) who read this journal want to add any information, it would be greatly appreciated. As it is, I'm looking forward to getting back to the States and either buying or getting some books out of the library about the following:

- Nicolas Frances (1434-1468) created a giant altar that I loved

- "San Miguel de Zafra" by an anonymous Spaniard. Huge piece, similar to depictions of St. George killing a dragon, only it was St. Michael battling demons. St. Michael is in the foreground, while around him almost like a wallpaper collaborated on by Escher and Bosch, angels and demons battle.

- Tintoretto (1519-1594) I'm sure I'll see more of his work in Italy

- Bassano (1510-1592) Used rough sketchy images, which gave the images a "soft" look. Saw more of his work today. Very dramatic faces, almost to the point of caricature. His "last supper" has so much playing out on the faces of those depicted that it reminded me of Norman Rockwell, of all people. Not subtle, but I liked his work.

- Hans Baldung-Green (1484-1545) Las Edades Y La Muerta - Death and two ladies in an odd, gothic vertically composed painting in pale beiges. Looks very contemporary and like nothing else I know of from that era (though my knowledge is pretty limited)

- Rodrigo De Osona (1464-1518) "Christo Ante Pilates" Master of the grotesque.

- Berreuguette (1450-1503) "San Pedro" Vote for Pedro? Sorry, couldn't resist. Anyway, this is crazy Catholic art at its best. Large series of paintings that depict the life and death of Saint Pedro. Appearantly he was killed by a blow to the head with an ax. His portrait, the center painting of the series, depicts him with a halo, holding a book of scripture, and an ax protruding from his head. It's crazy and a great painting.

While we're on the subject of crazy Catholic art, there are several paintings in the Prado that depict Mary, the mother of Christ, squirting people with her breast milk. I am not making this up. This is one part of my Catholic education that was skipped. When I saw the first painting, I thought "that's odd." But by the third, I knew it was a motif. A crazy one. Several of the paintings depict Mary giving San Bernardo an eyeful. Mom - is this part of the legend of San Bernardo? Did he claim to have a vision in which he was squirted by Mary's breast milk? There's also a painting by Rubens, who I was surprised to discover that I don't really like his art. Too airy fairy for my taste. Too soft. There are exceptions, one of which shows Mary in the sky, squeezing her breast and the drops of milk that shoot out become stars in the sky, mixing the mundane, the religious and the cosmic.

It's just a motif I hadn't stumbled on before. It's rare in American galleries or museums that you see paintings of Mary breast feeding the infant Christ, although in Spain they're not uncommon.

Anyone want to comment?


Julie said...

not only were paintings of Mary breast feeding not all that uncommon ( Michelangelo did a relief sculpure of the subject ), But vials of supposed Virgin's breast milk were very common and popular relics. I believe the effects of a "squirt" were supposed to be similiar to holy water and have healing properties

Carol said...

Now whenever I see footage of the Pope shaking that mace-like thing at the masses, all I'm gonna think of is which crazy-ass nun gave him the breast milk.

Yes, I'm going to burn in hell.

Iva said...

When I was in school, we were not even supposed to know that the BVM had breasts, much less breast milk. Actually, it is funny, that is something that was NEVER discussed...the physical birth of Jesus and/or how he was nourished! The whole thing was just covered with the line..."she gave birth to her first-born son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger."
As regards Bernardo, the only Bernard I know of is the monk who started monasteries. Oh, yeah, and Maria's brother in "West Side Story." So I can't help you much.
How is Italy? Are you enjoying it? Bella, bella Italia! Have a wonderful time.

Miss Stambaugh said...

Yes, breast milk as holy water or earlier (medieval) as blood.

Shed for you.

mrs. collins said...

Bassano was one of the Italian Mannerist painters (I think Parmigiano was the most famous so you might see some of his work in Italy)- lots of twisty figures with sort of boneless limbs and odd(for the time) colors, especially for skin tones.

Julie said...

I just remembered that somewhere in Mideval Europe there was a statue of the Virgin that people would make pilgrimages to that supposedly leaked breast milk. I guess it was considered a miracle until it was discovered to be a fraud (surprise! )
Yeah, i guess Catholicism is crazy, if you made this stuff up no one would believe you. Also I think Carol's been driven over the edge by the messages in those letters we have to copy. I have to admit they've been freaking me out , too.
PS I don't really like Reubens, either, but I do like Tintoretto

bill said...

John, all,

Unfamiliar with this, but stole some text from Crisis (!) which I reproduce here (and includes a St. Bernard reference):

Contemporary with the Madonna of Humility, comparisons between the humble mother's flowing breast and her redeeming Son's bleeding heart yielded a startling type of composition known as !the Double Intercession. Mary and Jesus stand on either side of God the Father, Mary baring her breast, Christ touching His wounded side. Mother and Son beg mercy for human supplicants, the dying, the plague-ridden, or the world at the Last Judgment. In some examples, we see Christ's blood and Mary's milk poured out to relieve the souls in purgatory. The Madonna even squirts out milk to extinguish purgatorial fires in a painting by Filoseti dell'Amatrice (1508).

Before they were suppressed by the decorous reforms of Trent, these images supported an astonishing range of piety. The medieval craving for physical contact with the divine took satisfaction in reports of lactation miracles.

While St. Bernard of Clairvaux knelt in prayer, a statue of Maria Lactans came to life and bestowed three drops of milk on his lips. St. Gertrude the Great nursed the Baby Jesus and Blessed Angela of Foligno nursed at Christ's side. Lidwina of! Schiedam saw Mary and her attendant virgins fill the sky with floods of their milk. In legend, suckling the Virgin or living saints brought healing and blessings.

Religious allegories celebrated lactation. Mary was the maiden in the garden who gave suck to the unicorn-Christ, the innocent victim hunted by men. Ecclesia, Sophia, Caritas, and sundry Virtues were shown as nursing mothers.

Popular devotions centered on relics, pilgrimages, and patronages that would assist breastfeeding women. Because Mary's body had been taken to heaven, her prime relic was her milk. From early Christian times people scraped chalky white deposits from the Milk Chapel in Bethlehem, a cave where Mary was believed to have spilled some of her milk. Mixed with water, these samples became the countless relics of the Madonna's milk that are still widely preserved in Europe.

Even Charlemagne had a specimen mounted in a jeweled talisman. France alone boast!ed at least 46 milk shrines, but the most famous in the West was Walsingham, England, established in the twelfth century. Pilgrims reached it via a road called the "Milky Way."

For critics, this was rather too much of a good thing. A century before the Reformation, St. Bernardine of Siena quipped that Mary must have given more milk than a hundred cows.

Although Trent caused some dubious relics to be discarded, it failed to shake Hispanic interest in the nursing Virgin. Maria Lactans images remained popular, including such curious ones as a colonial painting of Our Lady of Belem from 18th-century Bolivia, in which drops of the Madonna's milk turn into blood-red rosary beads.

The Spanish cult of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) was brought to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1603. A small chapel built in 1918 still stands on the original shrine's site. Thank!s to the popularity of that title, Mary has become the informal patroness of the nonsectarian La Leche League for nursing mothers.

Active milk-shrines still exist in France, at Crèe-lait in Nantes and Bon Lait in Persac. Bretons seeking ample breast milk process around a huge, decorated mound of butter each summer at Notre Dame-du-Crann.

Carol said...

Is the huge mound of butter shaped like a giant, holy tit?

Iva said...

Thank you, Bill...that was absolutely fascinating. I had no idea of all these things you mentioned.
John's Mom

mrs. collins said...

Bill- that was intersting stuff. will you should reconsider 'no more posts on saints and their Renaissance admirers' on your blog?

Molly said...

Okay, so I don't have much to add to this subject except, 'hey, what will those loony, whack-eriffic Catholics think of next?!' and "Napolean Dynamite" rules!!

the hanged man said...

Perhaps Bill and I should collaborate on the crazy catholic weblog...


Molly - yes, Napolean does indeed rule. But beware of time machines bought on the internet.

bill said...

Perhaps Bill and I should collaborate on the crazy catholic weblog...

Fine by me, John--all of this was news to me, too, thanks for introducing me to St. Bernard and the lactating iconography--wonderful stuff. I wish I was raised Catholic (I discovered I was baptized Catholic in my late twenties)...

Mrs. Collins: there are the "quality" posts, and there are the popular ones (I've been getting a lot of mileage out of "Laguna Beach" ones of late...).

Zoo said...

Hi Bill, this is an area that interests me greatly as I am writing a PhD dissertation concerning breastmilk as a cultural artifact. However I cannot get the crisis link to work? Brings me to a home page, but does not provide an article? I would love to cite some of this, but obviously need proper reference details to do so...

Thanks to all for the wonderful discussion.

Zoo (Sydney, Australia)

the hanged man said...

Hey Zoo.

This is John, not Bill. I'll email and ask if he has perhaps more info, but you are right: the link to Crisis magazine is no longer active.

You might want to google a few words from Bill's entry and see if the results fit in with your doctorate. For example, searching for "Maria Lactans Bernard" brought me to this page:

Very interesting stuff about Mary as nursing mother. Being American, this was not part of my Catholic upbringing at all.