The Miracle of the Changing Painting Title

This post is going to touch on a number of subjects – all that I feel passionately about, and all that have some connection to The Miracle at Haarlem by Cornelius Van Haarlem. This blog post represents my beliefs and opinions, and does not reflect the views of other bloggers on New Stories, Old Book unless otherwise expressed by each blogger. I’m gonna need one of these:

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We have an attitude problem in our society, and this painting – and the controversy surrounding its title – is a perfect example of the attitude we need to change. Now, in the case of The Monk and The Nun by Cornelius Van Haarlem, the true meaning behind the picture was skewed in a way that I think was totally intentional, and meant to blast the church, while at the same time burying an even deeper meaning that has so much significance to my personal life I just had to blog about it. The painting’s name was changed: Biblical FanFiction used to smack down those who would rise against power.

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Now, it’s no secret there are radicals within the Christian sphere of spirituality. Example:

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But in this case, the painting itself was originally titled “The Miracle at Haarlem” (note: the same place the artist was from – I think he knew what he was doing) and re-titled later on to “The Monk and The Nun.” The title shift was designed to reflect poorly upon the monks and nuns, implying sexual activity between the two groups. I mean, hey, if the nun was all, “Yeah, grab me like you own me” and he was all “That’s such a holy breast…” well, more power to them. But that wasn’t the original story of the painting, and quite frankly, if you were a monk fondling a nun’s yahoobies, would you let a painter sit there and watch it? More importantly, if you were the monk grabbing the goods for a sexual purpose, would you be looking away to give her some semblance of modesty?

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The original title of the painting told the story of a nun who was criticized and suspected of having given birth. And as witch-hunting sexually active nuns was a totally cool okay thing to do at the time, the monk squeezed the nun’s breast to see if she would express milk. When the nun only expressed wine – the symbolic blood of Christ – the monks were contrite for having doubted a bride of God.

That’s the “original” story, anyway. It was renamed in the 20th century to The Monk and The Nun, and has often been examined as an example of a barely-veiled erotic component to art of the time, since so much of sexuality was behind closed doors. The theory is that sexuality had to be slipped into artwork in a way that was not openly sexual.

But… wine-tating (rather than lactating) yahoobies on a nun? Seems like kind of a stretch for porno to me. My opinion is that the story was changed to shed negative light on the church, and to make the story about sex rather than about the invasion of privacy/lack of trust men had in women of the time. Men felt that they had the right to judge a woman by her body, and that she had no say in the issue. If the monk wanted to cop a feel to check her for lactation, he could do so.

But surely, 20th century powerful men wouldn’t change such a story simply to oppress women and their emerging outspokenness, would they? They wouldn’t try to control the choices made by women, about womens’ bodies, would they? Such things are archaic! Not present in our educated society! Right?

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Should a monk have the right to squeeze a nuntit simply because he suspects she has had sex? Funny… by the wine in the glass, you’d think he would have learned his lesson. But no, here we are in 2013, and men are still trying to take control of the decisions women make.

My point is kind of a couple of things. First: as a woman and writer, I am for women’s rights in all forms. The Monk and The Nun is an early example of how fiction has been used to skew things for (what I feel is) political gain. I know it happens on both sides of every coin, too. But while all of the internet seems to be focusing on this painting as an example of perverts in the church, I think it’s about so much more. I think the title was changed to keep quiet the secret that men – particularly in the church – have kept women under their controlling thumb and treated us like shit for centuries. For men to retain control in the church, it is a far better public image that this monk was a pervert on a sneaky little encounter with a nun, than that it was standard practice for men to treat the bodies of women like property to be appraised, valued, and distributed accordingly.

And that this still happens in the culture we live in today. Wake up and see it!

My daughter stood in the grocery store with me the other day and I wished I had brought my phone in with me because she stood beside a rack of magazines. Each one said something about women shaping up their asses or getting skinny fast, except for the one that asked the reader to guess the celebrity by their cellulite or whatever. Oh, and the one coming down on Jessica Simpson for her weight, which makes me want to burn my OWN bra in protest.

Seven magazines beside my skinny, seven-year old girl with special needs wearing my oversized hoodie in the grocery store. I stared for a moment in shock that my beautiful, unique, and way-too-quickly-growing kid is about to enter a world where the most prominent, popular advertisements she will see tell her she is not okay as she is, and that she needs to look a certain way to be worth anything. That her body is not about her life, or her experience, but about how she appeals to men and what kind of attention she gets for it. Or what kind of money she makes with it.

Instead of going to get my phone and let her continue to stand there to look at them as a good proof photograph – because I wanted to scream it from the rooftops, that this is horrible, disgusting programming of our children – I asked her to help me unload the groceries onto the checkout belt and commented that those silly magazines and their silly pictures are so not worth the money. That I’m happy we eat healthy vegetables and grains instead of dieting to shape our bodies to look like fake pictures.

And I felt like a hypocrite saying it, too, because I’ve judged myself by my body for my entire life. Harshly, and as though that justifies my stupid, extreme dieting habits. It is one thing for magazines to display beautiful women (even the ones with photoshopped bodies!) as a positive thing, admiring them. It’s entirely another for the magazines to display a picture of a “perfect” body, with a list of fifteen ways my daughter will never look like her. Unless, of course, she buys the damn thing and adheres to the tips inside and gets more dejected every day that nothing works, that she’ll never look like that, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with her that all these diet tips don’t work for her while they work for the model, so she buys another and fails more and grows to hate her body more and more each day…

Can you tell I’ve been there? I bet most of you women reading have, too.

Because women are viewed as sexual objects for men (and not in the way the nun might like it, as I suggested above), and this objectification is so buried by OTHER issues being brought forth (as in pretending this painting was done out of perversion, rather than oppression), we are making slow progress. But at least it’s progress. I can only hope I’m a strong enough force in my children’s lives to help steer them into understanding that one form of media does not necessarily mean what it looks like it means. That things have hidden meanings, and those meanings are often hidden beneath the false meaning designed to hide the REAL meaning from exposure.

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About Nola.Sarina

I am an author of dark fantasy, horror and paranormal romance books. My dark fantasy series, The Vesper Series, is a twist on Original Sin. The series is represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary Agency. I find my favorite books with new takes on all things supernatural, paranormal and biblical, including vampires, angels and demons, and am an advocate for the New Adult market category for fiction.

Posted on June 4, 2013, in Bizarro Bible Stories and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Bravo for writing this!! I am continually disgusted by the obsession in this country with being thin or trying to live up to some ideal. Unfortunately, every woman has succumbed to it at one time or another. I advocate living healthy but for yourself, not to live up to some unattainable ideal.

    • Thanks, Amy. I know it’s such a common problem, but having two daughters, I’m so afraid of them feeling like they’re not good enough based on what they see. And I know I was more influenced by the attitudes of women around me than I was by media in any form. I hope I can continue to live a healthy example for my kids, and I hope it helps them. 🙂

  2. Great post, Nola. You touch on an ideology of perfection that’s consumed the public. I am tired of the media announcing who is and who isn’t. I can’t understand who made them judge and jury. I can’t imagine bringing up a little girl in all this – I have a hard enough time figuring out how to teach my boys not to objectify the half naked women on the cover of People and Vanity Fair.

    There was/is so little respect for women in the church/boys club. I make it my duty to teach my boys a completely different view.

  3. Spike Cordiner

    Hmmm… I’m the first male to comment here… Curious.

    Anyway, I pretty much entirely agree with you. There’s too much obsession with the ‘here’s how you need to look to be perfect’ and I tend to beat myself up over it too (Me? I’m too short, too flabby, and under-muscled). I also feel like a hypocrite when I tell my partner to obsess about herself.

    I reckon the best you can do is what you are doing. Try to educate others to see how ridiculous it is.

    • Thanks, Spike. I really respect you commenting with your point of view. And I agree, men have the same self esteem problem as women. It’s just quieter, since we’re the primary fashion and weight loss advertisement consumers.

      I don’t know any societies where an uprising of male power was squashed by matriarchs over a long history… And if it has happened I would be extremely interested to hear about it. There’s lots of awesome sci-fi from that perspective.

    • Spike Cordiner

      Wait! I of course meant I feel like a hypocrite when I tell my partner *not* to obsess about herself. (Yowzer)

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