Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Brief History of the Virgin Mary's Breasts

Mexican Playboy issued an apology this week for depicting their latest cover model as a sexy Virgin Mary. Although the magazine was released just days before the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Playboy Mexico's publisher has declared, "The image is not and never was intended to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other religious figure. The intent was to reflect a Renaissance-like mood on the cover." So they just picked a random artistic movement and went with it? I'd hate to see their take on Dadaism.

Amazingly, this isn't the year's first news story about Our Lady's naughty bits. In June the official newspaper of the Vatican announced that it was finally time to uncensor religious art that depicts Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Prior to the Protestant prudery (yep, alliteration) of the 1700s, these images were fairly common:

Joovs van Cleve, Virgin and Child, 1525

Rembrandt, The Holy Family, 1634

However, it should be noted that the partially-exposed Virgin wasn't always so sexy. Artists who were afraid of dishonoring the Holy Mother by making her appear too much like an earthly woman often erred in the other direction: they made her breasts look like appendages that no human woman has ever possessed:

Yes, just another day in the life of the Virgin Mary, nursing the infant Jesus from the extra breast on her shoulder.