i-\VG,4l0

Margaret Bent: Stanley Boorman, ed., Studies in the Performance of Late Mediaeval Music
Iris Cheney: Suzanne Boorsch and Michael and R. E. Lewis, The Engravings of Giorgio
Ghisi (Catalogue)
John Steadman: Ronnie H. Terpening, Charon and the Crossing: Ancient, Medieval, and
Renaissance Transformations ofa Myth
Terry Comito: Anthony Low, The Georgie Revolution
J. F. Post: A. J. Smith, The Metaphysics of Love: Studies in Renaissance Love Poetry from
Dante to Milton
Annabel Patterson: Carolynn Van Dyke, The Fiction of Truth: Structures of Meaning in
Narrative and Dramatic Allegory
Peter Groves: Suzanne Woods, Natural Emphasis: English Versification from Chaucer to
Dryden
Lucy Gent: James V. Mirollo, Mannerism and Renaissance Poetry: Concept, Mode, Inner
Design
JoAnn Della Neva: Nerina Clerici Balmas, Un poete de X VIe siecIe: Marc Pap ilion de
Lasphrise .
Constance Jordan: Madeleine Lazard, Images litteraires de la femme a la renaissance
Anne Lake Prescott: Carol Clark, Vulgar Rabelais; and James A. Coleman and Christine
M. Scollen-Jimack, eds. Rabelais in Glasgow
Joseph T. Snow: ChristofWirsung, Die CeIestina-Ubersetzungen von ChristofWirsung,
ed. Kathleen V. Kish and Ursula Ritzenhoff
G. W. Pigman: Peter M. Sacks, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genrefrom Spenser to
Yeats

53 !
53'
53 '
5Y,
14 !
544
14·
5·P
5 I
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5 \(
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continued on inside back (<',', ,
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'\ Vol. XXXIX, NO·3 A . us lSSN 0034-411'
, /-\,..k .. , laC{
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
Edited by
MARGARET L. KING :6RIDGET GELLERT LYONS
COLIN EISLER
Associate Editors
WALLACE T. MAC CAFFREY JAMES V. MIROLLO
News and Notes Editor MARGARET L. RANAlD
Managing Editor DEBRA M. SZYBINSKI
The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages:
A Reply to Leo Steinberg
by CAROLINE WALKER BYNUM
M
ost of us who inhabit the western, world are so
accustomed to pictures of the Madonna and child or of the
Holy Family that we hardly notice the details.
1
When we encounter
such images in museums, on posters, or on Christmas cards, we tend
to respond sentimentally if at all. We note whether the baby looks
like a baby or not. We are pleased if the figures appear happy and af-
fectionate. Perhaps we even feel gratitude for the somewhat banal
support of an institution-the human family-that seems worn a lit-
tle thin in the modern world. But we are not shocked. Recqgnizing
that the Incarnation is a central Christian tenet, we feel no surprise
that Christian artists throughout the western tradition should have
painted God as a male baby. It takes ajolt to make us look carefully at
IThis essay was first delivered as a University lecture at Cornell University in No-
vember, and was subsequently presented at Brooklyn College and Columbia
University. I am grateful to my hosts at those institutions: Elizabeth A. R. Brown,
JoanJacobs Brumberg, Eugene Rice and Robert Somerville. I would also like to thank
Stephen Greenblatt, John Najemy, and Richard Trexler for their suggestions and criti-
cisms. lowe special gratitude to Colin Eisler, who read a draft of this article with pa-
tient attention to detail and gave sage advice. Finally, I thank Patricia Fortini Brown,
Anna Kartsonis, and Ruth Mellinkoff, who guided a novice in the field of art history
through the complex process of acquiring photographs. Some of the material in this
essay is explored at greater length and from a different perspective in my forthcoming
book, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
(Berkeley 1986), especially chapters ii, ix and x.
[399 I
,. vol. 39, No. 3 (Autumn 1986)
400 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
how such artists depict family and child. I want to begin this essay
withjust such ajolt: the impish painting made in 1926 by the surreal-
ist painter Max Ernst, which shows the artist himself and two con-
temporary surrealist poets looking through the window at an unu-
sual scene [plate I].
This picture of Mary spanking Jesus is, of course, "anti-
theology." If Jesus needs spanking or if Mary spanks unjustly, some-
thing is badly wrong between the supposedly sinless mother and her
supposedly sinless son. The picture brings home to us a profound
truth. Not every aspect offamily life is depicted in artistic renderings
of the Holy Family. There are all sorts of homely scenes within
which Jesus is not located, all sorts of childish actions that are not at-
\ tributed to the baby God. Immediately we realize that there are com-
I plex reasons for what is depicted concerning the Holy Family. It is
I not enough to say, as historians have sometimes said, that scenes of
. the Holy Family were merely opportunities for artists who wanted
! to draw domestic interiors, to depict bodies naturalistically, or to
render in paint the affection of parents and children.
2
Pictures of the
Holy Family are themselves theological statements. For example, the
very large number of statues and paintings in medieval and Renais-
sance Europe that depict the so-called Anna Selbdritt-that is,
Mary's mother Anne, Mary, and Mary's baby Jesus-are not merely
paintings or statues of grandmothers [see plate 2]. It is true that such
representations, which are particularly common in northern Europe,
present a kind offemale genealogy for Christ that perhaps reflects the
importance of women in late medieval conceptions of family despite
the development of primogeniture.
3
But the pictures also reflect the
emergence in the late Middle Ages of the doctrine of the Immaculate
Conception-the claim that Mary was born of her mother Anne
without the taint of original sin.4 The sinless baby in the lap of his
"Although art historians have long cautioned against doing so, historians and social
scientists have tended to read art (often quite creatively) as evidence for social history.
Sec, for example, Philippe Aries, Cetlluries A Social History ,,-fFamily Lit;',
tr. Robert Baldick (New York, 1962); Jack Goody, The Development ,,-fthe Family alld
Marria,,!e in Europe (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 153- 56; David Herlihy, Medieval HOIL'/'-
holds (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), p. 12.
'See Gertrud Schiller, Ikono,l!raphie der christlichen Kunst, vol. IV.2: Maria (Gli-
tersloh, (980), platcS751- 56 and pp. 157-60.
4Mirella Levi d' Ancona, The /cono,l!raphy ,,-f the Immaculate Conception in thl' Aliddle
Ages and J:'arly Renaissance, Monographs on Archaeology and Fine Arts, 7 (New York.
(1)57).
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
401
[. Max Ernst, The Vir.'<in Chastisin.'< the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre
Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter, 1926. Private Collection.
402
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
'-'0'
2. Alma Selbdri!t, Sixteenth . Century. Museum of the Catherine Convent,
Utrecht.
A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 403
sinless mother who herself sits in the lap or on the arm of her own
female forebearer emphasizes the purity and the physicality of the
flesh Christ takes from Mary and the flesh Mary takes from her own
mother.
The realization that not all possible human actions or settings are \
attributed to Christ in paint or sculpture thus leads us to realize that \
there is theological significance to what is depicted.
5
It also leads us '
simply to look more carefully. And when we look, we find that
more has in fact been painted-and for more complex reasons-than
we have noticed before. This point is the one that Leo Steinberg has
recently made in his tour de force, The Sexuality of Christ in Renais-
sance Art and Modern Oblivion (New York: Pantheon, 1983). Bringing
together a number of pictures never before considered as a group,
Steinberg has shocked conventional sensibilities by showing that late
medieval and Renaissance artists made the penis of the infant or the
adult Christ the focal point of their depictions.
Steinberg's book has been much criticized and much admired.
6
And, as will become clear, I share both the reservations and the ad-
miration felt by his critics. But I do not intend here so much to con- .
tribute to the debate about his book as to use it as the starting point
for further exploration of late medieval notions of the body of
Christ, both in literature and in iconography. Sharing with Steinberg
the conviction that medieval art has theological content, I wish to
point out another set of paintings and to draw a very different conclu-
sion. I wish to call attention to artistic depictions that suggest another
sex for Christ's body-depictions that suggest that Christ's flesh was 1
sometimes seen as female, as lactating and giving birth. I also wish to \
argue that, whereas Steinberg must extrapolate from medieval and
Renaissance texts in order to conclude that theologians emphasized
Christ's penis as sexual and his sexuality as a symbol of his humanity,
we do not have to extrapolate at all in order to conclude that theolo-
gians saw the wound in Christ's side as a breast and emphasized his
bleeding-lactating flesh as a symbol of the "humanation" of God.
50n this point generally, :;ee Barbara G. Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacra-
mental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting (New York, 1984).
"See, for example, the reviews of Steinberg by Richard Wolheim, The New York
Times Book Review (April 29, 1984), pp. 13 - 14; Andre Chaste!, The New York Review
o.{Books, 31. 8 (Nov. 22, 1984), pp. 25-27; David Summers, Times Literary Supplement
(Nov. 23, 1984), p. 1346; and David Rosand, The New Republic, 190 (June 1 I, 1984),
pp.29-33·
tl
~ .
404
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
Theologians did not discuss Christ as a sexual male; they did discuss
Jesus as mother. First, however, I must consider Steinberg's own ar-
gument a little more carefully.
*
* *
Steinberg has clearly demonstrated that late medieval and Renais-
sance artists called attention to the genitals of the baby Jesus. In pic-
ture after picture, we find Mary,John, Anne, and other saints uncov-
ering, admiring, pointing to, or even fondling the baby's penis.
7
Although Steinberg's reading of a number of pictures of the adult
Christ in which he sees an actual erection under the loincloth is ques-
tionable, he has been able to show that Christ's Own hands (or even
Mary's) cover or point to the genitals in a number of deposition
scenes or pietas. H He has also shown us, without perhaps realizing
their full significance, pictures in which the artist calls attention both
to Christ's penis and to his mother's breast
9
and pictures in which the
blood flows from Christ's Own breast into his crotch. 10
Steinberg's brilliance and courage do not stop with discovery. He
also interprets these pictures in a new way, placing them in the Con-
text of Renaissance theology, particularly the extraordinary devotion
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the holy foreskin and to the
feast of the circumcision. 11 Arguing that theologians from Augustine
to the Renaissance increasingly stressed what they called the "hu-
7t;co Stein berg, The 'Sexuality ojChrist in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion (New
York, 19
8
3) (first published as a special issue, October, 25 [Summer, 19
8
3]), especially
tigures 4, 13, 16,42,47,49,80,
21
5.
"Steinberg, Sexuality, pp. 98-108.
"/hid., pp.
12
7-30. A particularly faSCinating example of this motif, not discussed
hy Stein berg, is a painting of the vision of St. Bernard by the Master of the Life of the
Virgin, now in the Wallraf-Richartz museum; for a reproduction, see Late Gothic Art
.from Col
oglle
A Loan Exhibition, April5-june I, 1977 (London: The National Gallery,
177). plate 14. In this picture. the baby reaches for the breast. which Mary, however.
offers not to him but to the viewer. Bernard points to the baby's genitals. which the
baby hinlsclf covers.
IIIS
te
inbcrg. Sexuality, pp. 58-61 and 160-62. And see below n. 20.
lIOn devotion to the holy foreskin, see Robert Fawtier and Louis Canet, La Double
experiellCf de Catherine Benincasa (sainte Catherine de Sienne) (Paris, 14
8
), pp. 245-46;
and Peter Dinzelbacher, "Die 'Vita et revelationes' der Wiener Begine Agnes BJannbe-
kin (+ 13
1
5) im Rahmen der Viten- und Offenbarungsliteratur ihrer Zeit. ,. in Fraul'll-
mystik illl Mittelalter, ed. Peter Dinzelbacher and Dieter G. Bauer. Wissenschaftliche
Studientagung der Akademie der Diiizcse Rottenburg-Stuttgart 22. _ 25. Februar 184
in Weingarten (Ostfildern. 185). pp. I SZ- 53.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 405
manation" of God in Christ, Steinberg shows that "humanation"
meant "enfleshing, " and that Renaissance sermons often emphasized
the bleeding of Christ's penis at the circumcision as a special proof of
his true-that is, his fleshly-humanity.12 Thus Steinberg suggests
that artists intended the genitals of Christ, especially in those few pic-
tures that he interprets as erections, as the ultimate symbol of what
Christ shares with all of us. Christ was fully male in gender and sexu-
ality, even to the involuntary movements of his penis, and as such he
represents the salvation of the totality of what we as human beings
are. Christ redeems not only our physiological differences as men
and women; he redeems our sexual nature (if not our sexual acts) as
well. It is a noble and consequential reading of medieval art and the-
ology and one which several recent commentators have seen as true
to essential Christian doctrine. 13
* * *
I will leave aside here some of the legitimate questions critics have
raised about Steinberg, such as the question of how much of the ar-
tistic attention to genitals is simply naturalism, or doubts about what
certain painted folds of drapery really conceal. Rather I wish to dis-
cuss two points that are relevant to my own topic. First, are we enti-
tled to associate genitality with sexuality in fifteenth- and sixteenth-
century art? Did medieval people immediately think of erections and
sexual activity when they saw penises (as modern people apparently
do)? Or, to put it another way, is Steinberg right-matters of taste
aside-to call his book "the sexuality" rather than "the genitals" of
Christ? Second, are there medieval or Renaissance texts that suggest
this association? Did theologians of the period themselves talk of the
penis as a sign of sexual activity or as a sign of maleness and associate
it, as such, with the humanity of Christ?
The first is the harder question. It is impossible to prove that me-
dieval people did not assume what we assume when we look at pic-
121n his interpretation of Renaissance preaching. Steinberg has been much in-
fluenced by John W. O'Malley, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric, Doctrine
and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court. (. 1450-1521 (Durham, 179). The
l{enaissance sermons Steinberg quotes (Sexuality, pp. 61 -65) all emphasize pain and
.leeding. not sexuality.
I3See, for example. David Toolan. review of Steinberg, Commonweal (Dec. 14,
)84), pp. 692-4. And see n. 6 above.
406
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
tures. And We clearly see breasts and penises as erotic. But let me at
least suggest that we would do well to be cautious about projecting
OUr wa ys of seeing onto the artists or the viewers of the past.
Twentieth-century readers and viewers tend to eroticize the body
and to define themselves by the nature of their sexuality. But did me-
dieval viewers? For several reasons, I think we should be cautious
about assuming that they did. Medieval people do not, for instance,
seem to have defined themselves by sexual orientation. Despite re-
cent writing about "gay people" in the Middle Ages, it is question-
able whether anyone had such a concept. To medieval theologians,
lawyers, and devotional writers, there were different kinds of sexual
acts-between people of different sexes, between people of the same
sex, between people and animals-and all had some kind of taint at-
tached. But there was no clear notion of being one or the other kind
of sexual being. 14
Nor did medieval people understand as erotic or sexual a number
of bodily sensations which we interpret that way. When, for exam-
ple, the medieval nuns Lukardis of Oberweimar and Margaret of
Faenza breathed deeply into their sisters' mouths and felt sweet de-
light flooding their members, they did not blush to describe this as
receiving God's grace or even as receiving the eucharist. Twentieth_
century readers think immediately of lesbianism. IS When Hade-
wijch, the Flemish poet, described herself as embracing Christ, feel-
ing him penetrate deep within her and losing herself in an ecstasy
from which she slowly and reluctantly returned, she thought of-she
experienced-the love of God. 16 We ~ modern readers think of sexual
arousal or orgasm, as we do when we read the account of a twelfth-
century monk, Rupert ofDeutz, who climbed on the altar, embraced
14See John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuah'ty: Gay People in
Westml EllropejiWIl the Bej!inllill,,! o[the Christian Era to the FOllrtl'Cnth Cerztury (Chicago, I'JXo).
liLife ofLukardis ofObcrweimar in Analeaa Bollandiana, 18 (
18
99),337-38. The
accOunt ofMargarct's kiss is in Life of Ben even uta ofBojano, chap. x, par: 82, in Acta
Sall({Onml/hereafter AASS), cd. the Bollandists, 3rd ed. (Paris, V. Pal me, I 863fI:), Oc-
tober, XIII, 172. Margaret experiences an erotic kiss from Christ in Life of Margarct,
~ c h a p . iii, par: 15 (20), AASS, August, v, 851. On women's erotic relationship with
----:r Christ, sec Elizabeth Petroff, COllsolation o.fthe Blessed (New York, 1979), pp. 66-78.
I(Hadcwijch, Vision 7, in Hadeu'y'c!I: Tile Complete Works, trans. Columba Hart
(New York, 19
So
), pp. 2S1-82; see also Caroline Walker Bynum, "Women Mystics
A ""I Imi"" J)"o<ioo io d" Thin",,,h C"''"'y,'' W'M', ""din, " ('9"'),
pp. 17'J-
21
4, esp. ISO, 19
1
-92.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 407
the cruciflx, and felt Christ's tongue in his mouth.
17
When
Catherine of Siena received the foreskin of Christ from him in a vi-
sion and put it on as a wedding ring, she associated that piece of
bleeding flesh with the eucharistic host and saw herself appropriating
the pain of Christ. 18 It is we who suspect sexual yearnings in a medie-
val virgin who found sex the le.ast of the world's temptations.
There is reason to think that medieval viewers saw bared breasts
(at least in painting and sculpture) not primarily as sexual but as the
food with which they were iconographically associated. Dozens of
late medieval pictures of the lactating Virgin place her in a grape ar-
bor or associate her feeding breasts with other forms of offering
food.
19
There is also reason to think that medieval people saw
Christ's penis not primarily as a sexual organ but as the object of cir-
cumcision and therefore as the wounded, bleeding flesh with which
it was associated in painting and in text. When artists painted the
blood from Christ's pierced breast running sideways across his groin
into his crotch (in defiance of the laws of gravity) they were assimi-
lating the later bleeding of the cross to the earlier bleeding of the cir-
cumcized infant [plate 3].20 Since medieval physiological theory saw
all body fluids as reducible to blood and saw bleeding basically as
purging, bleeding was an obvious symbol for cleansing or expiation,
and all Christ's bleedings were assimilated. 21
I am not here denying that medieval people saw a penis when they
saw Christ's penis. Moreover, as I shall demonstrate below, they
sometimes saw a breast (or a womb) when they saw Christ's side.
But they probably did not associate either penis or breast p . : ~ ~
17See John H. Van Engen, Rupert oJDeutz (Berkeley, 1983), PP' 50- 53.
IHCatherine ofSicna, Le lettere de S. Caterina da Siena, ridotte a miglior lezione e in or-
dille nuovo disposte con note di Niccoli) Tommaseo a cura di Piero Misciattelli, 6 vols. (Siena,
1913-22), letter 221, III, 337; letter 50, 1,236; letter 261, IV, 146; letter 143, II, 337-38;
Fawticr and Canet, Double experience, pp. 245-46.
19E. James Mundy, "Gerard David's Rest on the FlIitht into Egypt: Further Additions
to Grape Symbolism," Simialus: Netherlands Quarterly Jor the History oj Art, 12.4 (1981-
82),211-22.
2°There is considerable dispute about the attribution of this piera. It is usually given
to Jean Malouel. For a discussion, see Albert Chatelet, Early Dutch Painting: Painting in
the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century, trans. C. Brown and A. Turner (New
York, 1981), pp. 16-25. For another example of this motif, see Irmgard Hiller and
Horst Vey with Tilman Falk, Kataloj! der Deutschen Imd Niederliindischen Gemiilde his
1550 ... im WallrafRichartz Museum und im Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Kaln, Kata-
loge des Wallraf-Richartz Museum, 5 (Cologne, 1969), plate 154.
2
1
See below nn. 49, 50,78.
.,
"
,
408 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
3· Jean Maloucl, Pieta or Lamentation oJthe Holy Trinity, about 1400. The Louvre,
Paris.
with sexual activity. Rather both their writing and their art suggest
that they associated penis and side with pain and blood, and there-
fore, astonishing as it may be to us, with salvation. For example,
Catherine of Siena wrote:
Uesus 1 made of his blood a drink and his flesh a food for all those who wish it.
There is no other means for man to be satisfied. He can appease his hunger and
thirst only in this blood .... A man can possess the whole world and not be
satisfied (for the world is less than man) until blood satisfies him, for only that
blood is united to the divinity .... Eight days after his birth, Christ spilled a
little of it in the circumcision, but it was not enough to cover man. . . . Then
on the cross the lance ... opened his heart. The Holy Spirit tells us to have
recourse to the blood ... .
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 409
And then the soul becomes like a drunken man; the more he drinks, the
more he wants to drink; the more it bears the cross, the more it wants to bear it.
And the pains are its refreshment and the tears which it has shed for the mem-
ory of the blood are its drink. And the sighs are its food. 22
None of this is to suggest that medieval writers were completely
unaware of what modern interpreters see as erotic .elements in affec-
tive spirituality. Mystical writers as diverse as Margaret Po rete, Eck-
hart, and John Gerson were suspicious generally of affectivity, in part
because of its bodily pleasures.
23
And male theologians warned re-
peatedly that women's mystical strivings and visions might be
merely sensual "ticklings."24 Moreover, it may be that religious
women were more likely than religious men to read as encounter
with God bodily occurrences that we would attribute to sexual
arousaps For physiological reasons, a woman's erotic (particularly
auto-erotic) responses are different from a man's (and less obviously
genital). N. o. netheless it seems clear both that b o ~ ~ e - \
quently ac:fQJJlpanied love of God in the later Middle Ages and that ,
22Catherine, Le lettere, ed. Misciattelli, letter 87, II, 90-92. See also letter 329, V,
106-107·
230n Margaret Porete, see Romana Guarnieri, ed., "II 'Miroir des simples ames' di
Margherita Porete," Archivio italiano per la storia della pieta, 4 (1965), 5°1-635, and Pe-
ter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua
(+ 203) to Marguerite Porete ( + 13 ra) (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 202- 28. On Eckhart, see
Otto Langer, "Zur dominikanischen Frauenmystik im spatmittelalterlichen Deutsch-
land," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer, Frauenmystik, pp. 341-46. On Gerson, see Caroline
Walker Bynum,Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berke-
ley, 1982), pp. 135-36. See also Johann Tauler, sermons 31 and 33. in Die Predigten
'['aulers: aus der Engelberger und der Freiburger HandschriJt sowie aus Schmidts AbschriJten der
fhemaligen Strassburger Handschnfien, ed. Ferdinand Vetter (Berlin, 1910), pp. 310-II
and 130. On male suspicion of female religiosity generally, see Andre Vauchez, La
Sa in tete en Occident aux demiers siee/es du moyen age d'apres les proces de canonisation et les
documents hagiographiques, Bibliotheque des etudes franc;aise d' Athenes et de Rome, 241
(Rome, 1981), pp. 439-48.
24See Peter Browe, Die Eucharistischen Wunder des Mittelalters, Breslauer Studien zur
historischen Theologie, NF 4 (Breslau, 1938), pp. 110- 1 1; Ernest W. McDonnell, The
Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture with SpeCial Emphasis on the Belgian Scene
(1954; rpt. New York, 1969), p. 315.
250n the prominence of bodily phenomena in women's spirituality, see Peter Din-
zdbacher, "Europaische Frauenmystik des Mittelalters," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer,
Frauenmystik, pp. 11 - 23; Franz W6hrer, "Aspekte der englischen Frauenmystik im
spatcn 14. und beginnenden 15. Jahrhundert," ibid., pp. 314-40; Herbert Thurston,
The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (Chicago, 1952). See also Claude Carozzi,
"])ouceline et les autres," in La Religion populaire en Languedoc du XIIle siecle ala moitie
dll XIVe siee/e, Cahiers de Fanjeaux, II (Toulouse, 1976), pp. 251-67.
~
410
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
what bothered or delighted medieval people about such stirrings was
not their exact physiological location, in genitals or heart, mouth or
bowels.
26
What worried medieval theorists was whether the sensa-
tions were inspired or demonic-that is, whether they were sent by
God or by the devil. When John Gerson wrote his famous treatise on
the testing of spirits, what he feared was not that lesbianism or eroti-
cism was veiled in the cloister but that nuns and laywomen, even
monks and laymen, might be speaking of their visions with the
tongue of Satan. 27
* * *
The above analysis leads naturally to my second, less difficult
point: the question of texts. Are there medieval and Renaissance texts
that see Christ's penis as a special sign of "humanation" because the
penis is a male or a sexual organ? The answer appears to be that there
are not. Although medieval and Renaissance theologians discuss the
circumcision in dozens of different ways and repeatedly stress the
enfleshing of God at the moment of the Incarnation, Steinberg has
been able to find no text that treats the cut and bleeding penis of the
clrcumcized Christ as sexual, no text that treats circumcision either as
the cutting off of Christ's sexual urges or as a sign that his penis was
pure and not in need of disciplining. In fact, the only text Steinberg
has found that suggests an association of the penis with the erotic or
the sexual is one Renaissance sermon in which the word used for
2hFor a comment on the modern tendency to reduce all bodily phenomena (even
mystical) to the sexual, see Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur
\
Wills, 2 vols. (London, i9S6), II, 472: "To reproach ~ y s t i c s with loving God by
means of the faculty of sexual love is as though one were to reproach a painter with
making pictures by means of colors composed of material substances. We haven't any-
thmg else with which to love .... "
27See n. 23 above. The new book by Judith C. Brown, Immodest Acts: The Life of a
Lesbian Nun in Retlaissance Italy (New York, 1986), is therefore profoundly misleading.
It mistakenly places the behavior it considers in the context of sexual orientation. But
what contemporaries asked about the actions of Benedetta Carlini, a seventeenth-
century Theatine abbess, was not whether they had an erotic component directed to-
ward a woman but whether Benedetta Carlini suffered from demonic possession or
practiced fraud. "Feigned sanctity" was an important category in seventeenth-century
inquisitorial trials, and Benedetta herself retreated, under interrogation, to the claim
that she was possessed. See the review of Brown by Mary R. O'Neil, forthcoming in
Sixteel1th-CentlJYY joumal.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 411
holding the penis before circumcizing it might be translated as "fon-
dle. "28 But surely this refers not to eroticism but simply to tenderness
for a baby who is about to be hurt.
It is true that medieval and Renaissance texts increasingly and
movingly emphasized the humanation of God as the salvation of us
all. And by "humanation" they often meant enfleshing. But the em-
phasis on humanation appeared earlier in European spirituality than
Steinberg notes and was associated with the full range of Christ's
bodily members. Growing out of a twelfth-century concern for imi-
tating the human Christ, the theme of human at ion was present in a
wide variety of saints' lives and devotional texts of the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries.
29
For example, Angela of Foligno (d. 1309)
supposedly said, in words that have clearly been reworked by a scho-
lastically educated redactor:
[The soul in this present life knows] the lesser in the greater, and the greater in
the lesser, for it discovers uncreated God and "humanated" God, that is divin-
ity and humanity, in Christ, united and conjoined in one person .... And
sometimes ... the soul receives greater delight in the lesser ... For the soul is
more conformed and adapted to the lesser which it sees in Christ, the incarnate
God, than it is to that which it sees in Christ, the un created God; because the
soul is a creature whose life is in flesh and all of whose members are body. Thus
it discovers both God "humanated" and God uncreated, Christ the creator and
Christ the creature, and in that Christ it discovers souls with flesh and blood
and with all the members of his most sacred body. And this is why, when the
human intellect discovers, sees and knows in this mystery Christ the man and
Christ-God, ordainer of the mystery, this intellect feels delight and expands in
him, because it sees God "humanated" and God uncreated conformed and
made like itself-because, that is, the human soul sees the soul of Christ, his
2HSteinberg, Sexuality, p. 65. To raise the issue of texts is not to take issue with
Steinberg's position that the art object itself is a "primary text," not merely an illustra-
tion of a theological tenet. I would myself agree that many of the paintings Steinberg
discusses arc direct evidence about the theological significance of body. But I also hold
that the pictures are about more bodily aspects than Steinberg notices. See, for exam-
ple, n. 80 below.
29There is a large amount of recent literature on this topic. See, for example, Colin
Morris, The Discovery of the Individual: 1050- [200 (1972; rpt. New York, 1973); Giles
Constable, "Twelfth-Century Spirituality and the Late Middle Ages," Medieval and
Renaissance Studies, 5: Proceedings of the Southern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Stud-
ies, Summer, [969 (1971),27-60; Bynum, "Women Mystics," pp. 199-202; Richard
Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu (Chi-
cago, 1984), pp. 89- 121. On the increasingly positive sense of body generally in medi-
eval thought, sec Alan E. Bernstein, "Political Anatomy," University Publishing (Win-
ter, 1978), pp. 8-9.
412 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
eyes, his flesh, and his body. But while it looks ... ,it should not forget also to
turn to the higher. .. , the divine .... 30
In Angela's piety as in that of many other fourteenth-century
saints, all Christ's members-eyes, breasts, lips, etc.-were seen as
testimony to his humanation, and the devout soul responded to this
enfleshing with all its bodily capabilities. For example, the obscure
French nun Marguerite ofOingt (d. 1310), who swooned with love
over Christ's bleeding side, received a vision in which she flowered
like a tree in spring when watered by Christ, and her verdant
branches were labeled with the names of the five senses.
31
It is hard to
imagine a more graphic illustration of the medieval conviction that
those who love Christ should respond to all of his body with all of
theirs.
By the fifteenth century, theological attention was focused on the
body of Christ. But theologians did not usually emphasize Christ's
humanity as physiologically male. The closest they came to such an
emphasis was the well-known argument that limited priestly status
to men because Christ was male physiologically. 32 But even such ar-
gument frequently referred as much to the social preeminence of
males (i.e., the father's rule in the family) as to the male's supposed
physical superiority.33
The major context in which Christ's maleness was theologically
relevant was the circumcision. But sermons on the circumcision did
'''Angela ofFoligno, Le Livre de l'experience des vrais jideles: texte latine publie d'apres Ie
manuscrit d'Assise, ed. and trans. M.-]. Ferre and L. Baudry (Paris, 1927), par. 167, pp.
382- 84. There is no critical edition of Angela's works and the extant texts differ widely
from each other.
31Marguerite of Oingt, Les oeuvres de Marguerite d'Oingt, ed. and trans. Antonin
Duraffour, Pierre Gardette, and P. Durdilly (Paris, 1965), p. 147; also 139.
}2See Francine Card man. "The Medieval Question of Women and Orders," The
Thomist, 42 (1978).582-99;]. Rezette, "Le sacerdoce et la femme chez saint Bonaven-
tun:," Antonianum, 51 (1976), 520-27.
}3See Corpus Iuris Canonici, ed. E. Friedberg, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1879-81),
I. 2, causa 33, q. 5, chaps. 12-17, cols. 1254-55; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae,
ed. Blackfriars, XJII (New York, 1964), pt. I, q. 92, arts. 1-2, pp. 34-41, and q. 93,
art. 4. pp. 58-61. It is worth pointing out that neither male nor female theologians
argued against the denial of priesthood to women. Indeed Hildegard of Bingen sug-
gested that women held a different (and complementary) role as brides of Christ (i.e.,
mystics). See Bynum, Jesus as Mother, pp. 91 -94, 141 -42, and Elisabeth Gossman,
"Das Menschenbild der Hildegard von Bingen und Elisabeth von Schonau vor dem
Hintergrund der friihscholastischen Anthropologie," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer,
Frauenmystik, pp. 24-47.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
413
not discuss Christ's sexuality or his gender. In the scores of texts we {
have on this topic, blood is what is emphasized-blood as covenant, '
in part, but primarily blood as suffering. What the texts say is that the
circumcision foreshadows the crucifixion. Thus blood is redemptive
because Christ's pain gives salvific significance to what we all share
with him; and what we share is not a penis. It is not even sexuality. It
is the fact that we can be hurt. We suffer. Steinberg may be right that
one could extrapolate from medieval art and medieval texts to the
notion that Christ's coming in male flesh is a sign of sexuality and
therefore of humanness. There may even be a profound modern ,
need for such theological argument. My point is simply that the ar-
gument as such is not made in medieval or Renaissance texts. Those
who preached and wrote in the fifteenth century associated human-
ness with the fleshliness of all bodily members and found in suffering \
(rather than in sexual temptation) the core of what it is to be human. ~
It is clear that the body of Christ was depicted as male in late medi-
eval art. It is far from clear, however, that artists emphasized Christ's
penis as a sign of his sexuality and therefore of his humanity. Moreover,
there is both iconographic and textual evidence for the argument that
late medieval people sometimes saw the body of Christ as female.
There is thus better evidence for the asse"i-tion that the late Middle
Ages found gender reversal at the heart of Christian art and Christian
worship than there is for the thesis that Renaissance artists empha-
sized the sexuality of Jesus. Ifwe as modern people find Steinberg's
argument more titillating and Steinberg's illustrations more fascinat-
ing than those I will consider now, this may merely suggest that
there is a modern tendency to find sex more interesting than feeding,
suffering, or salvation. It may also suggest that, pace Huizinga,
twentieth-century readers and viewers are far more literal-minded in
interpreting symbols than were the artists, exegetes and devotional
writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. 34
341n a now classic study, the great Dutch historian argued that symbolism in the
later Middle Ages became florid, mechanical, and empty of true experiential content;
seeJohan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought
and Art in France and the Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries, trans. F. Hopman
(19
2
4; rpt. Garden City, N. Y., 1956). There is, of course, some truth to the argument;
see, for example, Francis Rapp, "Zur Spiritualitat in e1sassischen Frauenklostern am
Ende des Mittelalters," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer, Frauenmystik, pp. 347-
6
5. But it is
more accurate to describe late medieval piety as deeply experiential; see my forthcom-
ing book, Holy Feast and Holy Fast.
414 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
* * *
Medieval texts and medieval art saw the church as the body of
Christ. And ecclesia was, of course, feminine, as a noun and as an alle-
gorical personification. Thus church was depicted in medieval art as
a woman-sometimes as Christ's bride, sometimes as a nursing
mother [plates 4 and 5].35
To depict church as a woman who is Christ's bride or as the
mother of all Christians is not, of course, to make Christ's physical
body female. But medieval texts went further. Ecclesia was identified
in texts as Christ's body, not merely his spouse, and such identifica-
tion led in a number of passages to discussions of Jesus as mother.
The connection was clearly the notion that teachers and authorities
should be nurturing; therefore church, and church's leaders, and
church's head himself were mothers. For example, Bernard of Clair-
vaux commented on Song of Songs i. 1-2 ("For your breasts are bet-
ter than wine, smelling sweet of the best ointments") in a way that
makes clear not only the medieval tendency to associate breasts with
food (rather than sex) but also the medieval tendency to assimilate
church as Christ's spouse with church as Christ's body. Bernard said
explicitly that Christ's bride is the church who nurses us, and that the
bride-church nurses from Christ who is also therefore a mother, and
that this motherly body is all of us. 36 Following Bernard, William of
St. Thierry wrote, addressing Christ:
... it is your breasts, 0 eternal Wisdom, that nourish the holy infancy of your
little ones ... 37
It was not the least of the chief reasons for your Incarnation that your babes in
the church who still needed your milk rather than solid food ... might find in
you a form not unfamiliar to themselves. 38
35Schiller, Ikono.l?raphie, vol. IV, I: Die Kirche, plates 21 I, 213, 228-240, 260.
·l('Bernard ofClairvaux, sermon 9, par. 5-6, and sermon 10. par. 3, on the Song of
Songs, in SanCfi Bemardi opera, cd. J. Leclercq, C. H. Talbot and H. M. Rochais, I
(Rome, 1957),45-46,49- 50; see also sermon 23, par. 2, at!, 139- 140, and sermon 41,
par. 5 -6, atl!, 31- 32.
17William of St. Thierry, Expose sur Ie Cantique des Cantiques, cd. J. M. Dcchanet,
Sources chrctiennes, 82, serie des textes monastiques d'Occident, 8 (Paris, 1962), chap.
38, pp. 122- 24.
3
H
Wiliiam of St. Thierry, Meditativae Orationes, chap. viii, Patrolo.l?ia latina, cd. J.-P.
Migne [hereafter PL I, Vol. 180, col. 236A; trans. Sister Penelope, The Works of William
of St. Thierry, !: On Contemplatin.l? God, Cistercian Fathers Series, 3 (Spencer, Mass.,
(97 1),152-53.
\
I
\
I
\
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
415
4. Spons!ls and Sponsa with Lost Humanity; from H o n o r i ~ s Augustodunensis's
Commentary on the Song of Songs, Twelfth Century. Cod. lat. 455
0
, fol. IV,
Bayr. Staatsbibl., Munich.
416
REN AISSANCE QUARTERLY
5· Giovanni Pisano (d. 1314), Ecclesia lactans standing over the Cardinal Virtues.
Detail from a pulpit. The Cathedral, Pisa.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 417
In this twelfth-century text, Christ's body is treated as female, as
subsuming church, and as accessible to humans of both sexes exactly
in its femaleness. Similarly, the fourteenth-century theologian, mys-
tic and ecclesiastical activist Catherine of Siena assimilated Christ and
Charity (a female personification), stressed the humanation of
Christ, and associated that humanation with motherhood:
We cannot nourish others unless we nourish ourselves at the breasts of divine
charity .... We must do as a little child does who wants milk. It takes the
breast of its mother, applies its mouth, and by means of the flesh it draws milk.
We must do the same if we would be nourished. We must attach ourselves to
the breast of Christ crucified, which is the source of charity, and by means of
that flesh we draw milk. The means is Christ's humanity which suffered pain,
and we cannot without pain get that milk that comes from charity. 39
One might argue, of course, that such texts are merely elaborate
similes-statements that saving is like mothering or that instructing
is like nurturing. Therefore Christ's activity is like church's activity
and mother's activity, and nothing more is meant. But in the Show-
ings of the greatest female theologian Julian of Norwich (d. after
1416), as several scholars have recently pointed out, the use of the
Jesus-as-mother motif is clearly more than simile.
40
It expresses a
theological truth which is, Julian holds, better said in female than in
male images. Julian comments explicitly that holy church is our
mother because she cares for and nurtures us and that Mary the Vir-
gin is even more our mother because she bears Christ. But Christ is
mother most of all.
For in the same time that God joined himself to our body in the maiden's
womb, he took our soul, which is sensual, and in taking it, having enclosed us
39Catherine, Le lettere, ed. Misciattelli, letter 86, II, 8 I - 82. For a similar use of the
metaphor by a male writer, see The Monk of Fame: The Meditations of a Fourteenth-
Century Monk, ed. Hugh Farmer and trans. by a Benedictine of Stan brook, The Bene-
dictine Studies (Baltimore, 1961), pp. 64, 73-74. Other examples of the Jesus-as-
mother motif may be found in Bynum, Jesus as Mother, pp. 110-69, and Valerie
Lagorio, "Variations on the Theme of God's Motherhood in Medieval English Mysti-
cal and Devotional Writings," Studia mystica, 8 (1985), 15-37.
4URitamary Bradley, "The Motherhood Theme in Julian of Norwich," Fourteenth-
Century English Mystics Newsletter, 2.4 (1976),25- 30; Kari Elizabeth B0rresen, "Christ
notre mere, la theologie de Julienne de Norwich," Mitteilungen und Forschungsbeitriige
der Cusanus-GesellschaJt, 13 (1978), 320-29; Paula S. D. Barker, "The Motherhood of
God in Julian of Norwich's Theology," Downside Review, 100 (1982),290-304; Brant
Pelphrey, Love Was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism ofjulian of Norwich , Salz-
burg Studies in English Literature: Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies, 92.4 (Salz-
burg, 1982).
418
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
all in himself, he united it to our substance. In this union he was perfect man,
for Christ, having joined in himself every man who will be saved, is perfect
man.
So our Lady is our mother, in whom we are all enclosed and born of her in
Christ, for she who is mother of our Savior is mother of all who are saved in
our Savior; and our Savior is our true mother, in whom we are endlessly born
and out of whom we shall never come.
41
To Julian, mothering means not only loving and feeding; it also
means creating and saving. The physiological role of the' mother,
whose uterine lining provides the stuff of the foetus (according to
medieval medical theory) and whose blood becomes breast milk,
clearly underlies Julian's sense that, if gender is to be used of God at
all, Christ is mother more than father when it is a matter of talking of
the Incarnation. 42
Such an identification of Christ's saving role with giving birth as
well as feeding is found in a number of fourteenth-century texts,
such as the following meditation by Marguerite of Oingt:
My sweet Lord ... are you not my mother and more than my mother? ...
Ah! sweet LordJesus, who ever saw a mother suffer such a birth? For when the
hour of your delivery came you were placed on the hard bed of the cross. . .
and your nerves and all your veins were broken. And truly it is no surprise that
your veins burst when in one day you gave birth to the whole world. 43
The same theme is clearly suggested in miniatures that show church
emerging from the side of Christ [plate 6]. In the moralized Bibles of
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, artists frequently drew paral-
lels between the birth of Eve from Adam's side and the birth of the
church from Christ's body.44
Late medieval theologians never forgot that Christ's person was
soul as well as body. Christ was not merely flesh. For example, a
writer as effusive (and as orthodox) as Catherine of Siena stressed
41Julian, The Long Text, chap. 57. revelation 14, in A Book of Showings to the AIl(ho-
ressJu/ian o.{Norwich. cd. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, Studies and Texts, 35. 2
parts (Toronto, 1978), pt. 2, pp. 579-80; trans. by Colledge and Walsh inJu/iall of Nor-
wi(h: Showings (New York, 1978), p. 292.
42See Caroline Walker Bynum, " ' ... And Woman His Humanity': Female Imag-
ery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages." in Caroline W. Bynum.
Stevan Harrell and Paula Richman. cds .• Gender and Religion: On the Complexity ofSym-
bois (Boston. 1986). Colledge and Walsh have stressed that this idea has theological
roots in William of St. Thierry; see intra. to A Book of Showings, pt. I. pp. 153-62.
4JMarguerite. Oeuvres, pp. 77-79.
44S
c
hillcr. Ikollograpizie, IV. I: Die Kir(he, plates 217-219.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
419
6. The Creation of Eve. the Birth of Church. the Joining of Adam and Eve; from a
French Moralized Bible of about 1240. MS 270b, fo!' 6r. Bodleian Library, Ox-
ford.
420 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
both the unity of Christ's person and the union of divine with hu-
man. Discussing the eucharist, Catherine attributed the following
admonition to God:
The person of the incarnate Word was penetrated and kneaded into one dough
with the light of my Godhead. . . .
I have said that this body of his [that is, Christ's] is a sun. Therefore you
would not be given the body without being given the blood as well; nor either
the body or the blood without the soul of this Word; nor the soul or body
without the divinity of me, God eternal. For the one cannot be separated from
the other-just as the divine nature can nevermore be separated from the hu-
man nature, not by death or by any other thing past or present or future. So it is
the whole divine being that you receive in that most gracious sacrament under
that whiteness of bread. 45
But despite issuing repeated warnings that souls must "also turn to
the higher ... the divine," theologians and devotional writers fre-
quently stressed Christ's humanity (conceived of as Christ's fleshli-
ness) and associated it with the female. Three very different strands
fed into this complex association of feminine and flesh.
First, theologians drew on the long-standing analogy "spirit is to
flesh as male is to female," familiar in exegesis from patristic days. 46
This dichotomy led both to Hildegard of Bingen's statement that
"man represents the divinity of the Son of God and women his hu-
manity" and to the vision in which Elizabeth of Schonau saw
Christ's humanity appear before her as a female virgin sitting on the
sun.47 It is also reflected in the fact that Hildegard of Bingen's vision
45Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke (New York, 1980), pp.
206-207; see also p. 210. For other authors who stress the same point, see Bynum,
"Women Mystics," p. 214n. I 18.
46Kari Elisabeth B0rresen, Subordination et equivalence: nature et rOle de lafemme d'apres
Augustin et Thomas d'Aquin (Oslo, 1968); Eleanor McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, In-
equality of Sexes: Women in Medieval Theology," Religion and Sexism: Images of
Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. R. Reuther (New York, 1974), pp.
21 3-66; Marie-Therese d'Alverny, "Comment les theologiens et les philosophes
voient la femme?", La femme dans les civilisations des Xe-XIIIe siedes: Actes du colloque
tenu a Poitiers les 23-25 septembre 1976, in Cahiers de civilisation medievale, 20 (1977),
105- 29.
47Hildegard, Liber divinorum operum, bk. i, chap. iv, par. 100, PL 197, col. 885; idem,
Liber vitae meritorum, bk. iv, c. 32, in Analeaa sacra, ed. J.-B. Pitra, VIII: Analecta sanctae
Hildegardis . ... (Monte Cassino, 1882), 158; Barbara Jane Newman, "0 Feminea
Forma: God and Woman in the Works of St. Hildegard (1098-1179)," Ph.D. diss.,
Yale University, 1981; Peter Dronke, Women Writers, pp. 144-201; and Gossmann,
"Das Menschenbild der Hildegard." For Elizabeth's vision, see Die Visionen der hI. Eli-
sabeth und die Schrijien der Aebte Ekbert und Emecho von Schonau, ed. F. W. E. Roth
(Brunn, 1884), pp. 60ff.
A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 421 {·ra!J.
r, •. ""'"

of imago n:ulieris u.nder th.e cross the figure with humanitas
well as wlth ecclesla J and m. the mlnt.atures texts from the l.ateq) ct"" '1 It....
Middle Ages that show Chnst marrymg humanrtas as a man marrles a I '"
woman.
48
S-.../
Medieval writers also drew on a second strand that associated flesh
and female: ancient physiological theory. This theory included two
different accounts of conception. 49 According to Aristotelian theory,
the mother provided the matter of the foetus and the father its life or
spirit or form. Aristotelian theory clearly linked woman with the un-
formed physical stuff of which the fully human is made. According
to Galen, two seeds (from mother and father) were necessary for
conception. Galenic theory associated both male and female with the
physiological stuff. But even according to Galen, the mother was the
oven or vessel in which the foetus cooked, and her body fed the
growing child, providing its matter as it matured. Moreover, all an-
cient biologists thought that the mother's blood fed the child in the
womb and then, transmuted into breast milk, fed the baby outside
the womb as well. Thus blood was the basic body fluid and female
blood was the fundamental support of human life.
Ancient theory also held that the shedding of blood purged or
cleansed those who shed it. Indeed bleeding was held to be necessary
for the washing away of superfluity, so much so that physiologists
regularly spoke of males as menstruating and recommended bleed-
ing with leeches when they did not do so. Thus medical theory not
only associated female bodies with flesh and blood; it also saw bleed-
ing as feeding and as the purging away of excess. 50 Such medical con-
48Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, pt. 2, vision 6, ed. Ade!gundis Fuhrkotter and A.
Carlevaris, Corpus christianorum: continuatio medievalis, 43, 2 vols. (Turnhout,
197
8
), I, 225- 306, esp. 23 I. For ecdesia and humanitas in miniatures, see Schiller, Ikono-
graphie, IV. I: Die Kirche, plates 2 I I, 236, 260. For texts in which Christ marries hu- k
manilas, see Jan van Ruysbroeck, The Spiritual Espousals, trans. Eric Colledge, Classics
of the Contemplative Life (New York, n.d.), p. 43, and idem, "Le miroir du salut
cterne!," chap. vii, in Oeuvres de Ruysbroeck l'Admirable, trans. by the Benedictines of
St.-Paul ofWisques, III, 3rd ed. (Brussels, 1948),82- 83.
49Erna Lesky, Die Zeugungs- und Vererbungslehren der Anlike und ihr Nachwirken
(Mainz, 195 1);Joseph Needham, A History of Embryology, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1959),
pp. 37-74; Anthony Preus, "Galen's Criticism of Aristotle's Conception Theory,"
Journal of the History o.fBiology, 10 (1977),65-85; Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Genera-
tion and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," Representations, to appear; and idem,
The Female Orgasm and the Body Politic, work in progress.
sOPreus, "Galen's Criticism"; Laqueur, Female Orgasm and Body Politic; Vern L. Bul-
lough, "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women, " Viator, 4 (1973), 4
8
7-93;
422
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
ceptions of blood led naturally to the association of Christ's bleeding
on the cross, which purges our sin in the Atonement and feeds OUr
souls in the eucharist, with female bleeding and feeding.
A third strand of medieval ideas also linked flesh, especially
Christ's flesh, with woman. This strand was the doctrine of the Vir-
gin Birth and the emerging notion of the Immaculate Conception. 51
Whatever the respective roles of male and female in ordinary concep-
tion, Christ's body had to come from Mary because Christ had no
human father. Since theologians increasingly stressed Mary's hu-
manity as sinless from her conception, they were able to suggest that
just as the Logos (the divinity of Christ separate from that of God)
pre-existed the Incarnation, so the humanity of Christ also pre-
existed the Incarnation in the sinless humanity of Mary. Such argu-
ments could, of course, be carried to dubious theological lengths, but
a thinker such as Mechtild of Magdeburg began to make them. 52
And the entirely orthodox idea of Mary as the flesh of Christ was
suggested by William Durandus's commentary on the mass and by
the prayers of Francis of Assisi, Suso, and others, who spoke of Mary
as the tabernacle, the vessel, the container, the robe, the clothing of
Christ. 53 The notion is clearly depicted in those eucharistic taberna-
cles that Mary surmounts as if she were the container, 54 and in the so-
called Vierges ouvrantes-Iate medieval devotional objects in which a
statue of Mary nursing her baby opens to show God inside. 55 As
John F. Benton, "Clio and Venus: An Historical View of Medieval Love," The Meall.
illg of Courtly Love, ed. F. X. Newman (Albany, 19(9), p. 32; and Charles T. Wood,
"The Doctors' Dilemma: Sin, Salvation and The Menstrual Cycle in Medieval
Thought," Speculum, 56 (1981),710-27.
51 Levi d' Ancona, Immaculate Conception.
520n Mcchtild, see Bynum,jesus as Mother, pp. 229,233- 34,244.
5.lS
ee
Bynum, "Women Mystics," p. 204; Edouard Dumoutct, Corpus Domini: Aux
sources de la piete eucharistique medievale (Paris, 1942), pp. 77-79; Marguerite of Oingt.
Oeuvres, pp. 98-99; H"nry Suso, Buchlfin der Ewigen Weisheit, c. J6, in Deutsche Schr(f-
tetl im Au firag der Wiirttembergischen Kommission for Landesgeschichte, cd. K. Bihlmeyer
(Stuttgart, 1907), p. 264; Francis of Assisi, Opuscula saneti patris Francisci Assisiensis,
Bibliotheca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Aevi, I, 2nd ed. (Quaracchi, 1949), p. 123;
Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 12- 3 S.
54Dumoutet, Corpus Domini, pp. 77-79. See also Joesph Braun, Der christliche Altar
in seinergeschichtlichen Entwicklung, 2 vols. (Munich, 1924), II, 624. Plates 329,333,334,
33
6
, 34
6
, 3
60
and 3
6
1 give a number of examples of the prominence of Mary on reta-
bles. This motif tends to associate Mary's conceiving of Christ with the moment of the
consecration.
55Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, p. 28. See also Christoph Baumer, "Die Schreinma-
donna," Marian Literary Studies, 9 (1977),239-72.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
423
Carol Purtle and Barbara Lane have demonstrated, such a concept is
also reflected in the late medieval Marian paintings in which Mary
takes on priestly characteristics. Such depictions of Mary as priest
have nothing to do with women's ordination. Mary is priest because
it is she who offers to ordinary mortals the saving flesh of God,
which comes most regularly and predictably in the mass.
56
Thus many medieval assumptions linked woman and flesh and the (.
body of God. Not only was Christ enfleshed with flesh from a .
woman; his Qwn flesh did womanly things: it bled, it bled food, and
it gave birth. Moreover, in certain bizarre events of the late Middle
Ages, there is further support for the argument that bleeding food
and giving life through flesh were seen as particularly female activi-
ties. I allude here to the blood miracles of the thirteenth, fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries.
As scholars such as James Marrow and Lionel Rothkrug have re-
cently shown, blood became an increasingly powerful symbol in late
medieval art and devotion. 57 But blood in this period became more
than symbol. It literally appeared, on walls and wafers, hands and
faces. Blood miracles proliferated. And they took place primarily in
the bodies and the experiences of women. 58 The two most astonish-
ing new miracles of the later Middle Ages are the miracle of the
bleeding host, in which consecrated eucharistic wafers turn into
bleeding flesh, and the miracle of stigmata, in which the bodies of or-
dinary people suddenly receive and display the various wounds of
Christ. Not only are almost all late medieval stigmatics women; vi-
sions and transformation-miracles of the bleeding host (like all eu-
charistic miracles) were received mostly by women as well. 59 Stig-
56Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 71 -72. Carol J. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of jan
"an Eyck (Princeton, 1982), pp. 13-15,27-29, and passim.
57James H. Marrow, Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle
Ages and Earl)' Renaissance: A Stud), of the Transformation ofSarred Metaphor into Descrip-
tive Narrative (Kortrijk, 1979); Lionel Rothkrug, "Popular Religion and Holy Shr:nes:
Their Influence on the Origins of the German Reformation and their Role in German
Cultural Development," in James Obelkevich, ed., Religion and the People, 800- 170
0
(Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979), p. 29·
5HS
ee
Thurston, Physical Phenomena; Dinzelbacher, "Europaische Frauenmystik";
idem, Vision und Visionsliteratur im Mitte/alter (Stuttgart, 1981); Rudolph M. Bell, Holy
Anorexia (Chicago, 1985); and Caroline Walker Bynum, "Fast, Feast. and Flesh: The
Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women," Representations, I I (Summer,
[985),1- 25.
590n eucharistic miracles, see Browe, Die Wunder, and Bynum, "Women Mys-
tics," p. 182. On stigmata, see Thurston, Physical Phenomena; Antoine Imbert-
424 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y
matic women clearly saw themselves as imitating Christ's bleeding
flesh both as it hung on the cross and as it was consecrated in the wa-
fer. Indeed stigmata sometimes appeared as a result of taking com-
munion.
60
Thus it was women's bodies almost exclusively that bled
as Christ bled, and this blood not only purged the woman of her sin
but also saved her fellow Christians by substituting for the expiation
they owed in purgatory.61 Holy women imitated Christ in their
bodies; and Christ's similar bleeding and feeding body was under-
stood as analogous to theirs.
* * *
It is clear then from the many texts I have quoted that medieval
writers spoke of Jesus as a mother who lactates and gives birth. They
called the wound in Christ's side a breast. They saw the flesh of God
as a clothing taken from Mary's flesh. Moreover there is icono-
graphic support for the textual tradition of Jesus as mother. When we
look at late medieval painting, we find that the bleeding Christ is
treated as the feeder of humankind. The wound of Christ and the
breast of Mary are clearly parallel in picture after picture.
The lactating Virgin is, of course, one of the most common icono-
graphic themes in all of Christian art. Mary's breast is linked with
other kinds of feeding-with milk soup and with the grape that is a
eucharistic symbol. 62 In late medieval and Counter-Reformation art,
Gourbeyre, La Stigmatisation: L'extase divine et les miracles de Lourdes: Reponse aux lib res-
penseurs, 2 vols. (Clermont-Ferrand, 1894); Pierre Debongnie, "Essai critique sur
l'histoire des stigmatisations au moyen ige," Etudes carmelitaines, 21.2 (1936), 22-59;
E. Amann, "Stigmatisation," Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, xiv. I (Paris, 1939),
cols. 2617- 19. According to the statistics compiled by Weinstein and Bell, women ac-
count for 27% of the wonder-working relics in the Middle Ages, although they are
only 17.5% of the saints; see Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints and Soci-
ety: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, IOOO- 1700 (Chicago, 1982), pp. 123- 37.
6OFor example, this was true of the Flemish saint, Lidwina of Schiedam (d. 1433).
See Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh," pp. 6-7 and nn. 24 and 27.
61Two saints who stress substituting their suffering for that of others are Alice of
Schaerbeke and Catherine of Genoa. See Life of Alice ofSchaerbeke, chap. iii, par. 26,
AASS, June II, 476; and Catherine of Genoa, II Dialogo spirituale, in Umile Bonzi da
Genova, ed., S. Caterina Fieschi Adorno, II: Edizione critica dei manoscritti cateriniani (Tu-
rin, 1962),420-21,424. See also Catherine, Trattato del Purgatorio, ed. Umile Bonzi, II,
343-45. This was also true of Lidwina of Schiedam; see Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and
Flesh," p. 6 and n. 25.
62See Mundy, "Gerard David." On the cult of the Virgin's milk in the later Middle
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
425
Mary feeds adult males as well, especially Bernard of Clairvaux,
whose lactation is depicted in dozens of paintings. 63 Mary also feeds
ordinary Christians. In a number of pictures, she directs her breast
toward the viewer, while the baby turns aside, thus suggesting that
we share the baby's need for sustenance and that Mary offers to us the
blessed food. 64
Mary's feeding is sometimes explicitly seen as eucharistic. For ex-
ample, several art historians have pointed out that van Eyck's Lucca
Madonna presents Mary as the altar on which Christ sits.
65
Vessels to
the right of the painting reinforce the suggestion that the artist is de-
picting the mass. Both baby and breast are the eucharist, presented to
us. The two foods are assimilated. We the viewers are offered the
bread and wine that are God. Similarly; art historians have also
linked Robert Campin's Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen with the
eucharist [plate 7]. Once again, in this painting, Mary not only offers
her breast; she also presents her baby, as ifhe were bread fresh from
the oven. Mary is assimilated to Christ and celebrant.
66
Thus we
should not be surprised to find paintings that depict Mary as priest, 67
or representations of the Mystical Mill in which Mary as the miller
(i.e., celebrant) pours in the flour while Christ emerges below as
Ages, see P. V. Beterous, "A propos d'une des legendes mariales les plus repandues: Ie
'lait de la Vierge,' " Bulletin de I'association Guillaume Bude, 4 (1975), 403 - I I.
63Rafael M. Duran Iconografia espanola de San Bernardo (Monasterio de Poblet, 1953);
Leon Dewez and Albert van herson, "La lactation de saint Bernard: Legende et iconog-
raphie," Crteaux in de Nederlanden, 7 (1956), 165-89. For two other examples, see
Hiller and Vey, Katalog ... WallrafRichartz Museum, plates 126 and 159· In the latter
(late fifteenth-century) painting, the baby actually pushes the breast toward Bernard.
For texts which refer to other lactations of adults, see Albert Poncelet, "Index miracu-
lorum B. V. Mariae quae saec. VI-XV latine conscripta sunt, " Analecta Bollandiana, 21
(1902),359.
64S
ee
, for example, the miniature from the Milan-Turin Book of Hours in which a
stream of milk from Mary's breast goes toward the donor (with whom the viewer pre-
sumably identifies) while the baby turns away from the breast; Lane, Altar and Altar-
piece, p. 6, plate 4.
6sLane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 13 - 23 and plate 6; Purtle, Marian Paintings, pp. 9
8
-
126.
(.6Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 1- 10 and plate I; Purtle, Marian Paintings, p. 100, n.
8; see also Carra Ferguson O'Meara, " 'In the Hearth of the Virginal Womb': The ico-
nography of the Holocaust in Late Medieval Art," The Art Bulletin, 63· I (19
81
), 75-
88. The cupboard and chalice are modern additions to the painting.
67 Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 71 -72 and plate 47; Purtle, Marian Paintings, p. 12,
n. 32, and p. 153. See also Otto Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church, trans. M.
von Eroes andJ. Devlin (New York, 1963), pp. 130- 3 I.
426 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y
7. Robert Campin (d. 1444), Madonna and Child before a Firescreen. The National
Gallery, London.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 427
bread fed to the assembled prelates (who become recipients) [see
plate 8].68
All of these pictures are of Mary increasingly assimilated to Christ.
But there are also medieval paintings that assimilate Christ to Mary.
Over and over again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find
representations of Christ as the one who feeds and bleeds. Squirting
blood from wounds often placed high in the side, Christ fills cups for
his followers just as Mary feeds her baby. Christ's body, like wom-
an's, is depicted as food [plate 13 below]. In two very different
fifteenth-century paintings, for example, Christ's wound is treated
almost as if it were a nipple and produces in one case the wafer, in
another case the blood of the eucharist [see plates 9 and 10].69
In medieval experience as in modern, it was women's bodies, not
men's, that fed with fluid from the breast. Medieval people clearly
found this fact symbolically useful, as recurrent representations of
nursing Charity or of the lactating Virtues [plate II] attest.
70
It thus
seems possible to argue that a picture such as Quirizio of Murano's
The Savior [plate 9], which treats Christ as body that provides food
from the breast, is an evocation (if not a depiction) of the traditional
notion of Jesus as mother. The texts on the picture (borrowed from
the Song of Songs) underline the emphasis on eating Christ's body,
for they read: "Come to me, dearly beloved friends, and eat my
flesh, " "Come to me, most beloved, in the cellar of wine and inebri-
ate yourself with my blood. "
A number of fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth-century paintings
make the association of Christ's wound and Mary's breast quite clear
[see, for example, plate 12). The parallel is more than visual: texts on
the pictures make the point explicitly. In a painting of I 508 by Hans
6HGetrud Schiller, Iconography ojChristiarz Art, trans. J. Seligman, II: The Passion oj
Jesus Christ (London, 1972), pp. 228-29; idem, Ikonographie, IV.!: Die Kirche, p. 62. On
the related motif of Christ in the winepress, see Marrow, Passion Iconography, p. 85,
and Braun, Der Altar, II, plate 336.
69For depictions of Christ bleeding into the chalice, see Schiller, Iconography, II: Pas-
sion, plates 707,708,710,806, and Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 130-31. On Quir-
izio's The Savior, see Luigi Coletti, Pittura veneta del Quattrocento (Novara, 1953), pp.
xlvii-xlix and 100- 101; Sandra Moschini Marconi, ed., Gal/erie dell'Accademia, Opere
d'Arte dei Secoli XIV et XV (Rome, 1955), p. 148; and Louis Gougaud, Devotional and
Ascetic Practices in the Middle Ages, trans. G. C. Bateman (London, 1927), pp. 104- 10.
7°Adolphe de Ceuleneer, "La Charitc romaine dans la litterature et dans i'art, " An-
nales de l'Academie Royale d'archeoloRie de BelRique, 67 (Antwerp, 1919), 175-206.
428
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
8. Retable of the Mystical Mill, Central Panel, about 1440. Ulm Museum.
Holbein the Elder, for example, the words above Christ read: "Fa-
ther, see my red wounds, help men in their need, through my bitter
death." And above Mary: "Lord, sheath thy sword that thou hast
drawn, and see my breast, where the Son has sucked. "71
Such pictures are known to art historians as the "double interces-
71For examples of the double intercession, see Max]. Friedlander, Early Netherland-
ish Painting, IX.2, trans. H. Norden with notes by H. Pauwels and M. Gierts (Leyden,
1973), plate 156; Schiller, Iconography, II: Passion, plates 798,799,800,802; Lane, Altar
and Altarpiece, pp. 7-8; idem, "The 'Symbolic Crucifixion' in the Hours of Catherine of
Cleves," Oud-Holland 86 (1973), 4-26; Richard C. Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance
Florence, Studies in Social Discontinuity (New York, 1980), p. 26, plate 8; and A. L.
Moir and Malcolm Letts, The World Map in Hereford Cathedral and The Pictures in the
Hereford Mappa Mundi, 7th ed. (Hereford, 1975), pp. II and 19· For the texts on the
Holbein, see Schiller, Iconography, II: Passion, p. 225·
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
429
9· Quirizio da Murano (fl. 1460-78), The Savior. Accademia, Venice.
sian." They are usually glossed as an association of two sacrifices:
Christ's bleeding and dying for us on the cross, Mary's suffering for
her baby and therefore for all sinners. But I would like to suggest that
the parallel is not merely between two sacrifices; it is also between
two feedings. I argue this partly because, as we have seen, Mary's
430 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
10. A northwest German master, Christ and Charity, about 1470. Wallraf-Richartz
Museum, Cologne.
breast and Jesus's vyound, when treated independently, are seen as
supplying food [see plates 7, 9, 10, and 13]. I also suggest such an in-
terpretation because artists themselves sometimes indicate that it is
really Mary's breast as lactating that is in question. In an early
sixteenth-century triptych from the Low Countries, for example,
not only is Mary's breast parallel to Jesus's bleeding wound (a wound
which is recapitulated in the bleeding heart above) but Mary's breast
is also explicitly associated with lactation through the presence at her
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 431
I. Fountain of the Virtues, Sixteenth Century. Niirnberg.
434
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
14· Goswyn van derWeyden, 1507. Museum of
Fine Arts, Antwerp.
side of Bernard ofClairvaux, who, according to legend, nursed from
her [plate 14].72
* * *
It thus seems that medieval writers and occasionally even artists
represented God's body with both feminine and masculine character-
istics-something modern thinkers rarely attempt and only with
considerable awkwardness and embarrassment. How then did it
happen that writers and visionaries in the Middle Ages found it pos-
sible to mix and fuse the sexes in their depictions of God? The answer
lies, at least in part, in the fact that-for all their application of male/
female contrasts to organize life symbolically-medieval thinkers
and artists used gender imagery more fluidly and less literally than
we do. Projecting back onto medieval symbols modern physiologi-
72A. Monballieu, "Het Antonius Tsgrooten-triptiekje (1597) uit Tongerloo van
Goosen van der Weyden," Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Antwerpen (1967), pp. 13-36.
..
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 435
cal theory or post-Enlightenment contrasts of nature and culture, we \
have tended to read medieval dichotomies too absolutely. 73 Medieval i
thinkers, however, saw not just the body of Christ but all bodies, as I
we shall see, as both male and female. i
Careful reading of the theological and scientific traditions I dis-
cussed above makes it clear that, despite their use of male/female di-
chotomies, theologians and natural philosophers assumed considera-
ble mixing of the genders. From the patristic period on, those who
saw the female as representing flesh while the male represented spirit
wrote of real people as both. To say this is not to deny that men were
seen as superior in rationality and strength. Clearly they were. But
existing, particular human beings were understood as having both
feminine and masculine characteristics.
74
Moreover, we must never
forget the emphasis on reversal which lay at the heart of the Christian
tradition: According to Christ and to Paul, the first shall be last and
the meek shall inherit the earth.
75
Thus not only did devotional writ-
ers mix gender images in describing actual men and women; they
also used female images to attribute an inferiority that would-
exactly because it was inferior-be made superior by God. For ex-
ample, male devotional writers such as Bernard, Eckhart and Gerson
spoke of male mystics as fecund mothers or weak women.
76
And
women mystics were even more likely to cut the terms "male" and
73An infi ntial article that projects back into the earlier western tradition the mod-
ern naturd contrast is Sherry Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature is to Cul-
ture?" in ,ichelle Z. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., Women, Culture and Society
(Stanfor , 1974), pp. 67-86. For criticisms of Ortner's approach, on these and other
Eleanor Leacock and June Nash, "Ideologies of Sex: Archetypes and Ster-
in Cross-Cultural Research, Annals of the New York Academy of Sci-
(New York, 1977), pp. 618-45, and Carol P. MacCormack and M.
., Nature, Culture and Gender (Cambridge, 1980). For criticism of project-
Ing modern physiological theory onto earlier concepts, see Laqueur, Female Orgasm and
Body Politic. The point about the mixing of genders has been nicely made by Eleanor
McLaughlin, " 'Christ My Mother': Feminine Naming and Metaphor in Medieval
Spirituality," Nashota Review, 15 (1975), 229-48.
74For examples of hagiographers who praise women as "virile," see Life oflda of
Louvain, AASS, April, II, 159; and Life ofJda ofLeau, AASS, October, XIII, 112. The
compliment could, of course, cut both ways.
75See Bynum, Jesus as Mother, pp. 127-28, and idem, "Women's Stories, Women's
Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner's Theory ofLiminality," in Anthropology and the
Study ojReligion, ed. F. Reynolds and R. Moore (Chicago, 1984). pp. 105-24.
76Bynum,Jesus as Mother, pp. 1 IO-69; Vauchez, La saintete, p. 446 n. 5Il;John Ger-
son, Collectorium super Magnificat, treatise 9, in Oeuvres completes, ed. P. Glorieux, VIII:
L'oeuvre spirituelle et pastorale (Paris, 1971), pp. 397-98.
436
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
"female" loose entirely from the social or physiological dichotomies
they usually represented, speaking of mothers as administering harsh
discipline or of a father God with souls in his womb.
77
This mixing of the genders was even more apparent in the scien-
tific tradition, where in one sense it was not even clear that there were
two sexes. Medieval natural philosophy held-as Tom Laqueur has
pointed out-that men and women are really a superior and inferior
version of the same physiology. Woman's reproductive system was
just man's turned inside out.
78
Ancient biology, especially in its Aristotelian form, made the male
body paradigmatic. The male was the form or quiddity of what we
are as humans; what was particularly womanly was the unformed-
ness, the stuff-ness or physicality, of our humanness. Such a notion
identified woman with breaches in boundaries, with lack of shape or
definition, with openings and exudings and spillings forth. 79 But this
\
conception also, we should note, put men and women on a contin-
uum. All human beings were form and matter. Women were merely
less of what men were more. We can see this assumption at work in
medieval discussions of specific physiological processes. For exam-
ple, all human exudings-menstruation, sweating, lactation, emis-
sion of semen, etc.-were seen as bleedings; and all bleedings-
lactation, menstruation, nosebleeds, hemorrhoidal bleeding,
etc.-were taken to be analogous. Indeed, in the case of bleeding the
physiological process, which was understood to be common to male
and female bodies, functioned better (or at least more regularly) in
women. Medieval writers, for example, urged men to apply leeches
to their ankles when they failed to "menstruate"-i.e., to purge their
bodies by periodic bleeding.
Thus to a medical writer, men's and women's bodies often did the
77Bynum, " ' ... And Woman His Humanity.' "I have considered some of the im-
plications of this observation in "The Complexity of Symbols," in Bynum, Harrell
and Richman, Gender and Religion.
7HLaqueur, Female Orgasm and Body Politic. On the commensurability of bodily
fluids, see also Michael Goodich, "Bartholomaeus Angelicus on Child-rearing," His-
tory of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psycho history, 3 (197S), pp. 7S-84, esp. 80;
Mary M. McLaughlin, "Survivors and Surrogates: Children and Parents from the
Nimh to the Thirteenth Centuries, "in The History of Childhood, ed. L. DeMause (New
York, 1974), pp. 101-181, esp. IIS-18; and Wood, "Doctors' Dilemma," p. 719.
7YSuch a conception encouraged the exuding miracles (e.g., oil-exuding, miracu-
lous lactation, cures with saliva, ecstatic nosebleeds) that characterized female saints.
On such miracles, see Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh," nn. 14, IS, 81, 82, 83 and 8S.
..
A RE'PLY TO LEO STEINBERG 437
same things. A medieval theologian, whose assumptions about body
were formed at least partly by this medical tradition, might therefore
see the l:>lood Christ shed in the circumcision and on the cross as anal-
ogous to menstrual blood or to breast milk-an analogy that seems
to us, with our modern theories of glands and hormones, very far-
fetched indeed. Such medieval ideas made it easy fo'! writers and art- A,
ists to fuse or interchange the genders and therefore to use both gen- \.
ders symbolically to talk about self and God. As mystics and
theologians in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in-
creasingly emphasized the human body of Christ, that body could be
seen both as the paradigmatic male body of Aristotelian physiologi-
cal theory and as the womanly, nurturing flesh that Christ's holy
mother received immaculately from her female forebearer.
,
* * *
The analysis above suggests that there is little textual support for
Steinberg's argument that the artistic focus of Renaissance painters
on Christ's penis was a theological statement about sexuality. There
is, however, much textual and iconographical support for the argu-
ment that the flesh of Christ was seen by fifteenth-century people as
both male and female. Thus Steinberg is not wrong to argue that art- .
ists gave a new prominence to the body of Christ. He has merely
failed to explain the range of that bodiliness in its full complexity. To
writers, painters and sculptors of the frrteenth and fifteenth centu-
ries not only the penis but also the eye,} and breasts, even the toes, of
Christ engendered extravagant ejfbtional response.
80
Devotion
BOOne thinks of the . .on associating Mary Magdalen and Francis
of Assisi with the toes of Christ: see) Ziegler. "The Virgin or Mary Magdalen?
Artistic Choices and Changing Spiritual Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages," paper
presented at the Holy Cross Symposium "The Word Becomes Flesh," November 9,
1985, and Roberta). Schneider, "The Development ofIconographic Manifestations of
St. Francis of Assisi as the Alter Christus in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian
Painting," M. A. Thesis, University of Washington, 1985, plates 8-20. For examples
of the Magdalen kissing or hovering over Christ's feet at the crucifixion or deposition,
see Hiller and Vey, Katalog . .. Wallra}Richartz Museum, plates 86 and 124. For exam-
ples of Francis curled around the feet of Christ, see Vincent Moleta, From St. Francis to
Giotto: The Influence of St. Francis on Early Italian Art and Literature (Chicago, 1983), p.
26, and Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists
and Their Works: Central Italian and Northern Italian Schools, II (London, 1968), platt
448. Margery Kempe was especially devoted to the toes of Christ: see The Book
, •• n
438
RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y
poured out to Christ our brother, Christ our mother, Christ our
bridegroom, and Christ our friend.
Nonetheless my examination oflate medieval concepts of Christ
agrees in certain ways with Steinberg's emphasis. I am arguing here
with rather than against Steinberg that things are seldom what they
seem, at least if the seeming is based on unexamined modem atti-
tudes. Medieval symbols were far more complex-polysemic as an-
thropologists say-than modem people are aware. They were, as
Steinberg tells us, rooted in theology and piety. Moreover, we can
unquestionably learn from their complexity, as Steinberg has also
suggested. Rather than mapping back onto medieval paintings mod-
em dichotomies, we might find in medieval art and literature some
suggestion of a symbolic richness our own lives and rituals seem to
lack.
As my discussion above demonstrates, medieval artists and devo-
tional writers did not either equate body with sexuality or reject
body as evil. 81 There was a misogynist clerical tradition, to be sure. 82
But medieval piety did not dismiss flesh-even female flesh-as pol-
luting. Rather it saw flesh as fertile and vulnerable; and it saw
enfleshing-the enfleshing of God and of us all-as the occasion for
salvation.
We should therefore be wary of any modem appeals to medieval
traditions that oppose male to female or equate flesh with sexuality.
We should also understand that there is little basis in medieval art or
devotion for treating body as entrapment rather than opportunity,
suffering as evil to be eschewed rather than promise to be redeemed.
My argument then is not titillating antiquarianism. It is rather a chal-
lenge to us to think more deeply about what our basic symbols
Margery Kempe: The Text jom the Unique Manuscript Owned by Colonel W. Butler-
Bowdon, cd. Sanford B. Meech and Hope Emily Allen, Early English Text Society, 212
(London, 1940). For a reading of Steinberg (very different from mine) that nonetheless
draws attention generally to Christ's bodiliness, see Jane Gallop, "Psychoanalytic Crit-
icism: Some Intimate Questions," in Art in America (November, 1984), p. 15.
HISee Bynum, "Women Mystics," and Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls, pp. 89- 121, esp.
p.
10
4, for discussion oflate medieval notions of using body to approach God. Such an
emphasis on body as a means of becoming like Christ is very different from a dualistic
rejection of body as the enemy of spirit. To say this is not, however, to deny that medi-
eval thinkers also stressed the disciplining offlesh, especially female flesh. See Kieckhe-
fer, I illquiet Souls, pp. 118-20, and Weinstein and Bell, Saints and Society, pp. 233- 38.
, _c Diane Bornstein, "Antifeminism," Dictionary of the Middle Ages, I (New
Yark, 1982), 3U-25, and n. 46 above.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 439
mean. There may be warrant in the Christian tradition for equating
the penis with maleness and maleness with humanity, but I would
argue that medieval theology at least as explicitly equates the breast
with femaleness and femaleness both with the humanity of Christ
and with the humanity of us all. There may be warrant in the Chris-
tian tradition for seeing the resurrection as triumph over body, but I
would suggest, that medieval piety (at least in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries) speaks far more urgently of life coming from
death, of significance located in body, of pain and suffering as the
opportunity-even the cause--of salvation. 83 A better understanding·
of the medieval past might thus enable modem people to give to age-
old symbols new meanings that would be in fact medieval. If we
want to express the significance ofJesus in both male and female im-
ages, if we want to tum from seeing body as sexual to seeing body as
generative, if ~ e want to find symbols that give dignity and meaning
to the suffering we cannot eliminate and yet fear so acutely, we can
find support for doing so in the art and theology of the later Middle
Ages. ..
UNIVERSITY Q.F WASHINGTON
H3The fact that late medieval theology stressed crucifixion more than resurrection is
well known. See Jacques Hourlier and Andre Rayez, "Humanite du Christ," Diction-
naire de spiritualite, ascetique et mystique, doctrine et histoire (Paris, 1969), VII pt. I, cols.
1053-96; Richard W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven, 1959), pp.
231-40; and Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls, pp. 89- I 13, esp. p. 96. See also n. 81 above.
Jv ;5 ...\.<'0
,'.-\. 'vn,###BOT_TEXT###quot;-..
V\t. '" PI-

400

RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY

A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG

401

how such artists depict family and child. I want to begin this essay withjust such ajolt: the impish painting made in 1926 by the surrealist painter Max Ernst, which shows the artist himself and two contemporary surrealist poets looking through the window at an unusual scene [plate I]. This picture of Mary spanking Jesus is, of course, "antitheology." IfJesus needs spanking or if Mary spanks unjustly, something is badly wrong between the supposedly sinless mother and her supposedly sinless son. The picture brings home to us a profound truth. Not every aspect offamily life is depicted in artistic renderings of the Holy Family. There are all sorts of homely scenes within which Jesus is not located, all sorts of childish actions that are not at\ tributed to the baby God. Immediately we realize that there are complex reasons for what is depicted concerning the Holy Family. It is not enough to say, as historians have sometimes said, that scenes of . the Holy Family were merely opportunities for artists who wanted ! to draw domestic interiors, to depict bodies naturalistically, or to render in paint the affection of parents and children. 2 Pictures of the Holy Family are themselves theological statements. For example, the very large number of statues and paintings in medieval and Renaissance Europe that depict the so-called Anna Selbdritt-that is, Mary's mother Anne, Mary, and Mary's baby Jesus-are not merely paintings or statues of grandmothers [see plate 2]. It is true that such representations, which are particularly common in northern Europe, present a kind offemale genealogy for Christ that perhaps reflects the importance of women in late medieval conceptions of family despite the development of primogeniture. 3 But the pictures also reflect the emergence in the late Middle Ages of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception-the claim that Mary was born of her mother Anne without the taint of original sin.4 The sinless baby in the lap of his

I

I

"Although art historians have long cautioned against doing so, historians and social scientists have tended to read art (often quite creatively) as evidence for social history. Sec, for example, Philippe Aries, Cetlluries ~fChildhood: A Social History ,,-fFamily Lit;', tr. Robert Baldick (New York, 1962); Jack Goody, The Development ,,-fthe Family alld Marria,,!e in Europe (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 153- 56; David Herlihy, Medieval HOIL'/'holds (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), p. 12. 'See Gertrud Schiller, Ikono,l!raphie der christlichen Kunst, vol. IV.2: Maria (Glitersloh, (980), platcS751- 56 and pp. 157-60. 4Mirella Levi d' Ancona, The /cono,l!raphy ,,-f the Immaculate Conception in thl' Aliddle Ages and J:'arly Renaissance, Monographs on Archaeology and Fine Arts, 7 (New York. (1)57).

[. Max Ernst, The Vir.'<in Chastisin.'< the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter, 1926. Private Collection.

Steinberg has shocked conventional sensibilities by showing that late medieval and Renaissance artists made the penis of the infant or the adult Christ the focal point of their depictions. The New York Times Book Review (April 29. Lane. pp. Sixteenth . and David Rosand. 23.14. both in literature and in iconography. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion (New York: Pantheon. as lactating and giving birth. This point is the one that Leo Steinberg has recently made in his tour de force. the reviews of Steinberg by Richard Wolheim.ee Barbara G. The realization that not all possible human actions or settings are \ attributed to Christ in paint or sculpture thus leads us to realize that \ there is theological significance to what is depicted. 1346. I share both the reservations and the admiration felt by his critics.. David Summers. 1984).402 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 403 '-'0' sinless mother who herself sits in the lap or on the arm of her own female forebearer emphasizes the purity and the physicality of the flesh Christ takes from Mary and the flesh Mary takes from her own mother. I wish to point out another set of paintings and to draw a very different conclusion. I wish to call attention to artistic depictions that suggest another sex for Christ's body-depictions that suggest that Christ's flesh was 1 sometimes seen as female. Times Literary Supplement (Nov. And when we look. 190 (June 1 I. 50 n this point generally. for example. Museum of the Catherine Convent. The New Republic. Alma Selbdri!t. :. . pp. 25-27. 22.{Books. Century. The New York Review o. Bringing together a number of pictures never before considered as a group. 8 (Nov. whereas Steinberg must extrapolate from medieval and Renaissance texts in order to conclude that theologians emphasized Christ's penis as sexual and his sexuality as a symbol of his humanity. 31. tribute to the debate about his book as to use it as the starting point for further exploration of late medieval notions of the body of Christ. 1984). Andre Chaste!. 6 And. 13 . The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting (New York. 1984). 1983). "See. But I do not intend here so much to con. 1984). we find that more has in fact been painted-and for more complex reasons-than we have noticed before. 1984). Utrecht. as will become clear.29-33· 2. I also wish to \ argue that. 5 It also leads us ' simply to look more carefully. Sharing with Steinberg the conviction that medieval art has theological content. p. Steinberg's book has been much criticized and much admired. we do not have to extrapolate at all in order to conclude that theologians saw the wound in Christ's side as a breast and emphasized his bleeding-lactating flesh as a symbol of the "humanation" of God. pp.

245-46. O'Malley. Steinberg has been much influenced by John W. Anne. pp.42. even to the involuntary movements of his penis. and Peter Dinzelbacher. te IIIS inbcrg. offers not to him but to the viewer. are there medieval or Renaissance texts that suggest this association? Did theologians of the period themselves talk of the penis as a sign of sexual activity or as a sign of maleness and associate it. In picture after picture. however. without perhaps realizing their full significance. now in the Wallraf-Richartz museum. or doubts about what certain painted folds of drapery really conceal. lIOn devotion to the holy foreskin. pp. 1977 (London: The National Gallery. and other saints uncovering. pp. 19 8 3]). 185). Bernard by the Master of the Life of the Virgin. Februar 184 in Weingarten (Ostfildern. 13. as the ultimate symbol of what Christ shares with all of us. tl RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 405 Theologians did not discuss Christ as a sexual male. pp. the baby reaches for the breast. 25 [Summer. 11 Arguing that theologians from Augustine to the Renaissance increasingly stressed what they called the "hu7t. And see below n. pp.49. Christ was fully male in gender and sexuality. (. 14 8). October. see Robert Fawtier and Louis Canet. 16. La Double experiellCf de Catherine Benincasa (sainte Catherine de Sienne) (Paris.80. 13 * * * "/hid. Doctrine and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court. It is impossible to prove that medieval people did not assume what we assume when we look at pic121n his interpretation of Renaissance preaching. 58-61 and 160-62. for example. his fleshly-humanity. I3See. 6 above. _ 25. Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric. 19 3) (first published as a special issue. pictures in which the artist calls attention both to Christ's penis and to his mother's breast9 and pictures in which the blood flows from Christ's Own breast into his crotch. manation" of God in Christ. particularly the extraordinary devotion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the holy foreskin and to the feast of the circumcision. 21 5. 61 -65) all emphasize pain and . he redeems our sexual nature (if not our sexual acts) as well.12 Thus Steinberg suggests that artists intended the genitals of Christ. He also interprets these pictures in a new way. Christ redeems not only our physiological differences as men and women. The l{enaissance sermons Steinberg quotes (Sexuality. such as the question of how much of the artistic attention to genitals is simply naturalism. And see n. "Die 'Vita et revelationes' der Wiener Begine Agnes BJannbe1 kin (+ 13 5) im Rahmen der Viten. which Mary. placing them in the Context of Renaissance theology. or even fondling the baby's penis. especially in those few pictures that he interprets as erections.404 ~. "Steinberg. however.from Col A Loan Exhibition. 12 I will leave aside here some of the legitimate questions critics have raised about Steinberg. plate 14. 692-4. we find Mary. )84). * * * Steinberg has clearly demonstrated that late medieval and Renaissance artists called attention to the genitals of the baby Jesus. 7 Although Steinberg's reading of a number of pictures of the adult Christ in which he sees an actual erection under the loincloth is questionable. Bauer. is a painting of the vision of St.53. I must consider Steinberg's own argument a little more carefully. to put it another way. First.co Stein berg. A particularly faSCinating example of this motif.. David Toolan. pp. 179).47. Commonweal (Dec. Peter Dinzelbacher and Dieter G. April5-june I. pointing to. for a reproduction. First.John. Rather I wish to discuss two points that are relevant to my own topic.. 10 Steinberg's brilliance and courage do not stop with discovery. . 1450-1521 (Durham. Sexuality. In this picture. Bernard points to the baby's genitals. . and as such he represents the salvation of the totality of what we as human beings are.leeding. in Fraul'llmystik illl Mittelalter. which the baby hinlsclf covers. he has been able to show that Christ's Own hands (or even Mary's) cover or point to the genitals in a number of deposition scenes or pietas. It is a noble and consequential reading of medieval art and theology and one which several recent commentators have seen as true to essential Christian doctrine. 14. is Steinberg right-matters of taste aside-to call his book "the sexuality" rather than "the genitals" of Christ? Second. review of Steinberg. " and that Renaissance sermons often emphasized the bleeding of Christ's penis at the circumcision as a special proof of his true-that is. are we entitled to associate genitality with sexuality in fifteenth. 98-108. admiring. as such. especially tigures 4. not sexuality. pp. The 'Sexuality ojChrist in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion (New 8 York. Wissenschaftliche Studientagung der Akademie der Diiizcse Rottenburg-Stuttgart 22. Sexuality. they did discuss Jesus as mother. I SZ. not discussed hy Stein berg. 20.und Offenbarungsliteratur ihrer Zeit. H He has also shown us. 7-30. with the humanity of Christ? The first is the harder question. ed. see Late Gothic Art oglle . Steinberg shows that "humanation" meant "enfleshing.and sixteenthcentury art? Did medieval people immediately think of erections and sexual activity when they saw penises (as modern people apparently do)? Or. 177).

1. she associated that piece of bleeding flesh with the eucharistic host and saw herself appropriating the pain of Christ. Kataloj! der Deutschen Imd Niederliindischen Gemiilde his 1550 . III. pp. 851. cd. I 863fI:). x. C. ""din. sec Elizabeth Petroff. Kataloge des Wallraf-Richartz Museum. described herself as embracing Christ. .:~~ 17See John H. For another example of this motif. To medieval theologians. 1969). Christianity. Van Engen. The 18 accOunt ofMargarct's kiss is in Life of Ben even uta ofBojano. And We clearly see breasts and penises as erotic. XIII. October. and felt Christ's tongue in his mouth.. Moreover. v. Dozens of late medieval pictures of the lactating Virgin place her in a grape arbor or associate her feeding breasts with other forms of offering food. between people and animals-and all had some kind of taint attached. letter 143. iii. plate 154..53. they sometimes saw a breast (or a womb) when they saw Christ's side.. " ('9"'). PP' 50. Caterina da Siena. liLife ofLukardis ofObcrweimar in Analeaa Bollandiana. IS When Hadewijch. 18 It is we who suspect sexual yearnings in a medieval virgin who found sex the le. IHCatherine ofSicna. COllsolation o.. IV. 17 When Catherine of Siena received the foreskin of Christ from him in a vision and put it on as a wedding ring. 50. But did medieval viewers? For several reasons. the Flemish poet. Rupert oJDeutz (Berkeley. par: 82. V. Double experience. 146. Twentieth-century readers and viewers tend to eroticize the body and to define themselves by the nature of their sexuality. there were different kinds of sexual acts-between people of different sexes. letter 50. Margaret experiences an erotic kiss from Christ in Life of Margarct.fthe Blessed (New York. 16 We ~ modern readers think of sexual arousal or orgasm.236. in Acta Sall({Onml/hereafter AASS). August. in Hadeu'y'c!I: Tile Complete Works. esp. 1913-22).406 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 407 tures. and devotional writers.337-38. 2S1-82. as I shall demonstrate below. 19 ).211-22. 18 ( 99). and all Christ's bleedings were assimilated. trans. 1 the cruciflx. for example. 14 Nor did medieval people understand as erotic or sexual a number of bodily sensations which we interpret that way. Rupert ofDeutz. A . Fawticr and Canet. 19E.'' W'M'.20 Since medieval physiological theory saw all body fluids as reducible to blood and saw bleeding basically as purging. trans. 337-38. Thin". Despite recent writing about "gay people" in the Middle Ages. When. 337. Turner (New York. bleeding flesh with which it was associated in painting and in text.h C"''"'y. it is questionable whether anyone had such a concept. I think we should be cautious about assuming that they did. EllropejiWIl the Bej!inllill. lawyers. But there was no clear notion of being one or the other kind of sexual being. as we do when we read the account of a twelfthcentury monk. Le lettere de S. II. 245-46. pp. 49. par: 15 (20). 3rd ed. "Gerard David's Rest on the FlIitht into Egypt: Further Additions to Grape Symbolism. 12. 16-25. 66-78. "Women Mystics ""I 17'J-Imi"" J)"o<ioo -92.78. 1981). see Albert Chatelet. for instance. 19 There is also reason to think that medieval people saw Christ's penis not primarily as a sexual organ but as the object of circumcision and therefore as the wounded. ridotte a miglior lezione e in ordille nuovo disposte con note di Niccoli) Tommaseo a cura di Piero Misciattelli. she thought of-she experienced-the love of God. feeling him penetrate deep within her and losing herself in an ecstasy from which she slowly and reluctantly returned. Vision 7. between people of the same sex. AASS. But they probably did not associate either penis or breast p. letter 261. 21 4. pp. 1 2 See below nn. see also Caroline Walker Bynum. Early Dutch Painting: Painting in the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century. On women's erotic relationship with Christ. Social Tolerance and Homosexuah'ty: Gay People in Westml I'JXo). pp." Simialus: Netherlands Quarterly Jor the History oj Art. Twentieth_ century readers think immediately of lesbianism. 172. seem to have defined themselves by sexual orientation. im WallrafRichartz Museum und im Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Kaln. But let me at least suggest that we would do well to be cautious about projecting OUr wa ys of seeing onto the artists or the viewers of the past. they did not blush to describe this as receiving God's grace or even as receiving the eucharist. 6 vols. Columba Hart So (New York. James Mundy.4 (198182).! o[the Christian Era to the FOllrtl'Cnth Cerztury (Chicago. Brown and A.. It is usually given to Jean Malouel. ISO. 2°There is considerable dispute about the attribution of this piera. For a discussion. the medieval nuns Lukardis of Oberweimar and Margaret of Faenza breathed deeply into their sisters' mouths and felt sweet delight flooding their members. 19 io d" pp. letter 221. (Paris. 5 (Cologne. the Bollandists. chap. 21 I am not here denying that medieval people saw a penis when they saw Christ's penis. bleeding was an obvious symbol for cleansing or expiation.ast of the world's temptations. embraced 14See John Boswell.. 1979). I(Hadcwijch. who climbed on the altar. There is reason to think that medieval viewers saw bared breasts (at least in painting and sculpture) not primarily as sexual but as the food with which they were iconographically associated. When artists painted the blood from Christ's pierced breast running sideways across his groin into his crotch (in defiance of the laws of gravity) they were assimilating the later bleeding of the cross to the earlier bleeding of the circumcized infant [plate 3]. see Irmgard Hiller and Horst Vey with Tilman Falk. 1983). Medieval people do not. " ----:r ~chap. (Siena. Pal me.

1952). in part because of its bodily pleasures. The Louvre. und beginnenden 15. Bibliotheque des etudes franc. opened his heart. . V. On male suspicion of female religiosity generally. p. sermons 31 and 33. ~ . the more it wants to bear it. 1910). . 110." Archivio italiano per la storia della pieta. "Europaische Frauenmystik des Mittelalters.. it may be that religious women were more likely than religious men to read as encounter with God bodily occurrences that we would attribute to sexual arousaps For physiological reasons. 1984). ed. 1982). 315." ibid. Then on the cross the lance . Franz W6hrer. Breslauer Studien zur historischen Theologie. pp. 341-46. o. Herbert Thurston. letter 87. "])ouceline et les autres.. 250n the prominence of bodily phenomena in women's spirituality. N. pp. McDonnell. the more he wants to drink. "II 'Miroir des simples ames' di Margherita Porete.aise d' Athenes et de Rome. La Sa in tete en Occident aux demiers siee/es du moyen age d'apres les proces de canonisation et les documents hagiographiques. 22Catherine. rpt. See also letter 329.. . astonishing as it may be to us. see Andre Vauchez. for only that blood is united to the divinity . 106-107· 3· Jean Maloucl. Frauenmystik.. II. There is no other means for man to be satisfied. the more it bears the cross. 230n Margaret Porete. 1938). see Peter Dinzdbacher." in La Religion populaire en Languedoc du XIIle siecle ala moitie dll XIVe siee/e. See also Claude Carozzi. pp. Pieta or Lamentation oJthe Holy Trinity.. A man can possess the whole world and not be satisfied (for the world is less than man) until blood satisfies him. II (Toulouse. and therefore. Ernest W. For example. see Romana Guarnieri. Eight days after his birth.Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality ofthe High Middle Ages (Berkeley.\ quently ac:fQJJlpanied love of God in the later Middle Ages and that .. and John Gerson were suspicious generally of affectivity. 24See Peter Browe. . ed.28. . ed. 90-92.408 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 409 And then the soul becomes like a drunken man. Christ spilled a little of it in the circumcision. The Holy Spirit tells us to have recourse to the blood . with salvation. pp. 1976). Ferdinand Vetter (Berlin. with sexual activity. 314-40. Le lettere. Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua (+ 203) to Marguerite Porete ( + 13 ra) (Cambridge. a woman's erotic (particularly auto-erotic) responses are different from a man's (and less obviously genital). "Zur dominikanischen Frauenmystik im spatmittelalterlichen Deutschland. but it was not enough to cover man. 310-II and 130. New York.11. And the pains are its refreshment and the tears which it has shed for the memory of the blood are its drink. 23 And male theologians warned repeatedly that women's mystical strivings and visions might be merely sensual "ticklings. the more he drinks. see Caroline Walker Bynum. netheless it seems clear both that bo~~e. Jahrhundert. 135-36. "Aspekte der englischen Frauenmystik im spatcn 14. On Eckhart.. 251-67. 11 . pp.." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. 4 (1965). Frauenmystik. see Otto Langer. The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (Chicago. Misciattelli.. Rather both their writing and their art suggest that they associated penis and side with pain and blood. On Gerson. And the sighs are its food. Mystical writers as diverse as Margaret Po rete."24 Moreover. Paris. about 1400. Eckhart. pp. Catherine of Siena wrote: Uesus 1made of his blood a drink and his flesh a food for all those who wish it. 5°1-635. pp. 439-48. and Peter Dronke. 202. He can appease his hunger and thirst only in this blood . The Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture with SpeCial Emphasis on the Belgian Scene (1954. NF 4 (Breslau. Cahiers de Fanjeaux. Die Eucharistischen Wunder des Mittelalters." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. 22 None of this is to suggest that medieval writers were completely unaware of what modern interpreters see as erotic . 241 (Rome. pp.23. 1981). See also Johann Tauler. 1969).. in Die Predigten '['aulers: aus der Engelberger und der Freiburger HandschriJt sowie aus Schmidts AbschriJten der fhemaligen Strassburger Handschnfien.elements in affective spirituality. pp...

. And sometimes . 199-202. p. for example. Christ the creator and Christ the creature. the theme of human at ion was present in a wide variety of saints' lives and devotional texts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. the soul receives greater delight in the lesser .. no text that treats circumcision either as the cutting off of Christ's sexual urges or as a sign that his penis was pure and not in need of disciplining. 2HS teinberg. in genitals or heart. Arthur Wills. And by "humanation" they often meant enfleshing..[200 (1972. forthcoming in Sixteel1th-CentlJYY joumal. whether they were sent by God or by the devil. in Christ. the human soul sees the soul of Christ. O'Neil. pp. 5: Proceedings ofthe Southern Institute ofMedieval and Renaissance Studies. when the human intellect discovers. under interrogation. Steinberg has been able to find no text that treats the cut and bleeding penis of the clrcumcized Christ as sexual. in words that have clearly been reworked by a scholastically educated redactor: [The soul in this present life knows] the lesser in the greater. 1978). The new book by Judith C. 1986). I would myself agree that many of the paintings Steinberg discusses arc direct evidence about the theological significance of body. It mistakenly places the behavior it considers in the context of sexual orientation. Although medieval and Renaissance theologians discuss the circumcision in dozens of different ways and repeatedly stress the enfleshing of God at the moment of the Incarnation. "28 But surely this refers not to eroticism but simply to tenderness for a baby who is about to be hurt. that is. mouth or 26 bowels. See. For the soul is more conformed and adapted to the lesser which it sees in Christ. But what contemporaries asked about the actions of Benedetta Carlini. II. i9S6).121. 27 * * * The above analysis leads naturally to my second..27-60. 1309) supposedly said.. . 29 For example.410 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 411 what bothered or delighted medieval people about such stirrings was not their exact physiological location. to the claim that she was possessed. 80 below. [969 (1971). might be speaking of their visions with the tongue of Satan. for example. this intellect feels delight and expands in him. Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu (Chicago.. sec Alan E. But I also hold that the pictures are about more bodily aspects than Steinberg notices. "Political Anatomy. The Discovery of the Individual: 1050. On the increasingly positive sense of body generally in medieval thought. See. sees and knows in this mystery Christ the man and Christ-God. rpt. n. 29There is a large amount of recent literature on this topic. Bernstein. "Feigned sanctity" was an important category in seventeenth-century inquisitorial trials." not merely an illustration of a theological tenet. was not whether they had an erotic component directed toward a woman but whether Benedetta Carlini suffered from demonic possession or practiced fraud. 1973). "Women Mystics. 1984). Are there medieval and Renaissance texts that see Christ's penis as a special sign of "humanation" because the penis is a male or a sexual organ? The answer appears to be that there are not. is therefore profoundly misleading. because the soul is a creature whose life is in flesh and all of whose members are body. It is true that medieval and Renaissance texts increasingly and movingly emphasized the humanation of God as the salvation of us all. . Growing out of a twelfth-century concern for imitating the human Christ. the only text Steinberg has found that suggests an association of the penis with the erotic or the sexual is one Renaissance sermon in which the word used for holding the penis before circumcizing it might be translated as "fondle. the un created God. To raise the issue of texts is not to take issue with Steinberg's position that the art object itself is a "primary text. 472: "To reproach ~ystics with loving God by means of the faculty of sexual love is as though one were to reproach a painter with making pictures by means of colors composed of material substances. When John Gerson wrote his famous treatise on the testing of spirits." University Publishing (Winter. What worried medieval theorists was whether the sensations were inspired or demonic-that is. The Notebooks of Simone Weil. .. Colin Morris. the incarnate God. New York. 23 above. less difficult point: the question of texts. even monks and laymen. " 27See n. and in that Christ it discovers souls with flesh and blood and with all the members of his most sacred body. "Twelfth-Century Spirituality and the Late Middle Ages. for it discovers uncreated God and "humanated" God. (London. And this is why. 89. Sexuality. what he feared was not that lesbianism or eroticism was veiled in the cloister but that nuns and laywomen. because it sees God "humanated" and God uncreated conformed and made like itself-because. We haven't any\ thmg else with which to love . united and conjoined in one person ." Medieval and Renaissance Studies." pp. pp. Giles Constable. But the emphasis on humanation appeared earlier in European spirituality than Steinberg notes and was associated with the full range of Christ's bodily members. his 2hFor a comment on the modern tendency to reduce all bodily phenomena (even mystical) to the sexual. that is divinity and humanity. Summer. see Simone Weil. 2 vols. and the greater in the lesser.. Angela of Foligno (d. Brown. Richard Kieckhefer. and Benedetta herself retreated. In fact. Thus it discovers both God "humanated" and God uncreated. a seventeenthcentury Theatine abbess. Bynum. ordainer of the mystery. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Retlaissance Italy (New York. than it is to that which it sees in Christ. See the review of Brown by Mary R. trans. 8-9. 65.

4. and empty of true experiential content. For example. It is not even sexuality.it should not forget also to turn to the higher. My point is simply that the argument as such is not made in medieval or Renaissance texts. received a vision in which she flowered like a tree in spring when watered by Christ. 141 -42. 1-2. Thus blood is redemptive because Christ's pain gives salvific significance to what we all share with him. N. breasts.33 The major context in which Christ's maleness was theologically relevant was the circumcision. see. 34 341n a now classic study.. 1956). M. 1310). Francis Rapp. Summa theologiae. 92.e. exegetes and devotional writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. . need for such theological argument. 93.]. Moreover. that artists emphasized Christ's penis as a sign of his sexuality and therefore of his humanity." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. Ifwe as modern people find Steinberg's argument more titillating and Steinberg's illustrations more fascinating than those I will consider now. There is thus better evidence for the asse"i-tion that the late Middle Ages found gender reversal at the heart of Christian art and Christian worship than there is for the thesis that Renaissance artists emphasized the sexuality ofJesus. and trans. Blackfriars." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. It is the fact that we can be hurt. some truth to the argument. ed. }3S ee Corpus Iuris Canonici. chaps. cols. The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms ofLife. 31Marguerite of Oingt. for example. ed. There is no critical edition of Angela's works and the extant texts differ widely from each other. mechanical. 2. Frauenmystik. But theologians did not usually emphasize Christ's humanity as physiologically male. 1964). E. pt. Thought and Art in France and the Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries.. there is both iconographic and textual evidence for the argument that late medieval people sometimes saw the body of Christ as female. Durdilly (Paris. We suffer. pp.. rpt. Baudry (Paris. of course. and q. 1965). 2 vols. the divine . I.-]. Steinberg may be right that one could extrapolate from medieval art and medieval texts to the notion that Christ's coming in male flesh is a sign of sexuality and therefore of humanness. Pierre Gardette. theological attention was focused on the body of Christ. Those who preached and wrote in the fifteenth century associated humanness with the fleshliness of all bodily members and found in suffering \ (rather than in sexual temptation) the core of what it is to be human. 24-47. 34-41. ~ It is clear that the body of Christ was depicted as male in late medieval art. But it is more accurate to describe late medieval piety as deeply experiential. Hopman (19 24. ed. and trans. pace Huizinga. Jesus as Mother. who swooned with love over Christ's bleeding side. The closest they came to such an emphasis was the well-known argument that limited priestly status to men because Christ was male physiologically. 147. blood is what is emphasized-blood as covenant. 42 (1978). 1927). But sermons on the circumcision did '''Angela ofFoligno. 12-17. the obscure French nun Marguerite ofOingt (d. pp. and what we share is not a penis. I. and Elisabeth Gossman. . trans. also 139.. 91 -94. and her verdant branches were labeled with the names of the five senses. pp. Les oeuvres de Marguerite d'Oingt. Rezette. "Zur Spiritualitat in e1sassischen Frauenklostern am Ende des Mittelalters. ' in part. "Le sacerdoce et la femme chez saint Bonaventun:. 51 (1976). But while it looks . par. 1879-81). etc. There is. Holy Feast and Holy Fast.. see my forthcoming book. Ferre and L. Indeed Hildegard of Bingen suggested that women held a different (and complementary) role as brides of Christ (i. It is far from clear. There may even be a profound modern . the father's rule in the family) as to the male's supposed physical superiority.84. pp. 520-27. q.-were seen as testimony to his humanation. however. art.. and his body. ed. not discuss Christ's sexuality or his gender. 382. F. q. Thomas Aquinas. but primarily blood as suffering. p. and P. See Bynum. the great Dutch historian argued that symbolism in the later Middle Ages became florid.. 58-61. 30 In Angela's piety as in that of many other fourteenth-century saints. causa 33. In the scores of texts we { have on this topic. lips. 5. "Das Menschenbild der Hildegard von Bingen und Elisabeth von Schonau vor dem Hintergrund der friihscholastischen Anthropologie. pp.. . suffering. . "The Medieval Question of Women and Orders.." Antonianum. 32 But even such argument frequently referred as much to the social preeminence of males (i. It may also suggest that. 347. 31 It is hard to imagine a more graphic illustration of the medieval conviction that those who love Christ should respond to all of his body with all of theirs. and the devout soul responded to this enfleshing with all its bodily capabilities.e. this may merely suggest that there is a modern tendency to find sex more interesting than feeding. By the fifteenth century. mystics). XJII (New York.582-99. 1254-55. Garden City. }2See Francine Card man. twentieth-century readers and viewers are far more literal-minded in interpreting symbols than were the artists. seeJohan Huizinga. Frauenmystik. Friedberg. or salvation.6 5. arts.412 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 413 eyes. all Christ's members-eyes." The Thomist. Antonin Duraffour. What the texts say is that the circumcision foreshadows the crucifixion. 167. pp. Le Livre de l'experience des vrais jideles: texte latine publie d'apres Ie manuscrit d'Assise. Y. his flesh. (Leipzig: Tauchnitz. It is worth pointing out that neither male nor female theologians argued against the denial of priesthood to women.

Sources chrctiennes. Cod. Mass. serie des textes monastiques d'Occident. and church's leaders. 3HWiliiam of St. 5 -6. . ·l('Bernard ofClairvaux. 1-2 ("For your breasts are better than wine. chap. 8 (Paris.35 To depict church as a woman who is Christ's bride or as the mother of all Christians is not. from Honori~s Augustodunensis's Commentary on the Song of Songs.l?raphie. J. viii. it is your breasts..50. Thierry. par.. 38 .. 4.. 122. 260. Spons!ls and Sponsa with Lost Humanity. Talbot and H. The connection was clearly the notion that teachers and authorities should be nurturing. Rochais. fol. Cistercian Fathers Series. and that the bride-church nurses from Christ who is also therefore a mother. Ikono. Thierry. and sermon 41. 228-240. William of St. Bernard of Clairvaux commented on Song of Songs i. therefore church. Dcchanet. might find in you a form not unfamiliar to themselves.140. 3 (Spencer. Migne [hereafter PL I.414 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 415 * * * Medieval texts and medieval art saw the church as the body of Christ. see also sermon 23. !: On Contemplatin. H. 0 eternal Wisdom. Expose sur Ie Cantique des Cantiques. (97 1). 37 It was not the least of the chief reasons for your Incarnation that your babes in the church who still needed your milk rather than solid food . lat. Patrolo.. 82. Vol. cd. par. But medieval texts went further. and church's head himself were mothers. Leclercq. I (Rome. Thierry. 180.49. For example. trans.. Staatsbibl. to make Christ's physical body female. Ecclesia was identified in texts as Christ's body. par. 3.l? God. 139.l?ia latina. and such identification led in a number of passages to discussions of Jesus as mother. smelling sweet of the best ointments") in a way that makes clear not only the medieval tendency to associate breasts with food (rather than sex) but also the medieval tendency to assimilate church as Christ's spouse with church as Christ's body. 1957).. on the Song of Songs.-P. I: Die Kirche. J. in SanCfi Bemardi opera. chap. and sermon 10. sometimes as a nursing mother [plates 4 and 5]. 17William of St. par. atl!.45-46. IV. The Works of William of St. 1962). 5-6. C. as a noun and as an allegorical personification. Meditativae Orationes. addressing Christ: . and that this motherly body is all of us.24. sermon 9. 38 \ I \ I \ 35Schiller. J. Thierry wrote. 2.152-53.. of course. of course. vol. 236A. that nourish the holy infancy of your little ones . not merely his spouse. 36 Following Bernard. 213. at!. Bayr. 455 0 . M. cd. pp. cd.32. Thus church was depicted in medieval art as a woman-sometimes as Christ's bride. 31. Sister Penelope. Munich. And ecclesia was. plates 21 I. Twelfth Century. M. col. feminine. IV. Bernard said explicitly that Christ's bride is the church who nurses us.

Salzburg Studies in English Literature: Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies. For in the same time that God joined himself to our body in the maiden's womb. 8 (1985). ed. Therefore Christ's activity is like church's activity and mother's activity. 13 (1978). Misciattelli.4 (1976). as several scholars have recently pointed out. pp. see The Monk of Fame: The Meditations of a FourteenthCentury Monk. Kari Elizabeth B0rresen. and by means of the flesh it draws milk. and we cannot without pain get that milk that comes from charity. 64. having enclosed us 39Catherine. . and as accessible to humans of both sexes exactly in its femaleness. The Cathedral. . after 1416). II.25. But in the Showings of the greatest female theologian Julian of Norwich (d." Studia mystica. "Christ notre mere. by a Benedictine of Stan brook. 320-29. better said in female than in male images. Brant Pelphrey. and Valerie Lagorio. We must do as a little child does who wants milk. which is the source of charity. "The Motherhood of God in Julian of Norwich's Theology. pp. Barker." Mitteilungen und Forschungsbeitriige der Cusanus-GesellschaJt. 1961). We must attach ourselves to the breast of Christ crucified. D. Julian holds. letter 86. But Christ is mother most of all.290-304. the fourteenth-century theologian." Downside Review. ed. stressed the humanation of Christ. la theologie de Julienne de Norwich. 100 (1982). 2. Paula S. 4URitamary Bradley. 15-37. . It takes the breast of its mother. 39 One might argue. 110-69.4 (Salzburg.416 REN AISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 417 In this twelfth-century text. 40 It expresses a theological truth which is. which is sensual. 8 I . . Other examples of the Jesus-asmother motif may be found in Bynum. Detail from a pulpit. 92.82. Hugh Farmer and trans. 5· Giovanni Pisano (d. "Variations on the Theme of God's Motherhood in Medieval English Mystical and Devotional Writings. that such texts are merely elaborate similes-statements that saving is like mothering or that instructing is like nurturing. and nothing more is meant. mystic and ecclesiastical activist Catherine of Siena assimilated Christ and Charity (a female personification).30. he took our soul. For a similar use of the metaphor by a male writer. "The Motherhood Theme in Julian of Norwich. and associated that humanation with motherhood: We cannot nourish others unless we nourish ourselves at the breasts of divine charity . 1982). Jesus as Mother. and by means of that flesh we draw milk. Pisa. and in taking it. the use of the Jesus-as-mother motif is clearly more than simile. applies its mouth. We must do the same if we would be nourished. Similarly. as subsuming church. Ecclesia lactans standing over the Cardinal Virtues. of course. Le lettere." FourteenthCentury English Mystics Newsletter. The means is Christ's humanity which suffered pain. Love Was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism ofjulian of Norwich . Julian comments explicitly that holy church is our mother because she cares for and nurtures us and that Mary the Virgin is even more our mother because she bears Christ. The Benedictine Studies (Baltimore. Christ's body is treated as female. 1314). 73-74.

43 The same theme is clearly suggested in miniatures that show church emerging from the side of Christ [plate 6].{Norwich. 1978). for Christ. in A Book of Showings to the AIl(horessJu/ian o. 292. 2 parts (Toronto. in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come. pt. it also means creating and saving. pp. 42See Caroline Walker Bynum. revelation 14. and our Savior is our true mother. is perfect man. he united it to our substance. In this union he was perfect man. Stevan Harrell and Paula Richman.418 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 419 all in himself. And truly it is no surprise that your veins burst when in one day you gave birth to the whole world. Ah! sweet LordJesus. 77-79. . Bodleian Library. 44S chillcr. 4JMarguerite. 1986).• Gender and Religion: On the Complexity ofSymbois (Boston. see intra. such as the following meditation by Marguerite of Oingt: My sweet Lord . from a French Moralized Bible of about 1240. 35." in Caroline W. . 57.. The Creation of Eve. The Long Text. Christ was not merely flesh. In the moralized Bibles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. . Oxford.. chap. artists frequently drew parallels between the birth of Eve from Adam's side and the birth of the church from Christ's body. MS 270b. I: Die Kir(he. Thierry. Ikollograpizie. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. The physiological role of the' mother.. " ' . pp. 1978). I.. 153-62. trans. pt. Bynum. mothering means not only loving and feeding. and your nerves and all your veins were broken. plates 217-219. IV. Colledge and Walsh have stressed that this idea has theological roots in William of St. 6. 41 To Julian. And Woman His Humanity': Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages.. Studies and Texts. Christ is mother more than father when it is a matter of talking of the Incarnation. For example. Oeuvres. to A Book of Showings. having joined in himself every man who will be saved. by Colledge and Walsh inJu/iall ofNorwi(h: Showings (New York. are you not my mother and more than my mother? . clearly underlies Julian's sense that. the Birth of Church. pp. 579-80. 42 Such an identification of Christ's saving role with giving birth as well as feeding is found in a number of fourteenth-century texts. whose uterine lining provides the stuff of the foetus (according to medieval medical theory) and whose blood becomes breast milk. So our Lady is our mother.44 Late medieval theologians never forgot that Christ's person was soul as well as body. for she who is mother of our Savior is mother of all who are saved in our Savior. 2.. if gender is to be used of God at all. who ever saw a mother suffer such a birth? For when the hour of your delivery came you were placed on the hard bed of the cross. cd. the Joining of Adam and Eve. p. a writer as effusive (and as orthodox) as Catherine of Siena stressed 41Julian. cds . in whom we are all enclosed and born of her in Christ. fo!' 6r.

158. n. 45 But despite issuing repeated warnings that souls must "also turn to the higher . 236. all ancient biologists thought that the mother's blood fed the child in the womb and then. it also saw bleeding as feeding and as the purging away of excess. 1974). so much so that physiologists regularly spoke of males as menstruating and recommended bleeding with leeches when they did not do so. c. see Schiller. "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women. First. pt. IV. This theory included two different accounts of conception. PL 197. I have said that this body of his [that is. 43. 194 8). Ade!gundis Fuhrkotter and A. Die Zeugungs.D. A History of Embryology.." familiar in exegesis from patristic days.. diss. W. 144-201. "Orgasm. The Female Orgasm and the Body Politic. Ancient theory also held that the shedding of blood purged or cleansed those who shed it. Liber vitae meritorum. 2 vols. col. Reuther (New York.83. 47Hildegard.r. Thomas Laqueur. chap. see also p.. 21 3-66. "Galen's Criticism of Aristotle's Conception Theory. nor either the body or the blood without the soul of this Word. Discussing the eucharist. 225. (Cambridge. 1980). Therefore you would not be given the body without being given the blood as well. Classics of the Contemplative Life (New York. S-. 2. 48 Medieval writers also drew on a second strand that associated flesh and female: ancient physiological theory. 46Kari Elisabeth B0rresen. "Women Mystics." Representations. Elisabeth und die Schrijien der Aebte Ekbert und Emecho von Schonau. 1882). Generation and the Politics of Reproductive Biology. 50 Such medical conJ ~ •.Joseph Needham. work in progress. see Jan van Ruysbroeck. 46 This dichotomy led both to Hildegard of Bingen's statement that "man represents the divinity of the Son of God and women his humanity" and to the vision in which Elizabeth of Schonau saw Christ's humanity appear before her as a female virgin sitting on the sun. 1959). For ecdesia and humanitas in miniatures.. . ed. 195 1). ed.und Vererbungslehren der Anlike und ihr Nachwirken (Mainz. "Equality of Souls.atures an~ texts from the l. vision 6. 206-207. providing its matter as it matured. pp. in Cahiers de civilisation medievale.. par. 4 (1973). Scivias.). Corpus christianorum: continuatio medievalis. 32. "0 Feminea Forma: God and Woman in the Works of St. trans.47 It is also reflected in the fact that Hildegard of Bingen's vision 45Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue. Pitra. Barbara Jane Newman. 10 (1977). Eric Colledge.2 9. iv.. VIII: Analecta sanctae Hildegardis . 2nd ed. . bk. God eternal. Marie-Therese d'Alverny. Subordination et equivalence: nature et rOle de lafemme d'apres Augustin et Thomas d'Aquin (Oslo. see Die Visionen der hI. 43. 37-74. Thus blood was the basic body fluid and female blood was the fundamental support of human life. bk. 100. R.-Paul ofWisques. 1884).d. pp. The Spiritual Espousals. 487-93. Bullough. sOPreus. " Viator. 49 According to Aristotelian theory. "Das Menschenbild der Hildegard. idem.""'" ~J 'i.. For other authors who stress the same point. 1981." Ph. pp. 49Erna Lesky. 210. fed the baby outside the womb as well. 214n. trans. 260. Hildegard (1098-1179).e cross l~n~s the figure with humanitas as"~. 23 I. For texts in which Christ marries humanilas. iv.420 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 421 {·ra!J. esp..82. of imago n:ulieris u. I: Die Kirche.ateq) ct"" Middle Ages that show Chnst marrymg humanrtas as a man marrles a woman. and idem. Vern L. Christ's] is a sun. see Bynum. 20 (1977).65-85. nor the soul or body without the divinity of me. and her body fed the growing child.fBiology. (Monte Cassino. Suzanne Noffke (New York. not by death or by any other thing past or present or future. in Oeuvres de Ruysbroeck l'Admirable. 197 8). Peter Dronke.-B. Liber divinorum operum./ 48Hildegard of Bingen. r." theologians and devotional writers frequently stressed Christ's humanity (conceived of as Christ's fleshliness) and associated it with the female. E.. 10 5. to appear." Journal ofthe History o. i.nder th. F. Three very different strands fed into this complex association of feminine and flesh." Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions. Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval Theology. pp. Aristotelian theory clearly linked woman with the unformed physical stuff of which the fully human is made. Yale University. and idem. According to Galen.~ I '" '1 o~ It. Indeed bleeding was held to be necessary for the washing away of superfluity. I 18. III. and Gossmann. well as wlth ecclesla and m. ed. "Galen's Criticism". the mlnt.. both the unity of Christ's person and the union of divine with human. in Analeaa sacra. 1968). "Comment les theologiens et les philosophes voient la femme?". vii. Catherine attributed the following admonition to God: The person of the incarnate Word was penetrated and kneaded into one dough with the light of my Godhead. k . p. 60ff. trans. Carlevaris. the mother was the oven or vessel in which the foetus cooked. . Moreover. 885." p. plates 2 I I. 3rd ed. pp. Women Writers. ed. (Turnhout. Laqueur. theologians drew on the long-standing analogy "spirit is to flesh as male is to female. Eleanor McLaughlin. Thus medical theory not only associated female bodies with flesh and blood. Galenic theory associated both male and female with the physiological stuff. (Brussels. La femme dans les civilisations des Xe-XIIIe siedes: Actes du colloque tenu a Poitiers les 23-25 septembre 1976. For the one cannot be separated from the other-just as the divine nature can nevermore be separated from the human nature. the mother provided the matter of the foetus and the father its life or spirit or form." For Elizabeth's vision." chap. I. transmuted into breast milk. J. the divine. Anthony Preus. .306. But even according to Galen. two seeds (from mother and father) were necessary for conception. So it is the whole divine being that you receive in that most gracious sacrament under that whiteness of bread. Female Orgasm and Body Politic. Ikonographie. by the Benedictines of St. "Le miroir du salut cterne!. Roth (Brunn.

Dinzelbacher. pp.244. Lane. Moreover. in which consecrated eucharistic wafers turn into bleeding flesh. the vessel. 1924). 182. Newman (Albany. Altar and Altarpiece. N. 55Lane. p. Purtle. Lionel Rothkrug.2 5. I I (Summer. And they took place primarily in the bodies and the experiences of women. "Die Schreinmadonna. Blood miracles proliferated. Mary is priest because it is she who offers to ordinary mortals the saving flesh of God. Marguerite of Oingt. which comes most regularly and predictably in the mass. and others. 9 (1977). "Popular Religion and Holy Shr:nes: Their Influence on the Origins of the German Reformation and their Role in German Cultural Development. X. Altar and Altarpiece. Immaculate Conception. cd. and Charles T. the clothing of Christ. p. Carol J. 520n Mcchtild. 54Dumoutet. it bled food. Francis of Assisi." Marian Literary Studies. of course." The Meall. Suso. 5. in which the bodies of ordinary people suddenly receive and display the various wounds of Christ. such a concept is also reflected in the late medieval Marian paintings in which Mary takes on priestly characteristics." p. (Quaracchi. "Fast. This motif tends to associate Mary's conceiving of Christ with the moment of the consecration. 28. "Europaische Frauenmystik". 55 As John F. Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and Earl)' Renaissance: A Stud). 51 Whatever the respective roles of male and female in ordinary conception. Christ's body had to come from Mary because Christ had no human father. which purges our sin in the Atonement and feeds OUr souls in the eucharist. 59 Stig56Lane. p.233. the container. [9 85). pp. Rudolph M. the robe. 1949). illg of Courtly Love. Physical Phenomena. see Thurston. in certain bizarre events of the late Middle Ages.27-29. 1979). K. and it gave birth. 51 Levi d' Ancona. Benton. J6. "The Doctors' Dilemma: Sin.. there is further support for the argument that bleeding food and giving life through flesh were seen as particularly female activities. Corpus Domini. 57James H. "Women Mystics.C. 33 6 . 32. 1979). As scholars such as James Marrow and Lionel Rothkrug have recently shown. See also Joesph Braun. 1942). 56 Thus many medieval assumptions linked woman and flesh and the (." Speculum.3 S. 1981)." p. and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Carol Purtle and Barbara Lane have demonstrated. Not only was Christ enfleshed with flesh from a . 77-79. This strand was the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the emerging notion of the Immaculate Conception. on walls and wafers. pp. 800. Since theologians increasingly stressed Mary's humanity as sinless from her conception. Bihlmeyer (Stuttgart. Altar and Altarpiece. 1982). see Bynum. and the miracle of stigmata. body of God. Die Wunder. 590n eucharistic miracles. Physical Phenomena. pp. It literally appeared. I allude here to the blood miracles of the thirteenth. see Browe. (Munich. See also Christoph Baumer.. Not only are almost all late medieval stigmatics women.239-72. F. 29· 5HS ee Thurston. 54 and in the socalled Vierges ouvrantes-Iate medieval devotional objects in which a statue of Mary nursing her baby opens to show God inside. Antoine Imbert- . Corpus Domini: Aux sources de la piete eucharistique medievale (Paris. who spoke of Mary as the tabernacle. 204. ed. of the Transformation ofSarred Metaphor into Descriptive Narrative (Kortrijk. 1985). 1907).jesus as Mother. Buchlfin der Ewigen Weisheit." in James Obelkevich. Vision und Visionsliteratur im Mitte/alter (Stuttgart. and Bynum. c. 34 6 . idem. woman. Feast. Edouard Dumoutct. hands and faces. 12.333. 123. 624.34.1. his Qwn flesh did womanly things: it bled. A third strand of medieval ideas also linked flesh. Plates 329. 13-15. pp. "Women Mystics. 53 The notion is clearly depicted in those eucharistic tabernacles that Mary surmounts as if she were the container. II. 264. 71 -72. 58 The two most astonishing new miracles of the later Middle Ages are the miracle of the bleeding host. p. 2 vols. 19(9). be carried to dubious theological lengths. Marrow." Representations. I. in Deutsche Schr(ftetl im Aufirag der Wiirttembergischen Kommission for Landesgeschichte. and passim. Opuscula saneti patris Francisci Assisiensis.710-27. so the humanity of Christ also preexisted the Incarnation in the sinless humanity of Mary. 77-79. Wood. and Caroline Walker Bynum. Der christliche Altar in seinergeschichtlichen Entwicklung. ed. with woman. Holy Anorexia (Chicago. 52 And the entirely orthodox idea of Mary as the flesh of Christ was suggested by William Durandus's commentary on the mass and by the prayers of Francis of Assisi. 2nd ed. H"nry Suso. p. "Clio and Venus: An Historical View of Medieval Love. visions and transformation-miracles of the bleeding host (like all eucharistic miracles) were received mostly by women as well. with female bleeding and feeding. 57 But blood in this period became more than symbol. pp. fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.422 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 423 ceptions of blood led naturally to the association of Christ's bleeding on the cross. Such depictions of Mary as priest have nothing to do with women's ordination.1700 (Chapel Hill.lS ee Bynum. Oeuvres. On stigmata. 229. but a thinker such as Mechtild of Magdeburg began to make them. Religion and the People. The Marian Paintings ofjan "an Eyck (Princeton. 56 (1981). Bell. 360 and 36 1 give a number of examples of the prominence of Mary on retables. Such arguments could. 98-99. they were able to suggest that just as the Logos (the divinity of Christ separate from that of God) pre-existed the Incarnation. Salvation and The Menstrual Cycle in Medieval Thought. Bibliotheca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Aevi.334. blood became an increasingly powerful symbol in late medieval art and devotion. pp. especially Christ's flesh.

Indeed stigmata sometimes appeared as a result of taking communion. 32. "A propos d'une des legendes mariales les plus repandues: Ie 'lait de la Vierge. n. Duran Iconografia espanola de San Bernardo (Monasterio de Poblet. pp. The lactating Virgin is. in this painting.I I. The wound of Christ and the breast of Mary are clearly parallel in picture after picture. For texts which refer to other lactations of adults. pp. 66 Thus we should not be surprised to find paintings that depict Mary as priest. " Analecta Bollandiana. In a number of pictures. 1963).10 and plate I.23 and plate 6." Crteaux in de Nederlanden. M. VI-XV latine conscripta sunt. Lidwina of Schiedam (d. 6OFor example. of course. 343-45. and Flesh." Dictionnaire de theologie catholique. n. thus suggesting that we share the baby's need for sustenance and that Mary offers to us the blessed food. ed. this was true of the Flemish saint. Mary. Purtle. They saw the flesh of God as a clothing taken from Mary's flesh. Marian Paintings. II. chap. June II. she directs her breast toward the viewer. for example. Devlin (New York. II Dialogo spirituale. one of the most common iconographic themes in all of Christian art.e. especially Bernard of Clairvaux. Both baby and breast are the eucharist. 64 Mary's feeding is sometimes explicitly seen as eucharistic. 2 vols. see Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M.3 I. ed.. and Christ's similar bleeding and feeding body was understood as analogous to theirs. According to the statistics compiled by Weinstein and Bell. see Hiller and Vey. WallrafRichartz Museum. 2617. 1939). par. Archetype of the Church. "La lactation de saint Bernard: Legende et iconographie. 100. 1962). . see P. "Fast. Katalog . "Gerard David. 6sLane. 67 or representations of the Mystical Mill in which Mary as the miller (i. see also Carra Ferguson O'Meara. see Albert Poncelet. pp. Altar and Altarpiece. See Life of Alice ofSchaerbeke. xiv. Feast. The cupboard and chalice are modern additions to the painting. Feast. IOOO. Beterous. celebrant) pours in the flour while Christ emerges below as Gourbeyre.420-21." The Art Bulletin. 63 Mary also feeds ordinary Christians. We the viewers are offered the bread and wine that are God. presented to us. Trattato del Purgatorio.424. Moreover there is iconographic support for the textual tradition ofJesus as mother. and Catherine of Genoa. 7 (1956).. 12. For example. 60 Thus it was women's bodies almost exclusively that bled as Christ bled. See also Catherine. plates 126 and 159· In the latter (late fifteenth-century) painting. Once again.19. S. They called the wound in Christ's side a breast. La Stigmatisation: L'extase divine et les miracles de Lourdes: Reponse aux lib respenseurs. V. Mary not only offers her breast. 6. 62 In late medieval and Counter-Reformation art. "Essai critique sur l'histoire des stigmatisations au moyen ige. 123. 64S ee . Mary is assimilated to Christ and celebrant.424 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 425 matic women clearly saw themselves as imitating Christ's bleeding flesh both as it hung on the cross and as it was consecrated in the wafer.5% of the saints. plate 4. 21. whose lactation is depicted in dozens of paintings. 61Two saints who stress substituting their suffering for that of others are Alice of Schaerbeke and Catherine of Genoa. 63Rafael M. and this blood not only purged the woman of her sin but also saved her fellow Christians by substituting for the expiation they owed in purgatory. "Index miraculorum B. 62See Mundy." On the cult of the Virgin's milk in the later Middle Ages. the miniature from the Milan-Turin Book of Hours in which a stream of milk from Mary's breast goes toward the donor (with whom the viewer presumably identifies) while the baby turns away from the breast. 7588.359.1700 (Chicago. Amann. Lane. 65 Vessels to the right of the painting reinforce the suggestion that the artist is depicting the mass. 476. p. in Umile Bonzi da Genova.. art historians have also linked Robert Campin's Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen with the eucharist [plate 7]. Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom. 13 . E. 6 and n. 24 and 27. 22-59. and p. women account for 27% of the wonder-working relics in the Middle Ages. See Bynum. 403 . see Bynum.6Lane. 4 (1975).37. 153. Leon Dewez and Albert van herson. Altar and Altarpiece. Umile Bonzi. von Eroes andJ. See also Otto Semmelroth. 9 8126. The two foods are assimilated. Bell. 1894).2 (1936). Mary's breast is linked with other kinds of feeding-with milk soup and with the grape that is a eucharistic symbol. pp.. When we look at late medieval painting. 130. and Flesh. 67 Lane. 1. Altar and Altarpiece.61 Holy women imitated Christ in their bodies. cols. 21 (1902). This was also true of Lidwina of Schiedam. 1433). 26. (Clermont-Ferrand. 8. Mariae quae saec. V." Etudes carmelitaines. 71 -72 and plate 47. several art historians have pointed out that van Eyck's Lucca Madonna presents Mary as the altar on which Christ sits. Marian Paintings." pp. the baby actually pushes the breast toward Bernard. Marian Paintings. pp. 6-7 and nn. p. "Stigmatisation. trans." p. (. 165-89. "Fast. Purtle. we find that the bleeding Christ is treated as the feeder of humankind. For two other examples. Purtle. pp. " 'In the Hearth of the Virginal Womb': The iconography of the Holocaust in Late Medieval Art. 1982). 25. although they are only 17. iii.' " Bulletin de I'association Guillaume Bude. she also presents her baby. 1953). p. II: Edizione critica dei manoscritti cateriniani (Turin. Similarly. Pierre Debongnie. 63· I (19 81 ). Mary feeds adult males as well. * * * It is clear then from the many texts I have quoted that medieval writers spoke ofJesus as a mother who lactates and gives birth. as ifhe were bread fresh from the oven. AASS. while the baby turns aside. Altar and Altarpiece. Caterina Fieschi Adorno. I (Paris.

II. in another case the blood of the eucharist [see plates 9 and 10]. Sandra Moschini Marconi. 69For depictions of Christ bleeding into the chalice. 175-206. is an evocation (if not a depiction) of the traditional notion ofJesus as mother. In two very different fifteenth-century paintings. " A number of fourteenth. Altar and Altarpiece.101. and Braun. is depicted as food [plate 13 below]. Robert Campin (d. fifteenth and sixteenth-century paintings make the association of Christ's wound and Mary's breast quite clear [see.10. Medieval people clearly found this fact symbolically useful.!: Die Kirche. On the related motif of Christ in the winepress. plates 707. and Louis Gougaud. as recurrent representations of nursing Charity or of the lactating Virtues [plate II] attest. In a painting of I 508 by Hans 6HGetrud Schiller. in the cellar of wine and inebriate yourself with my blood. not men's. 1919). and eat my flesh. ed. pp. Madonna and Child before a Firescreen. 7. for they read: "Come to me. p.69 In medieval experience as in modern. G. xlvii-xlix and 100. Seligman. J. 1955). pp. 1444).. II: Passion. 228-29.710. trans. But there are also medieval paintings that assimilate Christ to Mary. The National Gallery. " Annales de l'Academie Royale d'archeoloRie de BelRique. London. 67 (Antwerp. for example. IV. " "Come to me. p. 1953). II: The Passion oj Jesus Christ (London. plate 336. The texts on the picture (borrowed from the Song of Songs) underline the emphasis on eating Christ's body. dearly beloved friends. 62. most beloved. p. see Schiller. On Quirizio's The Savior. Opere d'Arte dei Secoli XIV et XV (Rome. Der Altar. Christ fills cups for his followers just as Mary feeds her baby. that fed with fluid from the breast. which treats Christ as body that provides food from the breast. Passion Iconography.426 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 427 bread fed to the assembled prelates (who become recipients) [see plate 8]. Bateman (London. Iconography. trans. 104. 7°Adolphe de Ceuleneer. see Luigi Coletti. Iconography ojChristiarz Art. 1927). Ikonographie. Over and over again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find representations of Christ as the one who feeds and bleeds. 148. see Marrow. like woman's. pp. C. Pittura veneta del Quattrocento (Novara. Devotional and Ascetic Practices in the Middle Ages. "La Charitc romaine dans la litterature et dans i'art. for example. 85. Christ's body. . idem.68 All of these pictures are of Mary increasingly assimilated to Christ. 1972). pp.806. 130-31. and Lane. Gal/erie dell'Accademia. The parallel is more than visual: texts on the pictures make the point explicitly. Squirting blood from wounds often placed high in the side.708. it was women's bodies. 70 It thus seems possible to argue that a picture such as Quirizio of Murano's The Savior [plate 9]. Christ's wound is treated almost as if it were a nipple and produces in one case the wafer. plate 12).

plates 798. Moir and Malcolm Letts. through my bitter death. Lane. Mary's suffering for her baby and therefore for all sinners. Public Life in Renaissance Florence. plate 8. about 1440. idem. 71For examples of the double intercession. I argue this partly because.2. II: Passion.800. Gierts (Leyden. IX. H. L. as we have seen. 4-26.799. Richard C. 7th ed. Friedlander. p. see Schiller. and see my breast. sheath thy sword that thou hast drawn. where the Son has sucked.802. Mary's . 1973). 225· sian." They are usually glossed as an association of two sacrifices: Christ's bleeding and dying for us on the cross. Schiller. Pauwels and M. Central Panel. the words above Christ read: "Father. trans. Iconography. (Hereford. p. pp. But I would like to suggest that the parallel is not merely between two sacrifices." And above Mary: "Lord. Trexler. Ulm Museum. plate 156." Oud-Holland 86 (1973). Holbein the Elder. see Max]. II: Passion. Iconography. Studies in Social Discontinuity (New York. Norden with notes by H. and A. The Savior. Accademia. "The 'Symbolic Crucifixion' in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. it is also between two feedings. help men in their need. for example. 26. The World Map in Hereford Cathedral and The Pictures in the Hereford Mappa Mundi. see my red wounds. I I and 19· For the texts on the Holbein. pp. 1460-78). Early Netherlandish Painting. Venice.428 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 429 8. 7-8. 1980). Altar and Altarpiece. 1975). "71 Such pictures are known to art historians as the "double interces9· Quirizio da Murano (fl. Retable of the Mystical Mill.

Niirnberg. Christ and Charity.430 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 431 10. breast and Jesus's vyound. and 13]. Fountain of the Virtues. In an early sixteenth-century triptych from the Low Countries. about 1470. I also suggest such an interpretation because artists themselves sometimes indicate that it is really Mary's breast as lactating that is in question. Cologne. for example. Wallraf-Richartz Museum. 10. not only is Mary's breast parallel to Jesus's bleeding wound (a wound which is recapitulated in the bleeding heart above) but Mary's breast is also explicitly associated with lactation through the presence at her I. when treated independently. Sixteenth Century. 9. are seen as supplying food [see plates 7. A northwest German master. .

Projecting back onto medieval symbols modern physiologi72A. despite their use of male/female dichotomies. To say this is not to deny that men were seen as superior in rationality and strength.~oten. * * * It thus seems that medieval writers and occasionally even artists represented God's body with both feminine and masculine characteristics-something modern thinkers rarely attempt and only with considerable awkwardness and embarrassment.Jesus as Mother. and Carol P. 1977).. cut both ways. How then did it happen that writers and visionaries in the Middle Ages found it possible to mix and fuse the sexes in their depictions of God? The answer lies. Collectorium super Magnificat. 13-36. ed. Women. La saintete. particular human beings were understood as having both feminine and masculine characteristics. 76 And women mystics were even more likely to cut the terms "male" and 73 An infi ntial article that projects back into the earlier western tradition the modern naturd ~lture contrast is Sherry Ortner. and Life ofJda ofLeau. 105-24. . 1984)." in Anthropology and the Study ojReligion. "Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?" in .ichelle Z. For criticism of projectIng modern physiological theory onto earlier concepts. 5Il. MacCormack and M." see Life oflda of Louvain. saw not just the body of Christ but all bodies. Nature. 74For examples of hagiographers who praise women as "virile. Culture and Society (Stanfor . 1971). Eckhart and Gerson spoke of male mystics as fecund mothers or weak women. F. we must never forget the emphasis on reversal which lay at the heart of the Christian tradition: According to Christ and to Paul. Annals of the New York Academy of Sci(New York. Moore (Chicago. Tripty~h-~JX~t. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere. AASS. and idem. ed. 112.. XIII. side of Bernard ofClairvaux. 1 IO-69. 1974). Monballieu. Vauchez. pp. For example. 74 Moreover. 229-48. 434 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 435 14· Goswyn van derWeyden. theologians and natural philosophers assumed considerable mixing of the genders. Reynolds and R. pp. pp.. 67-86. " 'Christ My Mother': Feminine Naming and Metaphor in Medieval Spirituality. on these and other Eleanor Leacock and June Nash. 75See Bynum. treatise 9. pp. they also used female images to attribute an inferiority that wouldexactly because it was inferior-be made superior by God. 15 (1975). From the patristic period on. VIII: L'oeuvre spirituelle et pastorale (Paris. in the fact that-for all their application of male/ female contrasts to organize life symbolically-medieval thinkers and artists used gender imagery more fluidly and less literally than we do. Jesus as Mother. at least in part. those who saw the female as representing flesh while the male represented spirit wrote of real people as both. of course. "Ideologies of Sex: Archetypes and Sterin Cross-Cultural Research. as both male and female. October. Culture and Gender (Cambridge. . 618-45. according to legend.72 cal theory or post-Enlightenment contrasts of nature and culture. as I we shall see. II." Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1967). the first shall be last and the meek shall inherit the earth. April. eds. nursed from her [plate 14]. see Laqueur. Clearly they were. The point about the mixing of genders has been nicely made by Eleanor McLaughlin. Museum of Fine Arts. 75 Thus not only did devotional writers mix gender images in describing actual men and women. The compliment could. 1507. p. pp. who. pp. 159. 127-28. i Careful reading of the theological and scientific traditions I discussed above makes it clear that. But existing.nius Tsg. 1980). Women's Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner's Theory ofLiminality. "Het Antonius Tsgrooten-triptiekje (1597) uit Tongerloo van Goosen van der Weyden. 76Bynum. Antwerp. we \ have tended to read medieval dichotomies too absolutely. Female Orgasm and Body Politic. in Oeuvres completes. Glorieux." Nashota Review. AASS. "Women's Stories. 397-98.John Gerson. however. P. 73 Medieval i thinkers. male devotional writers such as Bernard. 446 n. For criticisms of Ortner's approach. pp.

719. Italian Pictures ofthe Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works: Central Italian and Northern Italian Schools. "Doctors' Dilemma. and Wood. 1968). . IS.. Francis to Giotto: The Influence of St.. ed. A. Women were merely \ less of what men were more. put men and women on a continuum. There is. see also Michael Goodich. 26. lactation. whose assumptions about body were formed at least partly by this medical tradition. what was particularly womanly was the unformedness." paper presented at the Holy Cross Symposium "The Word Becomes Flesh. 3 (197S). etc. For example. fourteenth and fifteenth centuries increasingly emphasized the human body of Christ.. plates 8-20. On the commensurability of bodily fluids." in Bynum. 14. L. Thus Steinberg is not wrong to argue that art. To writers. where in one sense it was not even clear that there were two sexes. even the toes. and Bernard Berenson.e. We can see this assumption at work in medieval discussions of specific physiological processes." History of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psycho history. men's and women's bodies often did the 77Bynum. ders symbolically to talk about self and God. 436 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A RE'PLY TO LEO STEINBERG 437 "female" loose entirely from the social or physiological dichotomies they usually represented. with lack of shape or definition. "Bartholomaeus Angelicus on Child-rearing. especially in its Aristotelian form. Thesis. 82. " ' . miraculous lactation. 101-181. II (London. 7HLaqueur. plates 86 and 124. IIS-18. Schneider.'''~II' associating Mary Magdalen and Francis . and Roberta). nurturing flesh that Christ's holy mother received immaculately from her female forebearer. Thus to a medical writer. all human exudings-menstruation.' "I have considered some of the implications of this observation in "The Complexity of Symbols. DeMause (New York. A medieval theologian.g. And Woman His Humanity. McLaughlin. see Hiller and Vey. "The Virgin or Mary Magdalen? Artistic Choices and Changing Spiritual Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages. 1985. ists to fuse or interchange the genders and therefore to use both gen. He has merely failed to explain the range of that bodiliness in its full complexity... On such miracles. of our humanness. and all bleedingslactation. see Bynum. pp. see Vincent Moleta. cures with saliva. nosebleeds. made the male body paradigmatic. Mary M.A. 77 This mixing of the genders was even more apparent in the scientific tradition. 83 and 8S. sweating.. pp. Such medieval ideas made it easy fo'! writers and art. "Fast. same things.. Wallra}Richartz Museum." November 9. etc. 7S-84. emission of semen. "Survivors and Surrogates: Children and Parents from the Nimh to the Thirteenth Centuries. As mystics and theologians in the thirteenth. * * * The analysis above suggests that there is little textual support for Steinberg's argument that the artistic focus of Renaissance painters on Christ's penis was a theological statement about sexuality. Francis of Assisi as the Alter Christus in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian Painting. For examples of Francis curled around the feet of Christ. platt 448. Francis on Early Italian Art and Literature (Chicago.-were seen as bleedings. with openings and exudings and spillings forth. Such a notion identified woman with breaches in boundaries. however. 78 Ancient biology." M. Feast. esp. The male was the form or quiddity of what we are as humans. hemorrhoidal bleeding. . Gender and Religion. Harrell and Richman.on of Assisi with the toes of Christ: see) Ziegler. 79 But this conception also. we should note. University of Washington." nn. and Flesh. Medieval writers. For examples of the Magdalen kissing or hovering over Christ's feet at the crucifixion or deposition. which was understood to be common to male and female bodies. ists gave a new prominence to the body of Christ. 7YSuch a conception encouraged the exuding miracles (e." p. in the case of bleeding the physiological process. 1974). much textual and iconographical support for the argument that the flesh of Christ was seen by fifteenth-century people as both male and female. 1985.-were taken to be analogous. to purge their bodies by periodic bleeding. ecstatic nosebleeds) that characterized female saints. 81. Margery Kempe was especially devoted to the toes of Christ: see The Book . functioned better (or at least more regularly) in women. very farfetched indeed. "in The History ofChildhood. p.} and breasts. Female Orgasm and Body Politic. 1983). of Christ engendered extravagant ejfbtional response. oil-exuding. urged men to apply leeches to their ankles when they failed to "menstruate"-i. menstruation. "The Development ofIconographic Manifestations of St. From St.. the stuff-ness or physicality. Medieval natural philosophy held-as Tom Laqueur has pointed out-that men and women are really a superior and inferior version of the same physiology. that body could be seen both as the paradigmatic male body of Aristotelian physiological theory and as the womanly. speaking of mothers as administering harsh discipline or of a father God with souls in his womb. All human beings were form and matter. 80 Devotion BOOne thinks of the iconographi<.\. painters and sculptors of the frrteenth and fifteenth centuries not only the penis but also the eye. Woman's reproductive system was just man's turned inside out. Katalog . . esp. might therefore see the l:>lood Christ shed in the circumcision and on the cross as analogous to menstrual blood or to breast milk-an analogy that seems to us. 80. Indeed. with our modern theories of glands and hormones. for example.

See also n. UNIVERSITY Q. 1940)." and Kieckhefer. ButlerBowdon. p. Meech and Hope Emily Allen. that medieval piety (at least in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) speaks far more urgently of life coming from death. I. "Antifeminism. Saints and Society. and n. The Making ofthe Middle Ages (New Haven. as Steinberg has also suggested. I (New Yark. 3U-25. • •n 438 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 439 poured out to Christ our brother. See Jacques Hourlier and Andre Rayez. doctrine et histoire (Paris. ascetique et mystique. Rather than mapping back onto medieval paintings modem dichotomies. as Steinberg tells us. For a reading of Steinberg (very different from mine) that nonetheless draws attention generally to Christ's bodiliness. 81 above. Rather it saw flesh as fertile and vulnerable. 231-40. pp. My argument then is not titillating antiquarianism. 233. pp.. 96. 46 above. "Women Mystics. 1984). to deny that medieval thinkers also stressed the disciplining offlesh. but I would suggest. esp. especially female flesh. and it saw enfleshing-the enfleshing of God and of us all-as the occasion for salvation. medieval artists and devotional writers did not either equate body with sexuality or reject body as evil. 1053-96. mean. I illquiet Souls. Moreover. We should therefore be wary of any modem appeals to medieval traditions that oppose male to female or equate flesh with sexuality. 1959).. we can find support for doing so in the art and theology of the later Middle Ages. HISee Bynum. and Christ our friend. however. . p. _c Diane Bornstein. VII pt. I am arguing here with rather than against Steinberg that things are seldom what they seem." Dictionary of the Middle Ages. To say this is not. cols. 81 There was a misogynist clerical tradition. rooted in theology and piety. Early English Text Society. "Psychoanalytic Criticism: Some Intimate Questions. pp. Unquiet Souls. We should also understand that there is little basis in medieval art or devotion for treating body as entrapment rather than opportunity.38. . and Kieckhefer. 104. They were. if we want to tum from seeing body as sexual to seeing body as generative. Unquiet Souls. of pain and suffering as the opportunity-even the cause--of salvation. See Kieckhefer. p. 89. pp. for discussion oflate medieval notions of using body to approach God. If we want to express the significance ofJesus in both male and female images. of significance located in body. 212 (London. Sanford B. esp.F WASHINGTON H3The fact that late medieval theology stressed crucifixion more than resurrection is well known. 1969). 118-20. As my discussion above demonstrates. 83 A better understanding· of the medieval past might thus enable modem people to give to ageold symbols new meanings that would be in fact medieval. 1982). Nonetheless my examination oflate medieval concepts of Christ agrees in certain ways with Steinberg's emphasis. Medieval symbols were far more complex-polysemic as anthropologists say-than modem people are aware. Christ our bridegroom. to be sure." in Art in America (November. cd. Christ our mother. Southern. suffering as evil to be eschewed rather than promise to be redeemed. Such an emphasis on body as a means of becoming like Christ is very different from a dualistic rejection of body as the enemy of spirit. 15." Dictionnaire de spiritualite. There may be warrant in the Christian tradition for equating the penis with maleness and maleness with humanity. see Jane Gallop. 89.121. if ~e want to find symbols that give dignity and meaning to the suffering we cannot eliminate and yet fear so acutely.I 13. and Weinstein and Bell. at least if the seeming is based on unexamined modem attitudes. It is rather a challenge to us to think more deeply about what our basic symbols Margery Kempe: The Text jom the Unique Manuscript Owned by Colonel W. Richard W. . but I would argue that medieval theology at least as explicitly equates the breast with femaleness and femaleness both with the humanity of Christ and with the humanity of us all. we might find in medieval art and literature some suggestion of a symbolic richness our own lives and rituals seem to lack. pp. 82 But medieval piety did not dismiss flesh-even female flesh-as polluting. There may be warrant in the Christian tradition for seeing the resurrection as triumph over body. "Humanite du Christ. we can unquestionably learn from their complexity.

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Related Interests


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Edited by
MARGARET L. KING :6RIDGET GELLERT LYONS
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Associate Editors
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The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages:
A Reply to Leo Steinberg
by CAROLINE WALKER BYNUM
M
ost of us who inhabit the western, world are so
accustomed to pictures of the Madonna and child or of the
Holy Family that we hardly notice the details.
1
When we encounter
such images in museums, on posters, or on Christmas cards, we tend
to respond sentimentally if at all. We note whether the baby looks
like a baby or not. We are pleased if the figures appear happy and af-
fectionate. Perhaps we even feel gratitude for the somewhat banal
support of an institution-the human family-that seems worn a lit-
tle thin in the modern world. But we are not shocked. Recqgnizing
that the Incarnation is a central Christian tenet, we feel no surprise
that Christian artists throughout the western tradition should have
painted God as a male baby. It takes ajolt to make us look carefully at
IThis essay was first delivered as a University lecture at Cornell University in No-
vember, and was subsequently presented at Brooklyn College and Columbia
University. I am grateful to my hosts at those institutions: Elizabeth A. R. Brown,
JoanJacobs Brumberg, Eugene Rice and Robert Somerville. I would also like to thank
Stephen Greenblatt, John Najemy, and Richard Trexler for their suggestions and criti-
cisms. lowe special gratitude to Colin Eisler, who read a draft of this article with pa-
tient attention to detail and gave sage advice. Finally, I thank Patricia Fortini Brown,
Anna Kartsonis, and Ruth Mellinkoff, who guided a novice in the field of art history
through the complex process of acquiring photographs. Some of the material in this
essay is explored at greater length and from a different perspective in my forthcoming
book, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
(Berkeley 1986), especially chapters ii, ix and x.
[399 I
,. vol. 39, No. 3 (Autumn 1986)
400 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
how such artists depict family and child. I want to begin this essay
withjust such ajolt: the impish painting made in 1926 by the surreal-
ist painter Max Ernst, which shows the artist himself and two con-
temporary surrealist poets looking through the window at an unu-
sual scene [plate I].
This picture of Mary spanking Jesus is, of course, "anti-
theology." If Jesus needs spanking or if Mary spanks unjustly, some-
thing is badly wrong between the supposedly sinless mother and her
supposedly sinless son. The picture brings home to us a profound
truth. Not every aspect offamily life is depicted in artistic renderings
of the Holy Family. There are all sorts of homely scenes within
which Jesus is not located, all sorts of childish actions that are not at-
\ tributed to the baby God. Immediately we realize that there are com-
I plex reasons for what is depicted concerning the Holy Family. It is
I not enough to say, as historians have sometimes said, that scenes of
. the Holy Family were merely opportunities for artists who wanted
! to draw domestic interiors, to depict bodies naturalistically, or to
render in paint the affection of parents and children.
2
Pictures of the
Holy Family are themselves theological statements. For example, the
very large number of statues and paintings in medieval and Renais-
sance Europe that depict the so-called Anna Selbdritt-that is,
Mary's mother Anne, Mary, and Mary's baby Jesus-are not merely
paintings or statues of grandmothers [see plate 2]. It is true that such
representations, which are particularly common in northern Europe,
present a kind offemale genealogy for Christ that perhaps reflects the
importance of women in late medieval conceptions of family despite
the development of primogeniture.
3
But the pictures also reflect the
emergence in the late Middle Ages of the doctrine of the Immaculate
Conception-the claim that Mary was born of her mother Anne
without the taint of original sin.4 The sinless baby in the lap of his
"Although art historians have long cautioned against doing so, historians and social
scientists have tended to read art (often quite creatively) as evidence for social history.
Sec, for example, Philippe Aries, Cetlluries A Social History ,,-fFamily Lit;',
tr. Robert Baldick (New York, 1962); Jack Goody, The Development ,,-fthe Family alld
Marria,,!e in Europe (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 153- 56; David Herlihy, Medieval HOIL'/'-
holds (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), p. 12.
'See Gertrud Schiller, Ikono,l!raphie der christlichen Kunst, vol. IV.2: Maria (Gli-
tersloh, (980), platcS751- 56 and pp. 157-60.
4Mirella Levi d' Ancona, The /cono,l!raphy ,,-f the Immaculate Conception in thl' Aliddle
Ages and J:'arly Renaissance, Monographs on Archaeology and Fine Arts, 7 (New York.
(1)57).
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
401
[. Max Ernst, The Vir.'<in Chastisin.'< the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre
Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter, 1926. Private Collection.
402
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
'-'0'
2. Alma Selbdri!t, Sixteenth . Century. Museum of the Catherine Convent,
Utrecht.
A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 403
sinless mother who herself sits in the lap or on the arm of her own
female forebearer emphasizes the purity and the physicality of the
flesh Christ takes from Mary and the flesh Mary takes from her own
mother.
The realization that not all possible human actions or settings are \
attributed to Christ in paint or sculpture thus leads us to realize that \
there is theological significance to what is depicted.
5
It also leads us '
simply to look more carefully. And when we look, we find that
more has in fact been painted-and for more complex reasons-than
we have noticed before. This point is the one that Leo Steinberg has
recently made in his tour de force, The Sexuality of Christ in Renais-
sance Art and Modern Oblivion (New York: Pantheon, 1983). Bringing
together a number of pictures never before considered as a group,
Steinberg has shocked conventional sensibilities by showing that late
medieval and Renaissance artists made the penis of the infant or the
adult Christ the focal point of their depictions.
Steinberg's book has been much criticized and much admired.
6
And, as will become clear, I share both the reservations and the ad-
miration felt by his critics. But I do not intend here so much to con- .
tribute to the debate about his book as to use it as the starting point
for further exploration of late medieval notions of the body of
Christ, both in literature and in iconography. Sharing with Steinberg
the conviction that medieval art has theological content, I wish to
point out another set of paintings and to draw a very different conclu-
sion. I wish to call attention to artistic depictions that suggest another
sex for Christ's body-depictions that suggest that Christ's flesh was 1
sometimes seen as female, as lactating and giving birth. I also wish to \
argue that, whereas Steinberg must extrapolate from medieval and
Renaissance texts in order to conclude that theologians emphasized
Christ's penis as sexual and his sexuality as a symbol of his humanity,
we do not have to extrapolate at all in order to conclude that theolo-
gians saw the wound in Christ's side as a breast and emphasized his
bleeding-lactating flesh as a symbol of the "humanation" of God.
50n this point generally, :;ee Barbara G. Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacra-
mental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting (New York, 1984).
"See, for example, the reviews of Steinberg by Richard Wolheim, The New York
Times Book Review (April 29, 1984), pp. 13 - 14; Andre Chaste!, The New York Review
o.{Books, 31. 8 (Nov. 22, 1984), pp. 25-27; David Summers, Times Literary Supplement
(Nov. 23, 1984), p. 1346; and David Rosand, The New Republic, 190 (June 1 I, 1984),
pp.29-33·
tl
~ .
404
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
Theologians did not discuss Christ as a sexual male; they did discuss
Jesus as mother. First, however, I must consider Steinberg's own ar-
gument a little more carefully.
*
* *
Steinberg has clearly demonstrated that late medieval and Renais-
sance artists called attention to the genitals of the baby Jesus. In pic-
ture after picture, we find Mary,John, Anne, and other saints uncov-
ering, admiring, pointing to, or even fondling the baby's penis.
7
Although Steinberg's reading of a number of pictures of the adult
Christ in which he sees an actual erection under the loincloth is ques-
tionable, he has been able to show that Christ's Own hands (or even
Mary's) cover or point to the genitals in a number of deposition
scenes or pietas. H He has also shown us, without perhaps realizing
their full significance, pictures in which the artist calls attention both
to Christ's penis and to his mother's breast
9
and pictures in which the
blood flows from Christ's Own breast into his crotch. 10
Steinberg's brilliance and courage do not stop with discovery. He
also interprets these pictures in a new way, placing them in the Con-
text of Renaissance theology, particularly the extraordinary devotion
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the holy foreskin and to the
feast of the circumcision. 11 Arguing that theologians from Augustine
to the Renaissance increasingly stressed what they called the "hu-
7t;co Stein berg, The 'Sexuality ojChrist in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion (New
York, 19
8
3) (first published as a special issue, October, 25 [Summer, 19
8
3]), especially
tigures 4, 13, 16,42,47,49,80,
21
5.
"Steinberg, Sexuality, pp. 98-108.
"/hid., pp.
12
7-30. A particularly faSCinating example of this motif, not discussed
hy Stein berg, is a painting of the vision of St. Bernard by the Master of the Life of the
Virgin, now in the Wallraf-Richartz museum; for a reproduction, see Late Gothic Art
.from Col
oglle
A Loan Exhibition, April5-june I, 1977 (London: The National Gallery,
177). plate 14. In this picture. the baby reaches for the breast. which Mary, however.
offers not to him but to the viewer. Bernard points to the baby's genitals. which the
baby hinlsclf covers.
IIIS
te
inbcrg. Sexuality, pp. 58-61 and 160-62. And see below n. 20.
lIOn devotion to the holy foreskin, see Robert Fawtier and Louis Canet, La Double
experiellCf de Catherine Benincasa (sainte Catherine de Sienne) (Paris, 14
8
), pp. 245-46;
and Peter Dinzelbacher, "Die 'Vita et revelationes' der Wiener Begine Agnes BJannbe-
kin (+ 13
1
5) im Rahmen der Viten- und Offenbarungsliteratur ihrer Zeit. ,. in Fraul'll-
mystik illl Mittelalter, ed. Peter Dinzelbacher and Dieter G. Bauer. Wissenschaftliche
Studientagung der Akademie der Diiizcse Rottenburg-Stuttgart 22. _ 25. Februar 184
in Weingarten (Ostfildern. 185). pp. I SZ- 53.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 405
manation" of God in Christ, Steinberg shows that "humanation"
meant "enfleshing, " and that Renaissance sermons often emphasized
the bleeding of Christ's penis at the circumcision as a special proof of
his true-that is, his fleshly-humanity.12 Thus Steinberg suggests
that artists intended the genitals of Christ, especially in those few pic-
tures that he interprets as erections, as the ultimate symbol of what
Christ shares with all of us. Christ was fully male in gender and sexu-
ality, even to the involuntary movements of his penis, and as such he
represents the salvation of the totality of what we as human beings
are. Christ redeems not only our physiological differences as men
and women; he redeems our sexual nature (if not our sexual acts) as
well. It is a noble and consequential reading of medieval art and the-
ology and one which several recent commentators have seen as true
to essential Christian doctrine. 13
* * *
I will leave aside here some of the legitimate questions critics have
raised about Steinberg, such as the question of how much of the ar-
tistic attention to genitals is simply naturalism, or doubts about what
certain painted folds of drapery really conceal. Rather I wish to dis-
cuss two points that are relevant to my own topic. First, are we enti-
tled to associate genitality with sexuality in fifteenth- and sixteenth-
century art? Did medieval people immediately think of erections and
sexual activity when they saw penises (as modern people apparently
do)? Or, to put it another way, is Steinberg right-matters of taste
aside-to call his book "the sexuality" rather than "the genitals" of
Christ? Second, are there medieval or Renaissance texts that suggest
this association? Did theologians of the period themselves talk of the
penis as a sign of sexual activity or as a sign of maleness and associate
it, as such, with the humanity of Christ?
The first is the harder question. It is impossible to prove that me-
dieval people did not assume what we assume when we look at pic-
121n his interpretation of Renaissance preaching. Steinberg has been much in-
fluenced by John W. O'Malley, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric, Doctrine
and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court. (. 1450-1521 (Durham, 179). The
l{enaissance sermons Steinberg quotes (Sexuality, pp. 61 -65) all emphasize pain and
.leeding. not sexuality.
I3See, for example. David Toolan. review of Steinberg, Commonweal (Dec. 14,
)84), pp. 692-4. And see n. 6 above.
406
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
tures. And We clearly see breasts and penises as erotic. But let me at
least suggest that we would do well to be cautious about projecting
OUr wa ys of seeing onto the artists or the viewers of the past.
Twentieth-century readers and viewers tend to eroticize the body
and to define themselves by the nature of their sexuality. But did me-
dieval viewers? For several reasons, I think we should be cautious
about assuming that they did. Medieval people do not, for instance,
seem to have defined themselves by sexual orientation. Despite re-
cent writing about "gay people" in the Middle Ages, it is question-
able whether anyone had such a concept. To medieval theologians,
lawyers, and devotional writers, there were different kinds of sexual
acts-between people of different sexes, between people of the same
sex, between people and animals-and all had some kind of taint at-
tached. But there was no clear notion of being one or the other kind
of sexual being. 14
Nor did medieval people understand as erotic or sexual a number
of bodily sensations which we interpret that way. When, for exam-
ple, the medieval nuns Lukardis of Oberweimar and Margaret of
Faenza breathed deeply into their sisters' mouths and felt sweet de-
light flooding their members, they did not blush to describe this as
receiving God's grace or even as receiving the eucharist. Twentieth_
century readers think immediately of lesbianism. IS When Hade-
wijch, the Flemish poet, described herself as embracing Christ, feel-
ing him penetrate deep within her and losing herself in an ecstasy
from which she slowly and reluctantly returned, she thought of-she
experienced-the love of God. 16 We ~ modern readers think of sexual
arousal or orgasm, as we do when we read the account of a twelfth-
century monk, Rupert ofDeutz, who climbed on the altar, embraced
14See John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuah'ty: Gay People in
Westml EllropejiWIl the Bej!inllill,,! o[the Christian Era to the FOllrtl'Cnth Cerztury (Chicago, I'JXo).
liLife ofLukardis ofObcrweimar in Analeaa Bollandiana, 18 (
18
99),337-38. The
accOunt ofMargarct's kiss is in Life of Ben even uta ofBojano, chap. x, par: 82, in Acta
Sall({Onml/hereafter AASS), cd. the Bollandists, 3rd ed. (Paris, V. Pal me, I 863fI:), Oc-
tober, XIII, 172. Margaret experiences an erotic kiss from Christ in Life of Margarct,
~ c h a p . iii, par: 15 (20), AASS, August, v, 851. On women's erotic relationship with
----:r Christ, sec Elizabeth Petroff, COllsolation o.fthe Blessed (New York, 1979), pp. 66-78.
I(Hadcwijch, Vision 7, in Hadeu'y'c!I: Tile Complete Works, trans. Columba Hart
(New York, 19
So
), pp. 2S1-82; see also Caroline Walker Bynum, "Women Mystics
A ""I Imi"" J)"o<ioo io d" Thin",,,h C"''"'y,'' W'M', ""din, " ('9"'),
pp. 17'J-
21
4, esp. ISO, 19
1
-92.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 407
the cruciflx, and felt Christ's tongue in his mouth.
17
When
Catherine of Siena received the foreskin of Christ from him in a vi-
sion and put it on as a wedding ring, she associated that piece of
bleeding flesh with the eucharistic host and saw herself appropriating
the pain of Christ. 18 It is we who suspect sexual yearnings in a medie-
val virgin who found sex the le.ast of the world's temptations.
There is reason to think that medieval viewers saw bared breasts
(at least in painting and sculpture) not primarily as sexual but as the
food with which they were iconographically associated. Dozens of
late medieval pictures of the lactating Virgin place her in a grape ar-
bor or associate her feeding breasts with other forms of offering
food.
19
There is also reason to think that medieval people saw
Christ's penis not primarily as a sexual organ but as the object of cir-
cumcision and therefore as the wounded, bleeding flesh with which
it was associated in painting and in text. When artists painted the
blood from Christ's pierced breast running sideways across his groin
into his crotch (in defiance of the laws of gravity) they were assimi-
lating the later bleeding of the cross to the earlier bleeding of the cir-
cumcized infant [plate 3].20 Since medieval physiological theory saw
all body fluids as reducible to blood and saw bleeding basically as
purging, bleeding was an obvious symbol for cleansing or expiation,
and all Christ's bleedings were assimilated. 21
I am not here denying that medieval people saw a penis when they
saw Christ's penis. Moreover, as I shall demonstrate below, they
sometimes saw a breast (or a womb) when they saw Christ's side.
But they probably did not associate either penis or breast p . : ~ ~
17See John H. Van Engen, Rupert oJDeutz (Berkeley, 1983), PP' 50- 53.
IHCatherine ofSicna, Le lettere de S. Caterina da Siena, ridotte a miglior lezione e in or-
dille nuovo disposte con note di Niccoli) Tommaseo a cura di Piero Misciattelli, 6 vols. (Siena,
1913-22), letter 221, III, 337; letter 50, 1,236; letter 261, IV, 146; letter 143, II, 337-38;
Fawticr and Canet, Double experience, pp. 245-46.
19E. James Mundy, "Gerard David's Rest on the FlIitht into Egypt: Further Additions
to Grape Symbolism," Simialus: Netherlands Quarterly Jor the History oj Art, 12.4 (1981-
82),211-22.
2°There is considerable dispute about the attribution of this piera. It is usually given
to Jean Malouel. For a discussion, see Albert Chatelet, Early Dutch Painting: Painting in
the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century, trans. C. Brown and A. Turner (New
York, 1981), pp. 16-25. For another example of this motif, see Irmgard Hiller and
Horst Vey with Tilman Falk, Kataloj! der Deutschen Imd Niederliindischen Gemiilde his
1550 ... im WallrafRichartz Museum und im Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Kaln, Kata-
loge des Wallraf-Richartz Museum, 5 (Cologne, 1969), plate 154.
2
1
See below nn. 49, 50,78.
.,
"
,
408 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
3· Jean Maloucl, Pieta or Lamentation oJthe Holy Trinity, about 1400. The Louvre,
Paris.
with sexual activity. Rather both their writing and their art suggest
that they associated penis and side with pain and blood, and there-
fore, astonishing as it may be to us, with salvation. For example,
Catherine of Siena wrote:
Uesus 1 made of his blood a drink and his flesh a food for all those who wish it.
There is no other means for man to be satisfied. He can appease his hunger and
thirst only in this blood .... A man can possess the whole world and not be
satisfied (for the world is less than man) until blood satisfies him, for only that
blood is united to the divinity .... Eight days after his birth, Christ spilled a
little of it in the circumcision, but it was not enough to cover man. . . . Then
on the cross the lance ... opened his heart. The Holy Spirit tells us to have
recourse to the blood ... .
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 409
And then the soul becomes like a drunken man; the more he drinks, the
more he wants to drink; the more it bears the cross, the more it wants to bear it.
And the pains are its refreshment and the tears which it has shed for the mem-
ory of the blood are its drink. And the sighs are its food. 22
None of this is to suggest that medieval writers were completely
unaware of what modern interpreters see as erotic .elements in affec-
tive spirituality. Mystical writers as diverse as Margaret Po rete, Eck-
hart, and John Gerson were suspicious generally of affectivity, in part
because of its bodily pleasures.
23
And male theologians warned re-
peatedly that women's mystical strivings and visions might be
merely sensual "ticklings."24 Moreover, it may be that religious
women were more likely than religious men to read as encounter
with God bodily occurrences that we would attribute to sexual
arousaps For physiological reasons, a woman's erotic (particularly
auto-erotic) responses are different from a man's (and less obviously
genital). N. o. netheless it seems clear both that b o ~ ~ e - \
quently ac:fQJJlpanied love of God in the later Middle Ages and that ,
22Catherine, Le lettere, ed. Misciattelli, letter 87, II, 90-92. See also letter 329, V,
106-107·
230n Margaret Porete, see Romana Guarnieri, ed., "II 'Miroir des simples ames' di
Margherita Porete," Archivio italiano per la storia della pieta, 4 (1965), 5°1-635, and Pe-
ter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua
(+ 203) to Marguerite Porete ( + 13 ra) (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 202- 28. On Eckhart, see
Otto Langer, "Zur dominikanischen Frauenmystik im spatmittelalterlichen Deutsch-
land," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer, Frauenmystik, pp. 341-46. On Gerson, see Caroline
Walker Bynum,Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berke-
ley, 1982), pp. 135-36. See also Johann Tauler, sermons 31 and 33. in Die Predigten
'['aulers: aus der Engelberger und der Freiburger HandschriJt sowie aus Schmidts AbschriJten der
fhemaligen Strassburger Handschnfien, ed. Ferdinand Vetter (Berlin, 1910), pp. 310-II
and 130. On male suspicion of female religiosity generally, see Andre Vauchez, La
Sa in tete en Occident aux demiers siee/es du moyen age d'apres les proces de canonisation et les
documents hagiographiques, Bibliotheque des etudes franc;aise d' Athenes et de Rome, 241
(Rome, 1981), pp. 439-48.
24See Peter Browe, Die Eucharistischen Wunder des Mittelalters, Breslauer Studien zur
historischen Theologie, NF 4 (Breslau, 1938), pp. 110- 1 1; Ernest W. McDonnell, The
Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture with SpeCial Emphasis on the Belgian Scene
(1954; rpt. New York, 1969), p. 315.
250n the prominence of bodily phenomena in women's spirituality, see Peter Din-
zdbacher, "Europaische Frauenmystik des Mittelalters," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer,
Frauenmystik, pp. 11 - 23; Franz W6hrer, "Aspekte der englischen Frauenmystik im
spatcn 14. und beginnenden 15. Jahrhundert," ibid., pp. 314-40; Herbert Thurston,
The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (Chicago, 1952). See also Claude Carozzi,
"])ouceline et les autres," in La Religion populaire en Languedoc du XIIle siecle ala moitie
dll XIVe siee/e, Cahiers de Fanjeaux, II (Toulouse, 1976), pp. 251-67.
~
410
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
what bothered or delighted medieval people about such stirrings was
not their exact physiological location, in genitals or heart, mouth or
bowels.
26
What worried medieval theorists was whether the sensa-
tions were inspired or demonic-that is, whether they were sent by
God or by the devil. When John Gerson wrote his famous treatise on
the testing of spirits, what he feared was not that lesbianism or eroti-
cism was veiled in the cloister but that nuns and laywomen, even
monks and laymen, might be speaking of their visions with the
tongue of Satan. 27
* * *
The above analysis leads naturally to my second, less difficult
point: the question of texts. Are there medieval and Renaissance texts
that see Christ's penis as a special sign of "humanation" because the
penis is a male or a sexual organ? The answer appears to be that there
are not. Although medieval and Renaissance theologians discuss the
circumcision in dozens of different ways and repeatedly stress the
enfleshing of God at the moment of the Incarnation, Steinberg has
been able to find no text that treats the cut and bleeding penis of the
clrcumcized Christ as sexual, no text that treats circumcision either as
the cutting off of Christ's sexual urges or as a sign that his penis was
pure and not in need of disciplining. In fact, the only text Steinberg
has found that suggests an association of the penis with the erotic or
the sexual is one Renaissance sermon in which the word used for
2hFor a comment on the modern tendency to reduce all bodily phenomena (even
mystical) to the sexual, see Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur
\
Wills, 2 vols. (London, i9S6), II, 472: "To reproach ~ y s t i c s with loving God by
means of the faculty of sexual love is as though one were to reproach a painter with
making pictures by means of colors composed of material substances. We haven't any-
thmg else with which to love .... "
27See n. 23 above. The new book by Judith C. Brown, Immodest Acts: The Life of a
Lesbian Nun in Retlaissance Italy (New York, 1986), is therefore profoundly misleading.
It mistakenly places the behavior it considers in the context of sexual orientation. But
what contemporaries asked about the actions of Benedetta Carlini, a seventeenth-
century Theatine abbess, was not whether they had an erotic component directed to-
ward a woman but whether Benedetta Carlini suffered from demonic possession or
practiced fraud. "Feigned sanctity" was an important category in seventeenth-century
inquisitorial trials, and Benedetta herself retreated, under interrogation, to the claim
that she was possessed. See the review of Brown by Mary R. O'Neil, forthcoming in
Sixteel1th-CentlJYY joumal.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 411
holding the penis before circumcizing it might be translated as "fon-
dle. "28 But surely this refers not to eroticism but simply to tenderness
for a baby who is about to be hurt.
It is true that medieval and Renaissance texts increasingly and
movingly emphasized the humanation of God as the salvation of us
all. And by "humanation" they often meant enfleshing. But the em-
phasis on humanation appeared earlier in European spirituality than
Steinberg notes and was associated with the full range of Christ's
bodily members. Growing out of a twelfth-century concern for imi-
tating the human Christ, the theme of human at ion was present in a
wide variety of saints' lives and devotional texts of the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries.
29
For example, Angela of Foligno (d. 1309)
supposedly said, in words that have clearly been reworked by a scho-
lastically educated redactor:
[The soul in this present life knows] the lesser in the greater, and the greater in
the lesser, for it discovers uncreated God and "humanated" God, that is divin-
ity and humanity, in Christ, united and conjoined in one person .... And
sometimes ... the soul receives greater delight in the lesser ... For the soul is
more conformed and adapted to the lesser which it sees in Christ, the incarnate
God, than it is to that which it sees in Christ, the un created God; because the
soul is a creature whose life is in flesh and all of whose members are body. Thus
it discovers both God "humanated" and God uncreated, Christ the creator and
Christ the creature, and in that Christ it discovers souls with flesh and blood
and with all the members of his most sacred body. And this is why, when the
human intellect discovers, sees and knows in this mystery Christ the man and
Christ-God, ordainer of the mystery, this intellect feels delight and expands in
him, because it sees God "humanated" and God uncreated conformed and
made like itself-because, that is, the human soul sees the soul of Christ, his
2HSteinberg, Sexuality, p. 65. To raise the issue of texts is not to take issue with
Steinberg's position that the art object itself is a "primary text," not merely an illustra-
tion of a theological tenet. I would myself agree that many of the paintings Steinberg
discusses arc direct evidence about the theological significance of body. But I also hold
that the pictures are about more bodily aspects than Steinberg notices. See, for exam-
ple, n. 80 below.
29There is a large amount of recent literature on this topic. See, for example, Colin
Morris, The Discovery of the Individual: 1050- [200 (1972; rpt. New York, 1973); Giles
Constable, "Twelfth-Century Spirituality and the Late Middle Ages," Medieval and
Renaissance Studies, 5: Proceedings of the Southern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Stud-
ies, Summer, [969 (1971),27-60; Bynum, "Women Mystics," pp. 199-202; Richard
Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu (Chi-
cago, 1984), pp. 89- 121. On the increasingly positive sense of body generally in medi-
eval thought, sec Alan E. Bernstein, "Political Anatomy," University Publishing (Win-
ter, 1978), pp. 8-9.
412 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
eyes, his flesh, and his body. But while it looks ... ,it should not forget also to
turn to the higher. .. , the divine .... 30
In Angela's piety as in that of many other fourteenth-century
saints, all Christ's members-eyes, breasts, lips, etc.-were seen as
testimony to his humanation, and the devout soul responded to this
enfleshing with all its bodily capabilities. For example, the obscure
French nun Marguerite ofOingt (d. 1310), who swooned with love
over Christ's bleeding side, received a vision in which she flowered
like a tree in spring when watered by Christ, and her verdant
branches were labeled with the names of the five senses.
31
It is hard to
imagine a more graphic illustration of the medieval conviction that
those who love Christ should respond to all of his body with all of
theirs.
By the fifteenth century, theological attention was focused on the
body of Christ. But theologians did not usually emphasize Christ's
humanity as physiologically male. The closest they came to such an
emphasis was the well-known argument that limited priestly status
to men because Christ was male physiologically. 32 But even such ar-
gument frequently referred as much to the social preeminence of
males (i.e., the father's rule in the family) as to the male's supposed
physical superiority.33
The major context in which Christ's maleness was theologically
relevant was the circumcision. But sermons on the circumcision did
'''Angela ofFoligno, Le Livre de l'experience des vrais jideles: texte latine publie d'apres Ie
manuscrit d'Assise, ed. and trans. M.-]. Ferre and L. Baudry (Paris, 1927), par. 167, pp.
382- 84. There is no critical edition of Angela's works and the extant texts differ widely
from each other.
31Marguerite of Oingt, Les oeuvres de Marguerite d'Oingt, ed. and trans. Antonin
Duraffour, Pierre Gardette, and P. Durdilly (Paris, 1965), p. 147; also 139.
}2See Francine Card man. "The Medieval Question of Women and Orders," The
Thomist, 42 (1978).582-99;]. Rezette, "Le sacerdoce et la femme chez saint Bonaven-
tun:," Antonianum, 51 (1976), 520-27.
}3See Corpus Iuris Canonici, ed. E. Friedberg, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1879-81),
I. 2, causa 33, q. 5, chaps. 12-17, cols. 1254-55; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae,
ed. Blackfriars, XJII (New York, 1964), pt. I, q. 92, arts. 1-2, pp. 34-41, and q. 93,
art. 4. pp. 58-61. It is worth pointing out that neither male nor female theologians
argued against the denial of priesthood to women. Indeed Hildegard of Bingen sug-
gested that women held a different (and complementary) role as brides of Christ (i.e.,
mystics). See Bynum, Jesus as Mother, pp. 91 -94, 141 -42, and Elisabeth Gossman,
"Das Menschenbild der Hildegard von Bingen und Elisabeth von Schonau vor dem
Hintergrund der friihscholastischen Anthropologie," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer,
Frauenmystik, pp. 24-47.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
413
not discuss Christ's sexuality or his gender. In the scores of texts we {
have on this topic, blood is what is emphasized-blood as covenant, '
in part, but primarily blood as suffering. What the texts say is that the
circumcision foreshadows the crucifixion. Thus blood is redemptive
because Christ's pain gives salvific significance to what we all share
with him; and what we share is not a penis. It is not even sexuality. It
is the fact that we can be hurt. We suffer. Steinberg may be right that
one could extrapolate from medieval art and medieval texts to the
notion that Christ's coming in male flesh is a sign of sexuality and
therefore of humanness. There may even be a profound modern ,
need for such theological argument. My point is simply that the ar-
gument as such is not made in medieval or Renaissance texts. Those
who preached and wrote in the fifteenth century associated human-
ness with the fleshliness of all bodily members and found in suffering \
(rather than in sexual temptation) the core of what it is to be human. ~
It is clear that the body of Christ was depicted as male in late medi-
eval art. It is far from clear, however, that artists emphasized Christ's
penis as a sign of his sexuality and therefore of his humanity. Moreover,
there is both iconographic and textual evidence for the argument that
late medieval people sometimes saw the body of Christ as female.
There is thus better evidence for the asse"i-tion that the late Middle
Ages found gender reversal at the heart of Christian art and Christian
worship than there is for the thesis that Renaissance artists empha-
sized the sexuality of Jesus. Ifwe as modern people find Steinberg's
argument more titillating and Steinberg's illustrations more fascinat-
ing than those I will consider now, this may merely suggest that
there is a modern tendency to find sex more interesting than feeding,
suffering, or salvation. It may also suggest that, pace Huizinga,
twentieth-century readers and viewers are far more literal-minded in
interpreting symbols than were the artists, exegetes and devotional
writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. 34
341n a now classic study, the great Dutch historian argued that symbolism in the
later Middle Ages became florid, mechanical, and empty of true experiential content;
seeJohan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought
and Art in France and the Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries, trans. F. Hopman
(19
2
4; rpt. Garden City, N. Y., 1956). There is, of course, some truth to the argument;
see, for example, Francis Rapp, "Zur Spiritualitat in e1sassischen Frauenklostern am
Ende des Mittelalters," in Dinzelbacher and Bauer, Frauenmystik, pp. 347-
6
5. But it is
more accurate to describe late medieval piety as deeply experiential; see my forthcom-
ing book, Holy Feast and Holy Fast.
414 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
* * *
Medieval texts and medieval art saw the church as the body of
Christ. And ecclesia was, of course, feminine, as a noun and as an alle-
gorical personification. Thus church was depicted in medieval art as
a woman-sometimes as Christ's bride, sometimes as a nursing
mother [plates 4 and 5].35
To depict church as a woman who is Christ's bride or as the
mother of all Christians is not, of course, to make Christ's physical
body female. But medieval texts went further. Ecclesia was identified
in texts as Christ's body, not merely his spouse, and such identifica-
tion led in a number of passages to discussions of Jesus as mother.
The connection was clearly the notion that teachers and authorities
should be nurturing; therefore church, and church's leaders, and
church's head himself were mothers. For example, Bernard of Clair-
vaux commented on Song of Songs i. 1-2 ("For your breasts are bet-
ter than wine, smelling sweet of the best ointments") in a way that
makes clear not only the medieval tendency to associate breasts with
food (rather than sex) but also the medieval tendency to assimilate
church as Christ's spouse with church as Christ's body. Bernard said
explicitly that Christ's bride is the church who nurses us, and that the
bride-church nurses from Christ who is also therefore a mother, and
that this motherly body is all of us. 36 Following Bernard, William of
St. Thierry wrote, addressing Christ:
... it is your breasts, 0 eternal Wisdom, that nourish the holy infancy of your
little ones ... 37
It was not the least of the chief reasons for your Incarnation that your babes in
the church who still needed your milk rather than solid food ... might find in
you a form not unfamiliar to themselves. 38
35Schiller, Ikono.l?raphie, vol. IV, I: Die Kirche, plates 21 I, 213, 228-240, 260.
·l('Bernard ofClairvaux, sermon 9, par. 5-6, and sermon 10. par. 3, on the Song of
Songs, in SanCfi Bemardi opera, cd. J. Leclercq, C. H. Talbot and H. M. Rochais, I
(Rome, 1957),45-46,49- 50; see also sermon 23, par. 2, at!, 139- 140, and sermon 41,
par. 5 -6, atl!, 31- 32.
17William of St. Thierry, Expose sur Ie Cantique des Cantiques, cd. J. M. Dcchanet,
Sources chrctiennes, 82, serie des textes monastiques d'Occident, 8 (Paris, 1962), chap.
38, pp. 122- 24.
3
H
Wiliiam of St. Thierry, Meditativae Orationes, chap. viii, Patrolo.l?ia latina, cd. J.-P.
Migne [hereafter PL I, Vol. 180, col. 236A; trans. Sister Penelope, The Works of William
of St. Thierry, !: On Contemplatin.l? God, Cistercian Fathers Series, 3 (Spencer, Mass.,
(97 1),152-53.
\
I
\
I
\
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
415
4. Spons!ls and Sponsa with Lost Humanity; from H o n o r i ~ s Augustodunensis's
Commentary on the Song of Songs, Twelfth Century. Cod. lat. 455
0
, fol. IV,
Bayr. Staatsbibl., Munich.
416
REN AISSANCE QUARTERLY
5· Giovanni Pisano (d. 1314), Ecclesia lactans standing over the Cardinal Virtues.
Detail from a pulpit. The Cathedral, Pisa.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 417
In this twelfth-century text, Christ's body is treated as female, as
subsuming church, and as accessible to humans of both sexes exactly
in its femaleness. Similarly, the fourteenth-century theologian, mys-
tic and ecclesiastical activist Catherine of Siena assimilated Christ and
Charity (a female personification), stressed the humanation of
Christ, and associated that humanation with motherhood:
We cannot nourish others unless we nourish ourselves at the breasts of divine
charity .... We must do as a little child does who wants milk. It takes the
breast of its mother, applies its mouth, and by means of the flesh it draws milk.
We must do the same if we would be nourished. We must attach ourselves to
the breast of Christ crucified, which is the source of charity, and by means of
that flesh we draw milk. The means is Christ's humanity which suffered pain,
and we cannot without pain get that milk that comes from charity. 39
One might argue, of course, that such texts are merely elaborate
similes-statements that saving is like mothering or that instructing
is like nurturing. Therefore Christ's activity is like church's activity
and mother's activity, and nothing more is meant. But in the Show-
ings of the greatest female theologian Julian of Norwich (d. after
1416), as several scholars have recently pointed out, the use of the
Jesus-as-mother motif is clearly more than simile.
40
It expresses a
theological truth which is, Julian holds, better said in female than in
male images. Julian comments explicitly that holy church is our
mother because she cares for and nurtures us and that Mary the Vir-
gin is even more our mother because she bears Christ. But Christ is
mother most of all.
For in the same time that God joined himself to our body in the maiden's
womb, he took our soul, which is sensual, and in taking it, having enclosed us
39Catherine, Le lettere, ed. Misciattelli, letter 86, II, 8 I - 82. For a similar use of the
metaphor by a male writer, see The Monk of Fame: The Meditations of a Fourteenth-
Century Monk, ed. Hugh Farmer and trans. by a Benedictine of Stan brook, The Bene-
dictine Studies (Baltimore, 1961), pp. 64, 73-74. Other examples of the Jesus-as-
mother motif may be found in Bynum, Jesus as Mother, pp. 110-69, and Valerie
Lagorio, "Variations on the Theme of God's Motherhood in Medieval English Mysti-
cal and Devotional Writings," Studia mystica, 8 (1985), 15-37.
4URitamary Bradley, "The Motherhood Theme in Julian of Norwich," Fourteenth-
Century English Mystics Newsletter, 2.4 (1976),25- 30; Kari Elizabeth B0rresen, "Christ
notre mere, la theologie de Julienne de Norwich," Mitteilungen und Forschungsbeitriige
der Cusanus-GesellschaJt, 13 (1978), 320-29; Paula S. D. Barker, "The Motherhood of
God in Julian of Norwich's Theology," Downside Review, 100 (1982),290-304; Brant
Pelphrey, Love Was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism ofjulian of Norwich , Salz-
burg Studies in English Literature: Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies, 92.4 (Salz-
burg, 1982).
418
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
all in himself, he united it to our substance. In this union he was perfect man,
for Christ, having joined in himself every man who will be saved, is perfect
man.
So our Lady is our mother, in whom we are all enclosed and born of her in
Christ, for she who is mother of our Savior is mother of all who are saved in
our Savior; and our Savior is our true mother, in whom we are endlessly born
and out of whom we shall never come.
41
To Julian, mothering means not only loving and feeding; it also
means creating and saving. The physiological role of the' mother,
whose uterine lining provides the stuff of the foetus (according to
medieval medical theory) and whose blood becomes breast milk,
clearly underlies Julian's sense that, if gender is to be used of God at
all, Christ is mother more than father when it is a matter of talking of
the Incarnation. 42
Such an identification of Christ's saving role with giving birth as
well as feeding is found in a number of fourteenth-century texts,
such as the following meditation by Marguerite of Oingt:
My sweet Lord ... are you not my mother and more than my mother? ...
Ah! sweet LordJesus, who ever saw a mother suffer such a birth? For when the
hour of your delivery came you were placed on the hard bed of the cross. . .
and your nerves and all your veins were broken. And truly it is no surprise that
your veins burst when in one day you gave birth to the whole world. 43
The same theme is clearly suggested in miniatures that show church
emerging from the side of Christ [plate 6]. In the moralized Bibles of
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, artists frequently drew paral-
lels between the birth of Eve from Adam's side and the birth of the
church from Christ's body.44
Late medieval theologians never forgot that Christ's person was
soul as well as body. Christ was not merely flesh. For example, a
writer as effusive (and as orthodox) as Catherine of Siena stressed
41Julian, The Long Text, chap. 57. revelation 14, in A Book of Showings to the AIl(ho-
ressJu/ian o.{Norwich. cd. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, Studies and Texts, 35. 2
parts (Toronto, 1978), pt. 2, pp. 579-80; trans. by Colledge and Walsh inJu/iall of Nor-
wi(h: Showings (New York, 1978), p. 292.
42See Caroline Walker Bynum, " ' ... And Woman His Humanity': Female Imag-
ery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages." in Caroline W. Bynum.
Stevan Harrell and Paula Richman. cds .• Gender and Religion: On the Complexity ofSym-
bois (Boston. 1986). Colledge and Walsh have stressed that this idea has theological
roots in William of St. Thierry; see intra. to A Book of Showings, pt. I. pp. 153-62.
4JMarguerite. Oeuvres, pp. 77-79.
44S
c
hillcr. Ikollograpizie, IV. I: Die Kir(he, plates 217-219.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
419
6. The Creation of Eve. the Birth of Church. the Joining of Adam and Eve; from a
French Moralized Bible of about 1240. MS 270b, fo!' 6r. Bodleian Library, Ox-
ford.
420 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
both the unity of Christ's person and the union of divine with hu-
man. Discussing the eucharist, Catherine attributed the following
admonition to God:
The person of the incarnate Word was penetrated and kneaded into one dough
with the light of my Godhead. . . .
I have said that this body of his [that is, Christ's] is a sun. Therefore you
would not be given the body without being given the blood as well; nor either
the body or the blood without the soul of this Word; nor the soul or body
without the divinity of me, God eternal. For the one cannot be separated from
the other-just as the divine nature can nevermore be separated from the hu-
man nature, not by death or by any other thing past or present or future. So it is
the whole divine being that you receive in that most gracious sacrament under
that whiteness of bread. 45
But despite issuing repeated warnings that souls must "also turn to
the higher ... the divine," theologians and devotional writers fre-
quently stressed Christ's humanity (conceived of as Christ's fleshli-
ness) and associated it with the female. Three very different strands
fed into this complex association of feminine and flesh.
First, theologians drew on the long-standing analogy "spirit is to
flesh as male is to female," familiar in exegesis from patristic days. 46
This dichotomy led both to Hildegard of Bingen's statement that
"man represents the divinity of the Son of God and women his hu-
manity" and to the vision in which Elizabeth of Schonau saw
Christ's humanity appear before her as a female virgin sitting on the
sun.47 It is also reflected in the fact that Hildegard of Bingen's vision
45Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke (New York, 1980), pp.
206-207; see also p. 210. For other authors who stress the same point, see Bynum,
"Women Mystics," p. 214n. I 18.
46Kari Elisabeth B0rresen, Subordination et equivalence: nature et rOle de lafemme d'apres
Augustin et Thomas d'Aquin (Oslo, 1968); Eleanor McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, In-
equality of Sexes: Women in Medieval Theology," Religion and Sexism: Images of
Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. R. Reuther (New York, 1974), pp.
21 3-66; Marie-Therese d'Alverny, "Comment les theologiens et les philosophes
voient la femme?", La femme dans les civilisations des Xe-XIIIe siedes: Actes du colloque
tenu a Poitiers les 23-25 septembre 1976, in Cahiers de civilisation medievale, 20 (1977),
105- 29.
47Hildegard, Liber divinorum operum, bk. i, chap. iv, par. 100, PL 197, col. 885; idem,
Liber vitae meritorum, bk. iv, c. 32, in Analeaa sacra, ed. J.-B. Pitra, VIII: Analecta sanctae
Hildegardis . ... (Monte Cassino, 1882), 158; Barbara Jane Newman, "0 Feminea
Forma: God and Woman in the Works of St. Hildegard (1098-1179)," Ph.D. diss.,
Yale University, 1981; Peter Dronke, Women Writers, pp. 144-201; and Gossmann,
"Das Menschenbild der Hildegard." For Elizabeth's vision, see Die Visionen der hI. Eli-
sabeth und die Schrijien der Aebte Ekbert und Emecho von Schonau, ed. F. W. E. Roth
(Brunn, 1884), pp. 60ff.
A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 421 {·ra!J.
r, •. ""'"

of imago n:ulieris u.nder th.e cross the figure with humanitas
well as wlth ecclesla J and m. the mlnt.atures texts from the l.ateq) ct"" '1 It....
Middle Ages that show Chnst marrymg humanrtas as a man marrles a I '"
woman.
48
S-.../
Medieval writers also drew on a second strand that associated flesh
and female: ancient physiological theory. This theory included two
different accounts of conception. 49 According to Aristotelian theory,
the mother provided the matter of the foetus and the father its life or
spirit or form. Aristotelian theory clearly linked woman with the un-
formed physical stuff of which the fully human is made. According
to Galen, two seeds (from mother and father) were necessary for
conception. Galenic theory associated both male and female with the
physiological stuff. But even according to Galen, the mother was the
oven or vessel in which the foetus cooked, and her body fed the
growing child, providing its matter as it matured. Moreover, all an-
cient biologists thought that the mother's blood fed the child in the
womb and then, transmuted into breast milk, fed the baby outside
the womb as well. Thus blood was the basic body fluid and female
blood was the fundamental support of human life.
Ancient theory also held that the shedding of blood purged or
cleansed those who shed it. Indeed bleeding was held to be necessary
for the washing away of superfluity, so much so that physiologists
regularly spoke of males as menstruating and recommended bleed-
ing with leeches when they did not do so. Thus medical theory not
only associated female bodies with flesh and blood; it also saw bleed-
ing as feeding and as the purging away of excess. 50 Such medical con-
48Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, pt. 2, vision 6, ed. Ade!gundis Fuhrkotter and A.
Carlevaris, Corpus christianorum: continuatio medievalis, 43, 2 vols. (Turnhout,
197
8
), I, 225- 306, esp. 23 I. For ecdesia and humanitas in miniatures, see Schiller, Ikono-
graphie, IV. I: Die Kirche, plates 2 I I, 236, 260. For texts in which Christ marries hu- k
manilas, see Jan van Ruysbroeck, The Spiritual Espousals, trans. Eric Colledge, Classics
of the Contemplative Life (New York, n.d.), p. 43, and idem, "Le miroir du salut
cterne!," chap. vii, in Oeuvres de Ruysbroeck l'Admirable, trans. by the Benedictines of
St.-Paul ofWisques, III, 3rd ed. (Brussels, 1948),82- 83.
49Erna Lesky, Die Zeugungs- und Vererbungslehren der Anlike und ihr Nachwirken
(Mainz, 195 1);Joseph Needham, A History of Embryology, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1959),
pp. 37-74; Anthony Preus, "Galen's Criticism of Aristotle's Conception Theory,"
Journal of the History o.fBiology, 10 (1977),65-85; Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Genera-
tion and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," Representations, to appear; and idem,
The Female Orgasm and the Body Politic, work in progress.
sOPreus, "Galen's Criticism"; Laqueur, Female Orgasm and Body Politic; Vern L. Bul-
lough, "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women, " Viator, 4 (1973), 4
8
7-93;
422
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
ceptions of blood led naturally to the association of Christ's bleeding
on the cross, which purges our sin in the Atonement and feeds OUr
souls in the eucharist, with female bleeding and feeding.
A third strand of medieval ideas also linked flesh, especially
Christ's flesh, with woman. This strand was the doctrine of the Vir-
gin Birth and the emerging notion of the Immaculate Conception. 51
Whatever the respective roles of male and female in ordinary concep-
tion, Christ's body had to come from Mary because Christ had no
human father. Since theologians increasingly stressed Mary's hu-
manity as sinless from her conception, they were able to suggest that
just as the Logos (the divinity of Christ separate from that of God)
pre-existed the Incarnation, so the humanity of Christ also pre-
existed the Incarnation in the sinless humanity of Mary. Such argu-
ments could, of course, be carried to dubious theological lengths, but
a thinker such as Mechtild of Magdeburg began to make them. 52
And the entirely orthodox idea of Mary as the flesh of Christ was
suggested by William Durandus's commentary on the mass and by
the prayers of Francis of Assisi, Suso, and others, who spoke of Mary
as the tabernacle, the vessel, the container, the robe, the clothing of
Christ. 53 The notion is clearly depicted in those eucharistic taberna-
cles that Mary surmounts as if she were the container, 54 and in the so-
called Vierges ouvrantes-Iate medieval devotional objects in which a
statue of Mary nursing her baby opens to show God inside. 55 As
John F. Benton, "Clio and Venus: An Historical View of Medieval Love," The Meall.
illg of Courtly Love, ed. F. X. Newman (Albany, 19(9), p. 32; and Charles T. Wood,
"The Doctors' Dilemma: Sin, Salvation and The Menstrual Cycle in Medieval
Thought," Speculum, 56 (1981),710-27.
51 Levi d' Ancona, Immaculate Conception.
520n Mcchtild, see Bynum,jesus as Mother, pp. 229,233- 34,244.
5.lS
ee
Bynum, "Women Mystics," p. 204; Edouard Dumoutct, Corpus Domini: Aux
sources de la piete eucharistique medievale (Paris, 1942), pp. 77-79; Marguerite of Oingt.
Oeuvres, pp. 98-99; H"nry Suso, Buchlfin der Ewigen Weisheit, c. J6, in Deutsche Schr(f-
tetl im Au firag der Wiirttembergischen Kommission for Landesgeschichte, cd. K. Bihlmeyer
(Stuttgart, 1907), p. 264; Francis of Assisi, Opuscula saneti patris Francisci Assisiensis,
Bibliotheca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Aevi, I, 2nd ed. (Quaracchi, 1949), p. 123;
Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 12- 3 S.
54Dumoutet, Corpus Domini, pp. 77-79. See also Joesph Braun, Der christliche Altar
in seinergeschichtlichen Entwicklung, 2 vols. (Munich, 1924), II, 624. Plates 329,333,334,
33
6
, 34
6
, 3
60
and 3
6
1 give a number of examples of the prominence of Mary on reta-
bles. This motif tends to associate Mary's conceiving of Christ with the moment of the
consecration.
55Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, p. 28. See also Christoph Baumer, "Die Schreinma-
donna," Marian Literary Studies, 9 (1977),239-72.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
423
Carol Purtle and Barbara Lane have demonstrated, such a concept is
also reflected in the late medieval Marian paintings in which Mary
takes on priestly characteristics. Such depictions of Mary as priest
have nothing to do with women's ordination. Mary is priest because
it is she who offers to ordinary mortals the saving flesh of God,
which comes most regularly and predictably in the mass.
56
Thus many medieval assumptions linked woman and flesh and the (.
body of God. Not only was Christ enfleshed with flesh from a .
woman; his Qwn flesh did womanly things: it bled, it bled food, and
it gave birth. Moreover, in certain bizarre events of the late Middle
Ages, there is further support for the argument that bleeding food
and giving life through flesh were seen as particularly female activi-
ties. I allude here to the blood miracles of the thirteenth, fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries.
As scholars such as James Marrow and Lionel Rothkrug have re-
cently shown, blood became an increasingly powerful symbol in late
medieval art and devotion. 57 But blood in this period became more
than symbol. It literally appeared, on walls and wafers, hands and
faces. Blood miracles proliferated. And they took place primarily in
the bodies and the experiences of women. 58 The two most astonish-
ing new miracles of the later Middle Ages are the miracle of the
bleeding host, in which consecrated eucharistic wafers turn into
bleeding flesh, and the miracle of stigmata, in which the bodies of or-
dinary people suddenly receive and display the various wounds of
Christ. Not only are almost all late medieval stigmatics women; vi-
sions and transformation-miracles of the bleeding host (like all eu-
charistic miracles) were received mostly by women as well. 59 Stig-
56Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 71 -72. Carol J. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of jan
"an Eyck (Princeton, 1982), pp. 13-15,27-29, and passim.
57James H. Marrow, Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle
Ages and Earl)' Renaissance: A Stud), of the Transformation ofSarred Metaphor into Descrip-
tive Narrative (Kortrijk, 1979); Lionel Rothkrug, "Popular Religion and Holy Shr:nes:
Their Influence on the Origins of the German Reformation and their Role in German
Cultural Development," in James Obelkevich, ed., Religion and the People, 800- 170
0
(Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979), p. 29·
5HS
ee
Thurston, Physical Phenomena; Dinzelbacher, "Europaische Frauenmystik";
idem, Vision und Visionsliteratur im Mitte/alter (Stuttgart, 1981); Rudolph M. Bell, Holy
Anorexia (Chicago, 1985); and Caroline Walker Bynum, "Fast, Feast. and Flesh: The
Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women," Representations, I I (Summer,
[985),1- 25.
590n eucharistic miracles, see Browe, Die Wunder, and Bynum, "Women Mys-
tics," p. 182. On stigmata, see Thurston, Physical Phenomena; Antoine Imbert-
424 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y
matic women clearly saw themselves as imitating Christ's bleeding
flesh both as it hung on the cross and as it was consecrated in the wa-
fer. Indeed stigmata sometimes appeared as a result of taking com-
munion.
60
Thus it was women's bodies almost exclusively that bled
as Christ bled, and this blood not only purged the woman of her sin
but also saved her fellow Christians by substituting for the expiation
they owed in purgatory.61 Holy women imitated Christ in their
bodies; and Christ's similar bleeding and feeding body was under-
stood as analogous to theirs.
* * *
It is clear then from the many texts I have quoted that medieval
writers spoke of Jesus as a mother who lactates and gives birth. They
called the wound in Christ's side a breast. They saw the flesh of God
as a clothing taken from Mary's flesh. Moreover there is icono-
graphic support for the textual tradition of Jesus as mother. When we
look at late medieval painting, we find that the bleeding Christ is
treated as the feeder of humankind. The wound of Christ and the
breast of Mary are clearly parallel in picture after picture.
The lactating Virgin is, of course, one of the most common icono-
graphic themes in all of Christian art. Mary's breast is linked with
other kinds of feeding-with milk soup and with the grape that is a
eucharistic symbol. 62 In late medieval and Counter-Reformation art,
Gourbeyre, La Stigmatisation: L'extase divine et les miracles de Lourdes: Reponse aux lib res-
penseurs, 2 vols. (Clermont-Ferrand, 1894); Pierre Debongnie, "Essai critique sur
l'histoire des stigmatisations au moyen ige," Etudes carmelitaines, 21.2 (1936), 22-59;
E. Amann, "Stigmatisation," Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, xiv. I (Paris, 1939),
cols. 2617- 19. According to the statistics compiled by Weinstein and Bell, women ac-
count for 27% of the wonder-working relics in the Middle Ages, although they are
only 17.5% of the saints; see Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints and Soci-
ety: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, IOOO- 1700 (Chicago, 1982), pp. 123- 37.
6OFor example, this was true of the Flemish saint, Lidwina of Schiedam (d. 1433).
See Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh," pp. 6-7 and nn. 24 and 27.
61Two saints who stress substituting their suffering for that of others are Alice of
Schaerbeke and Catherine of Genoa. See Life of Alice ofSchaerbeke, chap. iii, par. 26,
AASS, June II, 476; and Catherine of Genoa, II Dialogo spirituale, in Umile Bonzi da
Genova, ed., S. Caterina Fieschi Adorno, II: Edizione critica dei manoscritti cateriniani (Tu-
rin, 1962),420-21,424. See also Catherine, Trattato del Purgatorio, ed. Umile Bonzi, II,
343-45. This was also true of Lidwina of Schiedam; see Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and
Flesh," p. 6 and n. 25.
62See Mundy, "Gerard David." On the cult of the Virgin's milk in the later Middle
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
425
Mary feeds adult males as well, especially Bernard of Clairvaux,
whose lactation is depicted in dozens of paintings. 63 Mary also feeds
ordinary Christians. In a number of pictures, she directs her breast
toward the viewer, while the baby turns aside, thus suggesting that
we share the baby's need for sustenance and that Mary offers to us the
blessed food. 64
Mary's feeding is sometimes explicitly seen as eucharistic. For ex-
ample, several art historians have pointed out that van Eyck's Lucca
Madonna presents Mary as the altar on which Christ sits.
65
Vessels to
the right of the painting reinforce the suggestion that the artist is de-
picting the mass. Both baby and breast are the eucharist, presented to
us. The two foods are assimilated. We the viewers are offered the
bread and wine that are God. Similarly; art historians have also
linked Robert Campin's Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen with the
eucharist [plate 7]. Once again, in this painting, Mary not only offers
her breast; she also presents her baby, as ifhe were bread fresh from
the oven. Mary is assimilated to Christ and celebrant.
66
Thus we
should not be surprised to find paintings that depict Mary as priest, 67
or representations of the Mystical Mill in which Mary as the miller
(i.e., celebrant) pours in the flour while Christ emerges below as
Ages, see P. V. Beterous, "A propos d'une des legendes mariales les plus repandues: Ie
'lait de la Vierge,' " Bulletin de I'association Guillaume Bude, 4 (1975), 403 - I I.
63Rafael M. Duran Iconografia espanola de San Bernardo (Monasterio de Poblet, 1953);
Leon Dewez and Albert van herson, "La lactation de saint Bernard: Legende et iconog-
raphie," Crteaux in de Nederlanden, 7 (1956), 165-89. For two other examples, see
Hiller and Vey, Katalog ... WallrafRichartz Museum, plates 126 and 159· In the latter
(late fifteenth-century) painting, the baby actually pushes the breast toward Bernard.
For texts which refer to other lactations of adults, see Albert Poncelet, "Index miracu-
lorum B. V. Mariae quae saec. VI-XV latine conscripta sunt, " Analecta Bollandiana, 21
(1902),359.
64S
ee
, for example, the miniature from the Milan-Turin Book of Hours in which a
stream of milk from Mary's breast goes toward the donor (with whom the viewer pre-
sumably identifies) while the baby turns away from the breast; Lane, Altar and Altar-
piece, p. 6, plate 4.
6sLane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 13 - 23 and plate 6; Purtle, Marian Paintings, pp. 9
8
-
126.
(.6Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 1- 10 and plate I; Purtle, Marian Paintings, p. 100, n.
8; see also Carra Ferguson O'Meara, " 'In the Hearth of the Virginal Womb': The ico-
nography of the Holocaust in Late Medieval Art," The Art Bulletin, 63· I (19
81
), 75-
88. The cupboard and chalice are modern additions to the painting.
67 Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 71 -72 and plate 47; Purtle, Marian Paintings, p. 12,
n. 32, and p. 153. See also Otto Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church, trans. M.
von Eroes andJ. Devlin (New York, 1963), pp. 130- 3 I.
426 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y
7. Robert Campin (d. 1444), Madonna and Child before a Firescreen. The National
Gallery, London.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 427
bread fed to the assembled prelates (who become recipients) [see
plate 8].68
All of these pictures are of Mary increasingly assimilated to Christ.
But there are also medieval paintings that assimilate Christ to Mary.
Over and over again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find
representations of Christ as the one who feeds and bleeds. Squirting
blood from wounds often placed high in the side, Christ fills cups for
his followers just as Mary feeds her baby. Christ's body, like wom-
an's, is depicted as food [plate 13 below]. In two very different
fifteenth-century paintings, for example, Christ's wound is treated
almost as if it were a nipple and produces in one case the wafer, in
another case the blood of the eucharist [see plates 9 and 10].69
In medieval experience as in modern, it was women's bodies, not
men's, that fed with fluid from the breast. Medieval people clearly
found this fact symbolically useful, as recurrent representations of
nursing Charity or of the lactating Virtues [plate II] attest.
70
It thus
seems possible to argue that a picture such as Quirizio of Murano's
The Savior [plate 9], which treats Christ as body that provides food
from the breast, is an evocation (if not a depiction) of the traditional
notion of Jesus as mother. The texts on the picture (borrowed from
the Song of Songs) underline the emphasis on eating Christ's body,
for they read: "Come to me, dearly beloved friends, and eat my
flesh, " "Come to me, most beloved, in the cellar of wine and inebri-
ate yourself with my blood. "
A number of fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth-century paintings
make the association of Christ's wound and Mary's breast quite clear
[see, for example, plate 12). The parallel is more than visual: texts on
the pictures make the point explicitly. In a painting of I 508 by Hans
6HGetrud Schiller, Iconography ojChristiarz Art, trans. J. Seligman, II: The Passion oj
Jesus Christ (London, 1972), pp. 228-29; idem, Ikonographie, IV.!: Die Kirche, p. 62. On
the related motif of Christ in the winepress, see Marrow, Passion Iconography, p. 85,
and Braun, Der Altar, II, plate 336.
69For depictions of Christ bleeding into the chalice, see Schiller, Iconography, II: Pas-
sion, plates 707,708,710,806, and Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, pp. 130-31. On Quir-
izio's The Savior, see Luigi Coletti, Pittura veneta del Quattrocento (Novara, 1953), pp.
xlvii-xlix and 100- 101; Sandra Moschini Marconi, ed., Gal/erie dell'Accademia, Opere
d'Arte dei Secoli XIV et XV (Rome, 1955), p. 148; and Louis Gougaud, Devotional and
Ascetic Practices in the Middle Ages, trans. G. C. Bateman (London, 1927), pp. 104- 10.
7°Adolphe de Ceuleneer, "La Charitc romaine dans la litterature et dans i'art, " An-
nales de l'Academie Royale d'archeoloRie de BelRique, 67 (Antwerp, 1919), 175-206.
428
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
8. Retable of the Mystical Mill, Central Panel, about 1440. Ulm Museum.
Holbein the Elder, for example, the words above Christ read: "Fa-
ther, see my red wounds, help men in their need, through my bitter
death." And above Mary: "Lord, sheath thy sword that thou hast
drawn, and see my breast, where the Son has sucked. "71
Such pictures are known to art historians as the "double interces-
71For examples of the double intercession, see Max]. Friedlander, Early Netherland-
ish Painting, IX.2, trans. H. Norden with notes by H. Pauwels and M. Gierts (Leyden,
1973), plate 156; Schiller, Iconography, II: Passion, plates 798,799,800,802; Lane, Altar
and Altarpiece, pp. 7-8; idem, "The 'Symbolic Crucifixion' in the Hours of Catherine of
Cleves," Oud-Holland 86 (1973), 4-26; Richard C. Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance
Florence, Studies in Social Discontinuity (New York, 1980), p. 26, plate 8; and A. L.
Moir and Malcolm Letts, The World Map in Hereford Cathedral and The Pictures in the
Hereford Mappa Mundi, 7th ed. (Hereford, 1975), pp. II and 19· For the texts on the
Holbein, see Schiller, Iconography, II: Passion, p. 225·
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG
429
9· Quirizio da Murano (fl. 1460-78), The Savior. Accademia, Venice.
sian." They are usually glossed as an association of two sacrifices:
Christ's bleeding and dying for us on the cross, Mary's suffering for
her baby and therefore for all sinners. But I would like to suggest that
the parallel is not merely between two sacrifices; it is also between
two feedings. I argue this partly because, as we have seen, Mary's
430 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
10. A northwest German master, Christ and Charity, about 1470. Wallraf-Richartz
Museum, Cologne.
breast and Jesus's vyound, when treated independently, are seen as
supplying food [see plates 7, 9, 10, and 13]. I also suggest such an in-
terpretation because artists themselves sometimes indicate that it is
really Mary's breast as lactating that is in question. In an early
sixteenth-century triptych from the Low Countries, for example,
not only is Mary's breast parallel to Jesus's bleeding wound (a wound
which is recapitulated in the bleeding heart above) but Mary's breast
is also explicitly associated with lactation through the presence at her
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 431
I. Fountain of the Virtues, Sixteenth Century. Niirnberg.
434
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
14· Goswyn van derWeyden, 1507. Museum of
Fine Arts, Antwerp.
side of Bernard ofClairvaux, who, according to legend, nursed from
her [plate 14].72
* * *
It thus seems that medieval writers and occasionally even artists
represented God's body with both feminine and masculine character-
istics-something modern thinkers rarely attempt and only with
considerable awkwardness and embarrassment. How then did it
happen that writers and visionaries in the Middle Ages found it pos-
sible to mix and fuse the sexes in their depictions of God? The answer
lies, at least in part, in the fact that-for all their application of male/
female contrasts to organize life symbolically-medieval thinkers
and artists used gender imagery more fluidly and less literally than
we do. Projecting back onto medieval symbols modern physiologi-
72A. Monballieu, "Het Antonius Tsgrooten-triptiekje (1597) uit Tongerloo van
Goosen van der Weyden," Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Antwerpen (1967), pp. 13-36.
..
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 435
cal theory or post-Enlightenment contrasts of nature and culture, we \
have tended to read medieval dichotomies too absolutely. 73 Medieval i
thinkers, however, saw not just the body of Christ but all bodies, as I
we shall see, as both male and female. i
Careful reading of the theological and scientific traditions I dis-
cussed above makes it clear that, despite their use of male/female di-
chotomies, theologians and natural philosophers assumed considera-
ble mixing of the genders. From the patristic period on, those who
saw the female as representing flesh while the male represented spirit
wrote of real people as both. To say this is not to deny that men were
seen as superior in rationality and strength. Clearly they were. But
existing, particular human beings were understood as having both
feminine and masculine characteristics.
74
Moreover, we must never
forget the emphasis on reversal which lay at the heart of the Christian
tradition: According to Christ and to Paul, the first shall be last and
the meek shall inherit the earth.
75
Thus not only did devotional writ-
ers mix gender images in describing actual men and women; they
also used female images to attribute an inferiority that would-
exactly because it was inferior-be made superior by God. For ex-
ample, male devotional writers such as Bernard, Eckhart and Gerson
spoke of male mystics as fecund mothers or weak women.
76
And
women mystics were even more likely to cut the terms "male" and
73An infi ntial article that projects back into the earlier western tradition the mod-
ern naturd contrast is Sherry Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature is to Cul-
ture?" in ,ichelle Z. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., Women, Culture and Society
(Stanfor , 1974), pp. 67-86. For criticisms of Ortner's approach, on these and other
Eleanor Leacock and June Nash, "Ideologies of Sex: Archetypes and Ster-
in Cross-Cultural Research, Annals of the New York Academy of Sci-
(New York, 1977), pp. 618-45, and Carol P. MacCormack and M.
., Nature, Culture and Gender (Cambridge, 1980). For criticism of project-
Ing modern physiological theory onto earlier concepts, see Laqueur, Female Orgasm and
Body Politic. The point about the mixing of genders has been nicely made by Eleanor
McLaughlin, " 'Christ My Mother': Feminine Naming and Metaphor in Medieval
Spirituality," Nashota Review, 15 (1975), 229-48.
74For examples of hagiographers who praise women as "virile," see Life oflda of
Louvain, AASS, April, II, 159; and Life ofJda ofLeau, AASS, October, XIII, 112. The
compliment could, of course, cut both ways.
75See Bynum, Jesus as Mother, pp. 127-28, and idem, "Women's Stories, Women's
Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner's Theory ofLiminality," in Anthropology and the
Study ojReligion, ed. F. Reynolds and R. Moore (Chicago, 1984). pp. 105-24.
76Bynum,Jesus as Mother, pp. 1 IO-69; Vauchez, La saintete, p. 446 n. 5Il;John Ger-
son, Collectorium super Magnificat, treatise 9, in Oeuvres completes, ed. P. Glorieux, VIII:
L'oeuvre spirituelle et pastorale (Paris, 1971), pp. 397-98.
436
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY
"female" loose entirely from the social or physiological dichotomies
they usually represented, speaking of mothers as administering harsh
discipline or of a father God with souls in his womb.
77
This mixing of the genders was even more apparent in the scien-
tific tradition, where in one sense it was not even clear that there were
two sexes. Medieval natural philosophy held-as Tom Laqueur has
pointed out-that men and women are really a superior and inferior
version of the same physiology. Woman's reproductive system was
just man's turned inside out.
78
Ancient biology, especially in its Aristotelian form, made the male
body paradigmatic. The male was the form or quiddity of what we
are as humans; what was particularly womanly was the unformed-
ness, the stuff-ness or physicality, of our humanness. Such a notion
identified woman with breaches in boundaries, with lack of shape or
definition, with openings and exudings and spillings forth. 79 But this
\
conception also, we should note, put men and women on a contin-
uum. All human beings were form and matter. Women were merely
less of what men were more. We can see this assumption at work in
medieval discussions of specific physiological processes. For exam-
ple, all human exudings-menstruation, sweating, lactation, emis-
sion of semen, etc.-were seen as bleedings; and all bleedings-
lactation, menstruation, nosebleeds, hemorrhoidal bleeding,
etc.-were taken to be analogous. Indeed, in the case of bleeding the
physiological process, which was understood to be common to male
and female bodies, functioned better (or at least more regularly) in
women. Medieval writers, for example, urged men to apply leeches
to their ankles when they failed to "menstruate"-i.e., to purge their
bodies by periodic bleeding.
Thus to a medical writer, men's and women's bodies often did the
77Bynum, " ' ... And Woman His Humanity.' "I have considered some of the im-
plications of this observation in "The Complexity of Symbols," in Bynum, Harrell
and Richman, Gender and Religion.
7HLaqueur, Female Orgasm and Body Politic. On the commensurability of bodily
fluids, see also Michael Goodich, "Bartholomaeus Angelicus on Child-rearing," His-
tory of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psycho history, 3 (197S), pp. 7S-84, esp. 80;
Mary M. McLaughlin, "Survivors and Surrogates: Children and Parents from the
Nimh to the Thirteenth Centuries, "in The History of Childhood, ed. L. DeMause (New
York, 1974), pp. 101-181, esp. IIS-18; and Wood, "Doctors' Dilemma," p. 719.
7YSuch a conception encouraged the exuding miracles (e.g., oil-exuding, miracu-
lous lactation, cures with saliva, ecstatic nosebleeds) that characterized female saints.
On such miracles, see Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh," nn. 14, IS, 81, 82, 83 and 8S.
..
A RE'PLY TO LEO STEINBERG 437
same things. A medieval theologian, whose assumptions about body
were formed at least partly by this medical tradition, might therefore
see the l:>lood Christ shed in the circumcision and on the cross as anal-
ogous to menstrual blood or to breast milk-an analogy that seems
to us, with our modern theories of glands and hormones, very far-
fetched indeed. Such medieval ideas made it easy fo'! writers and art- A,
ists to fuse or interchange the genders and therefore to use both gen- \.
ders symbolically to talk about self and God. As mystics and
theologians in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in-
creasingly emphasized the human body of Christ, that body could be
seen both as the paradigmatic male body of Aristotelian physiologi-
cal theory and as the womanly, nurturing flesh that Christ's holy
mother received immaculately from her female forebearer.
,
* * *
The analysis above suggests that there is little textual support for
Steinberg's argument that the artistic focus of Renaissance painters
on Christ's penis was a theological statement about sexuality. There
is, however, much textual and iconographical support for the argu-
ment that the flesh of Christ was seen by fifteenth-century people as
both male and female. Thus Steinberg is not wrong to argue that art- .
ists gave a new prominence to the body of Christ. He has merely
failed to explain the range of that bodiliness in its full complexity. To
writers, painters and sculptors of the frrteenth and fifteenth centu-
ries not only the penis but also the eye,} and breasts, even the toes, of
Christ engendered extravagant ejfbtional response.
80
Devotion
BOOne thinks of the . .on associating Mary Magdalen and Francis
of Assisi with the toes of Christ: see) Ziegler. "The Virgin or Mary Magdalen?
Artistic Choices and Changing Spiritual Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages," paper
presented at the Holy Cross Symposium "The Word Becomes Flesh," November 9,
1985, and Roberta). Schneider, "The Development ofIconographic Manifestations of
St. Francis of Assisi as the Alter Christus in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian
Painting," M. A. Thesis, University of Washington, 1985, plates 8-20. For examples
of the Magdalen kissing or hovering over Christ's feet at the crucifixion or deposition,
see Hiller and Vey, Katalog . .. Wallra}Richartz Museum, plates 86 and 124. For exam-
ples of Francis curled around the feet of Christ, see Vincent Moleta, From St. Francis to
Giotto: The Influence of St. Francis on Early Italian Art and Literature (Chicago, 1983), p.
26, and Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists
and Their Works: Central Italian and Northern Italian Schools, II (London, 1968), platt
448. Margery Kempe was especially devoted to the toes of Christ: see The Book
, •• n
438
RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y
poured out to Christ our brother, Christ our mother, Christ our
bridegroom, and Christ our friend.
Nonetheless my examination oflate medieval concepts of Christ
agrees in certain ways with Steinberg's emphasis. I am arguing here
with rather than against Steinberg that things are seldom what they
seem, at least if the seeming is based on unexamined modem atti-
tudes. Medieval symbols were far more complex-polysemic as an-
thropologists say-than modem people are aware. They were, as
Steinberg tells us, rooted in theology and piety. Moreover, we can
unquestionably learn from their complexity, as Steinberg has also
suggested. Rather than mapping back onto medieval paintings mod-
em dichotomies, we might find in medieval art and literature some
suggestion of a symbolic richness our own lives and rituals seem to
lack.
As my discussion above demonstrates, medieval artists and devo-
tional writers did not either equate body with sexuality or reject
body as evil. 81 There was a misogynist clerical tradition, to be sure. 82
But medieval piety did not dismiss flesh-even female flesh-as pol-
luting. Rather it saw flesh as fertile and vulnerable; and it saw
enfleshing-the enfleshing of God and of us all-as the occasion for
salvation.
We should therefore be wary of any modem appeals to medieval
traditions that oppose male to female or equate flesh with sexuality.
We should also understand that there is little basis in medieval art or
devotion for treating body as entrapment rather than opportunity,
suffering as evil to be eschewed rather than promise to be redeemed.
My argument then is not titillating antiquarianism. It is rather a chal-
lenge to us to think more deeply about what our basic symbols
Margery Kempe: The Text jom the Unique Manuscript Owned by Colonel W. Butler-
Bowdon, cd. Sanford B. Meech and Hope Emily Allen, Early English Text Society, 212
(London, 1940). For a reading of Steinberg (very different from mine) that nonetheless
draws attention generally to Christ's bodiliness, see Jane Gallop, "Psychoanalytic Crit-
icism: Some Intimate Questions," in Art in America (November, 1984), p. 15.
HISee Bynum, "Women Mystics," and Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls, pp. 89- 121, esp.
p.
10
4, for discussion oflate medieval notions of using body to approach God. Such an
emphasis on body as a means of becoming like Christ is very different from a dualistic
rejection of body as the enemy of spirit. To say this is not, however, to deny that medi-
eval thinkers also stressed the disciplining offlesh, especially female flesh. See Kieckhe-
fer, I illquiet Souls, pp. 118-20, and Weinstein and Bell, Saints and Society, pp. 233- 38.
, _c Diane Bornstein, "Antifeminism," Dictionary of the Middle Ages, I (New
Yark, 1982), 3U-25, and n. 46 above.
A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 439
mean. There may be warrant in the Christian tradition for equating
the penis with maleness and maleness with humanity, but I would
argue that medieval theology at least as explicitly equates the breast
with femaleness and femaleness both with the humanity of Christ
and with the humanity of us all. There may be warrant in the Chris-
tian tradition for seeing the resurrection as triumph over body, but I
would suggest, that medieval piety (at least in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries) speaks far more urgently of life coming from
death, of significance located in body, of pain and suffering as the
opportunity-even the cause--of salvation. 83 A better understanding·
of the medieval past might thus enable modem people to give to age-
old symbols new meanings that would be in fact medieval. If we
want to express the significance ofJesus in both male and female im-
ages, if we want to tum from seeing body as sexual to seeing body as
generative, if ~ e want to find symbols that give dignity and meaning
to the suffering we cannot eliminate and yet fear so acutely, we can
find support for doing so in the art and theology of the later Middle
Ages. ..
UNIVERSITY Q.F WASHINGTON
H3The fact that late medieval theology stressed crucifixion more than resurrection is
well known. See Jacques Hourlier and Andre Rayez, "Humanite du Christ," Diction-
naire de spiritualite, ascetique et mystique, doctrine et histoire (Paris, 1969), VII pt. I, cols.
1053-96; Richard W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven, 1959), pp.
231-40; and Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls, pp. 89- I 13, esp. p. 96. See also n. 81 above.
Jv ;5 ...\.<'0
,'.-\. 'vn,###BOT_TEXT###quot;-..
V\t. '" PI-

400

RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY

A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG

401

how such artists depict family and child. I want to begin this essay withjust such ajolt: the impish painting made in 1926 by the surrealist painter Max Ernst, which shows the artist himself and two contemporary surrealist poets looking through the window at an unusual scene [plate I]. This picture of Mary spanking Jesus is, of course, "antitheology." IfJesus needs spanking or if Mary spanks unjustly, something is badly wrong between the supposedly sinless mother and her supposedly sinless son. The picture brings home to us a profound truth. Not every aspect offamily life is depicted in artistic renderings of the Holy Family. There are all sorts of homely scenes within which Jesus is not located, all sorts of childish actions that are not at\ tributed to the baby God. Immediately we realize that there are complex reasons for what is depicted concerning the Holy Family. It is not enough to say, as historians have sometimes said, that scenes of . the Holy Family were merely opportunities for artists who wanted ! to draw domestic interiors, to depict bodies naturalistically, or to render in paint the affection of parents and children. 2 Pictures of the Holy Family are themselves theological statements. For example, the very large number of statues and paintings in medieval and Renaissance Europe that depict the so-called Anna Selbdritt-that is, Mary's mother Anne, Mary, and Mary's baby Jesus-are not merely paintings or statues of grandmothers [see plate 2]. It is true that such representations, which are particularly common in northern Europe, present a kind offemale genealogy for Christ that perhaps reflects the importance of women in late medieval conceptions of family despite the development of primogeniture. 3 But the pictures also reflect the emergence in the late Middle Ages of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception-the claim that Mary was born of her mother Anne without the taint of original sin.4 The sinless baby in the lap of his

I

I

"Although art historians have long cautioned against doing so, historians and social scientists have tended to read art (often quite creatively) as evidence for social history. Sec, for example, Philippe Aries, Cetlluries ~fChildhood: A Social History ,,-fFamily Lit;', tr. Robert Baldick (New York, 1962); Jack Goody, The Development ,,-fthe Family alld Marria,,!e in Europe (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 153- 56; David Herlihy, Medieval HOIL'/'holds (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), p. 12. 'See Gertrud Schiller, Ikono,l!raphie der christlichen Kunst, vol. IV.2: Maria (Glitersloh, (980), platcS751- 56 and pp. 157-60. 4Mirella Levi d' Ancona, The /cono,l!raphy ,,-f the Immaculate Conception in thl' Aliddle Ages and J:'arly Renaissance, Monographs on Archaeology and Fine Arts, 7 (New York. (1)57).

[. Max Ernst, The Vir.'<in Chastisin.'< the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter, 1926. Private Collection.

Steinberg has shocked conventional sensibilities by showing that late medieval and Renaissance artists made the penis of the infant or the adult Christ the focal point of their depictions. The New York Times Book Review (April 29. Lane. pp. Sixteenth . and David Rosand. 23.14. both in literature and in iconography. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion (New York: Pantheon. as lactating and giving birth. This point is the one that Leo Steinberg has recently made in his tour de force. the reviews of Steinberg by Richard Wolheim.ee Barbara G. The realization that not all possible human actions or settings are \ attributed to Christ in paint or sculpture thus leads us to realize that \ there is theological significance to what is depicted. 1346. I share both the reservations and the admiration felt by his critics.. David Summers. 1984).402 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 403 '-'0' sinless mother who herself sits in the lap or on the arm of her own female forebearer emphasizes the purity and the physicality of the flesh Christ takes from Mary and the flesh Mary takes from her own mother. I wish to point out another set of paintings and to draw a very different conclusion. I wish to call attention to artistic depictions that suggest another sex for Christ's body-depictions that suggest that Christ's flesh was 1 sometimes seen as female. Times Literary Supplement (Nov. And when we look. 190 (June 1 I. 50 n this point generally. for example. Museum of the Catherine Convent. The New Republic. Alma Selbdri!t. :. . pp. 25-27. 22.{Books. Century. The New York Review o. Bringing together a number of pictures never before considered as a group. 8 (Nov. whereas Steinberg must extrapolate from medieval and Renaissance texts in order to conclude that theologians emphasized Christ's penis as sexual and his sexuality as a symbol of his humanity. 31. tribute to the debate about his book as to use it as the starting point for further exploration of late medieval notions of the body of Christ. 1984). Andre Chaste!. 6 And. 13 . The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting (New York. 1984). 1983). "See. But I do not intend here so much to con. 1984). we find that more has in fact been painted-and for more complex reasons-than we have noticed before. 1984). Utrecht. as will become clear.29-33· 2. I also wish to \ argue that. 5 It also leads us ' simply to look more carefully. Sharing with Steinberg the conviction that medieval art has theological content. p. Steinberg's book has been much criticized and much admired. we do not have to extrapolate at all in order to conclude that theologians saw the wound in Christ's side as a breast and emphasized his bleeding-lactating flesh as a symbol of the "humanation" of God. pp.

245-46. O'Malley. Steinberg has been much influenced by John W. Anne. pp.42. even to the involuntary movements of his penis. and Peter Dinzelbacher. te IIIS inbcrg. offers not to him but to the viewer. are there medieval or Renaissance texts that suggest this association? Did theologians of the period themselves talk of the penis as a sign of sexual activity or as a sign of maleness and associate it. In picture after picture. however. without perhaps realizing their full significance. now in the Wallraf-Richartz museum. or doubts about what certain painted folds of drapery really conceal. lIOn devotion to the holy foreskin. pp. 1977 (London: The National Gallery. and other saints uncovering. pp. 19 8 3]). 185). Bernard by the Master of the Life of the Virgin. Februar 184 in Weingarten (Ostfildern. 13. as the ultimate symbol of what Christ shares with all of us. tl RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 405 Theologians did not discuss Christ as a sexual male. pp. the baby reaches for the breast. 25 [Summer. 11 Arguing that theologians from Augustine to the Renaissance increasingly stressed what they called the "hu7t. And see below n. pp.49. Christ was fully male in gender and sexuality. (. 14 8). October. see Robert Fawtier and Louis Canet. 16. La Double experiellCf de Catherine Benincasa (sainte Catherine de Sienne) (Paris.80. 13 * * * "/hid. Doctrine and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court. It is impossible to prove that medieval people did not assume what we assume when we look at pic121n his interpretation of Renaissance preaching. 58-61 and 160-62. for example. his fleshly-humanity. I3See. 6 above. _ 25. Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric. 19 3) (first published as a special issue. pictures in which the artist calls attention both to Christ's penis and to his mother's breast9 and pictures in which the blood flows from Christ's Own breast into his crotch. manation" of God in Christ. particularly the extraordinary devotion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the holy foreskin and to the feast of the circumcision. 21 5. 61 -65) all emphasize pain and . he redeems our sexual nature (if not our sexual acts) as well.12 Thus Steinberg suggests that artists intended the genitals of Christ. He also interprets these pictures in a new way. Christ redeems not only our physiological differences as men and women. The l{enaissance sermons Steinberg quotes (Sexuality. such as the question of how much of the artistic attention to genitals is simply naturalism. And see n. "Die 'Vita et revelationes' der Wiener Begine Agnes BJannbe1 kin (+ 13 5) im Rahmen der Viten. which Mary. placing them in the Context of Renaissance theology. or even fondling the baby's penis. especially in those few pictures that he interprets as erections.404 ~. "Steinberg. however.from Col A Loan Exhibition. 12 I will leave aside here some of the legitimate questions critics have raised about Steinberg. plate 14. 692-4. we find Mary. )84). * * * Steinberg has clearly demonstrated that late medieval and Renaissance artists called attention to the genitals of the baby Jesus. 7 Although Steinberg's reading of a number of pictures of the adult Christ in which he sees an actual erection under the loincloth is questionable. Bauer. is a painting of the vision of St.53. I must consider Steinberg's own argument a little more carefully. to put it another way. First.co Stein berg. A particularly faSCinating example of this motif.. David Toolan. pp. 179).47. Commonweal (Dec. Peter Dinzelbacher and Dieter G. April5-june I. pointing to. for a reproduction. First.John. Rather I wish to discuss two points that are relevant to my own topic.. 10 Steinberg's brilliance and courage do not stop with discovery. . 1450-1521 (Durham. Sexuality. In this picture. Bernard points to the baby's genitals. . and as such he represents the salvation of the totality of what we as human beings are.leeding. in Fraul'llmystik illl Mittelalter. which the baby hinlsclf covers. he has been able to show that Christ's Own hands (or even Mary's) cover or point to the genitals in a number of deposition scenes or pietas. It is a noble and consequential reading of medieval art and theology and one which several recent commentators have seen as true to essential Christian doctrine. 14. is Steinberg right-matters of taste aside-to call his book "the sexuality" rather than "the genitals" of Christ? Second. review of Steinberg. " and that Renaissance sermons often emphasized the bleeding of Christ's penis at the circumcision as a special proof of his true-that is. are we entitled to associate genitality with sexuality in fifteenth. 98-108. admiring. as such. especially tigures 4. not sexuality. pp. The 'Sexuality ojChrist in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion (New 8 York. Wissenschaftliche Studientagung der Akademie der Diiizcse Rottenburg-Stuttgart 22. Sexuality. they did discuss Jesus as mother. I SZ. not discussed hy Stein berg. 20.und Offenbarungsliteratur ihrer Zeit. H He has also shown us. 7-30. with the humanity of Christ? The first is the harder question. ed. see Late Gothic Art oglle . Steinberg shows that "humanation" meant "enfleshing.and sixteenthcentury art? Did medieval people immediately think of erections and sexual activity when they saw penises (as modern people apparently do)? Or. 177).

1. she associated that piece of bleeding flesh with the eucharistic host and saw herself appropriating the pain of Christ. Kataloj! der Deutschen Imd Niederliindischen Gemiilde his 1550 . III. pp. 851. cd. I 863fI:). x. C. ""din. sec Elizabeth Petroff. Kataloge des Wallraf-Richartz Museum. described herself as embracing Christ. .:~~ 17See John H. For another example of this motif. To medieval theologians. 1969). Christianity. Van Engen. The 18 accOunt ofMargarct's kiss is in Life of Ben even uta ofBojano. And We clearly see breasts and penises as erotic. XIII. October. and felt Christ's tongue in his mouth.. Moreover. v. Dozens of late medieval pictures of the lactating Virgin place her in a grape arbor or associate her feeding breasts with other forms of offering food. between people and animals-and all had some kind of taint attached. letter 143. iii. plate 154..53. they sometimes saw a breast (or a womb) when they saw Christ's side.. " ('9"'). PP' 50. Caterina da Siena. liLife ofLukardis ofObcrweimar in Analeaa Bollandiana. IS When Hadewijch. 18 It is we who suspect sexual yearnings in a medieval virgin who found sex the le. IHCatherine ofSicna. COllsolation o.. IV. 17 When Catherine of Siena received the foreskin of Christ from him in a vision and put it on as a wedding ring. 50. But did medieval viewers? For several reasons. the Flemish poet. Rupert oJDeutz (Berkeley. par: 82. V. Double experience. 146. Twentieth-century readers and viewers tend to eroticize the body and to define themselves by the nature of their sexuality. there were different kinds of sexual acts-between people of different sexes. letter 50. Margaret experiences an erotic kiss from Christ in Life of Margarct.fthe Blessed (New York. 16 We ~ modern readers think of sexual arousal or orgasm.236. in Acta Sall({Onml/hereafter AASS). August. in Hadeu'y'c!I: Tile Complete Works. esp. 1913-22).406 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 407 tures. and devotional writers.337-38. 2S1-82. as I shall demonstrate below. 19 ).211-22. 18 ( 99). and all Christ's bleedings were assimilated. trans. 1 the cruciflx. for example. 14 Nor did medieval people understand as erotic or sexual a number of bodily sensations which we interpret that way. Rupert ofDeutz. A . Fawticr and Canet. 19E.'' W'M'.20 Since medieval physiological theory saw all body fluids as reducible to blood and saw bleeding basically as purging. trans. 337-38. Thin". Despite recent writing about "gay people" in the Middle Ages. When. 337. Turner (New York. bleeding flesh with which it was associated in painting and in text.h C"''"'y. it is questionable whether anyone had such a concept. I think we should be cautious about assuming that they did. EllropejiWIl the Bej!inllill. lawyers. But there was no clear notion of being one or the other kind of sexual being. as we do when we read the account of a twelfthcentury monk. Le lettere de S. II. 245-46. pp. 49. par: 15 (20). 3rd ed. "Gerard David's Rest on the FlIitht into Egypt: Further Additions to Grape Symbolism. 12. 16-25. 66-78. "Women Mystics ""I 17'J-Imi"" J)"o<ioo -92.78. 1981). see Albert Chatelet. for instance. 19 There is also reason to think that medieval people saw Christ's penis not primarily as a sexual organ but as the object of circumcision and therefore as the wounded. ridotte a miglior lezione e in ordille nuovo disposte con note di Niccoli) Tommaseo a cura di Piero Misciattelli. she thought of-she experienced-the love of God. feeling him penetrate deep within her and losing herself in an ecstasy from which she slowly and reluctantly returned. Vision 7. between people of the same sex. AASS. But they probably did not associate either penis or breast p. letter 261. 21 4. pp. 1 2 See below nn. see also Caroline Walker Bynum. Early Dutch Painting: Painting in the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century. On women's erotic relationship with Christ. Social Tolerance and Homosexuah'ty: Gay People in Westml I'JXo). pp." Simialus: Netherlands Quarterly Jor the History oj Art. Twentieth_ century readers think immediately of lesbianism. 172. seem to have defined themselves by sexual orientation. im WallrafRichartz Museum und im Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Kaln. But let me at least suggest that we would do well to be cautious about projecting OUr wa ys of seeing onto the artists or the viewers of the past. they did not blush to describe this as receiving God's grace or even as receiving the eucharist. 6 vols. Columba Hart So (New York. James Mundy.4 (198182).! o[the Christian Era to the FOllrtl'Cnth Cerztury (Chicago. Brown and A.. It is usually given to Jean Malouel. ISO. 2°There is considerable dispute about the attribution of this piera. For a discussion. the medieval nuns Lukardis of Oberweimar and Margaret of Faenza breathed deeply into their sisters' mouths and felt sweet delight flooding their members. 19 io d" pp. letter 221. (Paris. 5 (Cologne. the Bollandists. chap. 21 I am not here denying that medieval people saw a penis when they saw Christ's penis. bleeding was an obvious symbol for cleansing or expiation.ast of the world's temptations. embraced 14See John Boswell.. 1979). I(Hadcwijch. who climbed on the altar. There is reason to think that medieval viewers saw bared breasts (at least in painting and sculpture) not primarily as sexual but as the food with which they were iconographically associated. When artists painted the blood from Christ's pierced breast running sideways across his groin into his crotch (in defiance of the laws of gravity) they were assimilating the later bleeding of the cross to the earlier bleeding of the circumcized infant [plate 3]. see Irmgard Hiller and Horst Vey with Tilman Falk. 1983). Medieval people do not. " ----:r ~chap. (Siena. Pal me.

1952). in part because of its bodily pleasures. The Louvre. und beginnenden 15. Bibliotheque des etudes franc. opened his heart. . V. On male suspicion of female religiosity generally. p. sermons 31 and 33. ~ . the more it wants to bear it. 1910). . 110." Archivio italiano per la storia della pieta. "Europaische Frauenmystik des Mittelalters.. it may be that religious women were more likely than religious men to read as encounter with God bodily occurrences that we would attribute to sexual arousaps For physiological reasons. 1984). ed. 1982). 315." ibid. Then on the cross the lance . Franz W6hrer. Breslauer Studien zur historischen Theologie. pp. 341-46. o. Herbert Thurston. letter 87. "])ouceline et les autres.. 250n the prominence of bodily phenomena in women's spirituality. N. pp. McDonnell. the more he wants to drink. "II 'Miroir des simples ames' di Margherita Porete.aise d' Athenes et de Rome. La Sa in tete en Occident aux demiers siee/es du moyen age d'apres les proces de canonisation et les documents hagiographiques. 22Catherine. rpt. See also letter 329.. . astonishing as it may be to us. see Andre Vauchez. for only that blood is united to the divinity . 106-107· 3· Jean Maloucl. Frauenmystik.. II. There is no other means for man to be satisfied. the more it bears the cross. 230n Margaret Porete. 1938). see Peter Dinzdbacher." in La Religion populaire en Languedoc du XIIle siecle ala moitie dll XIVe siee/e. See also Claude Carozzi. pp. Pieta or Lamentation oJthe Holy Trinity.. A man can possess the whole world and not be satisfied (for the world is less than man) until blood satisfies him. II (Toulouse. and therefore. Ernest W. For example. see Romana Guarnieri. Eight days after his birth.Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality ofthe High Middle Ages (Berkeley.\ quently ac:fQJJlpanied love of God in the later Middle Ages and that .. and John Gerson were suspicious generally of affectivity. 24See Peter Browe. . ed.28. . ed. 90-92.408 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 409 And then the soul becomes like a drunken man. Christ spilled a little of it in the circumcision. The Holy Spirit tells us to have recourse to the blood . with salvation. pp. 1976). Ferdinand Vetter (Berlin. with sexual activity. 314-40. Le lettere. Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua (+ 203) to Marguerite Porete ( + 13 ra) (Cambridge. a woman's erotic (particularly auto-erotic) responses are different from a man's (and less obviously genital). "Zur dominikanischen Frauenmystik im spatmittelalterlichen Deutschland. but it was not enough to cover man. 310-II and 130. New York.11. And the pains are its refreshment and the tears which it has shed for the memory of the blood are its drink. 23 And male theologians warned repeatedly that women's mystical strivings and visions might be merely sensual "ticklings. the more he drinks. see Caroline Walker Bynum. netheless it seems clear both that bo~~e. Jahrhundert. 135-36. "Aspekte der englischen Frauenmystik im spatcn 14. On Eckhart.. 251-67. 11 . pp.." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. 4 (1965). Frauenmystik. see Otto Langer. The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (Chicago. Misciattelli.. Rather both their writing and their art suggest that they associated penis and side with pain and blood. On Gerson. And the sighs are its food. Mystical writers as diverse as Margaret Po rete."24 Moreover. Paris. about 1400. Eckhart. pp. Catherine of Siena wrote: Uesus 1made of his blood a drink and his flesh a food for all those who wish it. 5°1-635. pp. 439-48. and Peter Dronke. 202. He can appease his hunger and thirst only in this blood . The Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture with SpeCial Emphasis on the Belgian Scene (1954. NF 4 (Breslau. Cahiers de Fanjeaux. Die Eucharistischen Wunder des Mittelalters." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. 22 None of this is to suggest that medieval writers were completely unaware of what modern interpreters see as erotic . 241 (Rome. pp.23. 1981). See also Johann Tauler. 1969).. in Die Predigten '['aulers: aus der Engelberger und der Freiburger HandschriJt sowie aus Schmidts AbschriJten der fhemaligen Strassburger Handschnfien.elements in affective spirituality. pp...

. And sometimes . 199-202. p. for example. Christ the creator and Christ the creature. the theme of human at ion was present in a wide variety of saints' lives and devotional texts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. the soul receives greater delight in the lesser .. no text that treats circumcision either as the cutting off of Christ's sexual urges or as a sign that his penis was pure and not in need of disciplining. 2HS teinberg. in genitals or heart. Arthur Wills. And by "humanation" they often meant enfleshing..[200 (1972. forthcoming in Sixteel1th-CentlJYY joumal. whether they were sent by God or by the devil. in Christ. the human soul sees the soul of Christ. O'Neil. pp. 5: Proceedings ofthe Southern Institute ofMedieval and Renaissance Studies. when the human intellect discovers. under interrogation. Steinberg has been able to find no text that treats the cut and bleeding penis of the clrcumcized Christ as sexual. in words that have clearly been reworked by a scholastically educated redactor: [The soul in this present life knows] the lesser in the greater. 1978). The new book by Judith C. 1986). I would myself agree that many of the paintings Steinberg discusses arc direct evidence about the theological significance of body. It mistakenly places the behavior it considers in the context of sexual orientation. Although medieval and Renaissance theologians discuss the circumcision in dozens of different ways and repeatedly stress the enfleshing of God at the moment of the Incarnation. "28 But surely this refers not to eroticism but simply to tenderness for a baby who is about to be hurt. that is. mouth or 26 bowels. See. For the soul is more conformed and adapted to the lesser which it sees in Christ. But what contemporaries asked about the actions of Benedetta Carlini. II. i9S6).121. 27 * * * The above analysis leads naturally to my second..27-60. 1309) supposedly said.. . 29 For example.410 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 411 what bothered or delighted medieval people about such stirrings was not their exact physiological location. to the claim that she was possessed. 80 below. [969 (1971). might be speaking of their visions with the tongue of Satan. for example. this intellect feels delight and expands in him. Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu (Chicago.. sec Alan E. But I also hold that the pictures are about more bodily aspects than Steinberg notices. "Political Anatomy. The Discovery of the Individual: 1050. On the increasingly positive sense of body generally in medieval thought. See. sees and knows in this mystery Christ the man and Christ-God. rpt. n. 29There is a large amount of recent literature on this topic. Bernstein. "Feigned sanctity" was an important category in seventeenth-century inquisitorial trials." not merely an illustration of a theological tenet. was not whether they had an erotic component directed toward a woman but whether Benedetta Carlini suffered from demonic possession or practiced fraud. 1973). "Women Mystics. 1984). Are there medieval and Renaissance texts that see Christ's penis as a special sign of "humanation" because the penis is a male or a sexual organ? The answer appears to be that there are not. is therefore profoundly misleading. because the soul is a creature whose life is in flesh and all of whose members are body. It is true that medieval and Renaissance texts increasingly and movingly emphasized the humanation of God as the salvation of us all. . Growing out of a twelfth-century concern for imitating the human Christ. the only text Steinberg has found that suggests an association of the penis with the erotic or the sexual is one Renaissance sermon in which the word used for holding the penis before circumcizing it might be translated as "fondle. the un created God. To raise the issue of texts is not to take issue with Steinberg's position that the art object itself is a "primary text. 472: "To reproach ~ystics with loving God by means of the faculty of sexual love is as though one were to reproach a painter with making pictures by means of colors composed of material substances. When John Gerson wrote his famous treatise on the testing of spirits." University Publishing (Winter. What worried medieval theorists was whether the sensations were inspired or demonic-that is. The Notebooks of Simone Weil. .. Colin Morris. the incarnate God. New York. 23 above. less difficult point: the question of texts. even monks and laymen. " 27See n. and in that Christ it discovers souls with flesh and blood and with all the members of his most sacred body. "Twelfth-Century Spirituality and the Late Middle Ages. for it discovers uncreated God and "humanated" God. (London. And this is why. 89. Sexuality. what he feared was not that lesbianism or eroticism was veiled in the cloister but that nuns and laywomen. because it sees God "humanated" and God uncreated conformed and made like itself-because. We haven't any\ thmg else with which to love . united and conjoined in one person ." Medieval and Renaissance Studies." pp. pp. Giles Constable. But the emphasis on humanation appeared earlier in European spirituality than Steinberg notes and was associated with the full range of Christ's bodily members. his 2hFor a comment on the modern tendency to reduce all bodily phenomena (even mystical) to the sexual. that is divinity and humanity. Summer. see Simone Weil. 2 vols. and the greater in the lesser.. Angela of Foligno (d. Brown. Richard Kieckhefer. and Benedetta herself retreated. In fact. Thus it discovers both God "humanated" and God uncreated. a seventeenthcentury Theatine abbess. Bynum. ordainer of the mystery. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Retlaissance Italy (New York. than it is to that which it sees in Christ. See the review of Brown by Mary R. trans. 8-9. 65.

4. and empty of true experiential content. For example. It is not even sexuality.it should not forget also to turn to the higher. My point is simply that the argument as such is not made in medieval or Renaissance texts. received a vision in which she flowered like a tree in spring when watered by Christ. 141 -42. 1-2. Thus blood is redemptive because Christ's pain gives salvific significance to what we all share with him. N. breasts.33 The major context in which Christ's maleness was theologically relevant was the circumcision. see. 34 341n a now classic study.. 1956). M. 1310). Francis Rapp. Summa theologiae. 92.e. exegetes and devotional writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. . need for such theological argument. 93.]. Moreover. that artists emphasized Christ's penis as a sign of his sexuality and therefore of his humanity." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. Ifwe as modern people find Steinberg's argument more titillating and Steinberg's illustrations more fascinating than those I will consider now. There is thus better evidence for the asse"i-tion that the late Middle Ages found gender reversal at the heart of Christian art and Christian worship than there is for the thesis that Renaissance artists emphasized the sexuality ofJesus. and trans. Blackfriars." in Dinzelbacher and Bauer. It is the fact that we can be hurt. some truth to the argument. ed. }3S ee Corpus Iuris Canonici. chaps. cols. The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms ofLife. 31Marguerite of Oingt. for example. ed. There is no critical edition of Angela's works and the extant texts differ widely from each other. mechanical. 2. Frauenmystik. But theologians did not usually emphasize Christ's humanity as physiologically male. 1964). E. pt. Thought and Art in France and the Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries.. there is both iconographic and textual evidence for the argument that late medieval people sometimes saw the body of Christ as female. Durdilly (Paris. We suffer. pp.. rpt. Baudry (Paris. of course. and q. 1965). 2 vols. the divine . I.-]. Steinberg may be right that one could extrapolate from medieval art and medieval texts to the notion that Christ's coming in male flesh is a sign of sexuality and therefore of humanness. Pierre Gardette. theological attention was focused on the body of Christ. Those who preached and wrote in the fifteenth century associated humanness with the fleshliness of all bodily members and found in suffering \ (rather than in sexual temptation) the core of what it is to be human. 24-47. 34-41. ~ It is clear that the body of Christ was depicted as male in late medieval art. But it is more accurate to describe late medieval piety as deeply experiential. Hopman (19 24. ed. and trans. pace Huizinga. Jesus as Mother. who swooned with love over Christ's bleeding side. The closest they came to such an emphasis was the well-known argument that limited priestly status to men because Christ was male physiologically. 147. blood is what is emphasized-blood as covenant. 42 (1978). 1927). But sermons on the circumcision did '''Angela ofFoligno. 12-17. the obscure French nun Marguerite ofOingt (d. pp. and what we share is not a penis. I. and Elisabeth Gossman. . trans. also 139.. 91 -94. and her verdant branches were labeled with the names of the five senses. pp. Les oeuvres de Marguerite d'Oingt. Rezette. "Zur Spiritualitat in e1sassischen Frauenklostern am Ende des Mittelalters. ' in part. "Le sacerdoce et la femme chez saint Bonaventun:. 51 (1976). But while it looks . par. 1879-81). etc. There is. Holy Feast and Holy Fast.. see my forthcoming book. Ferre and L. Indeed Hildegard of Bingen suggested that women held a different (and complementary) role as brides of Christ (i. It is far from clear. There may even be a profound modern . the father's rule in the family) as to the male's supposed physical superiority.84. pp. 520-27. q.-were seen as testimony to his humanation. however. art.. and his body. ed. not discuss Christ's sexuality or his gender. 382. F. q. Thomas Aquinas. but primarily blood as suffering. p. and P. See Bynum. the great Dutch historian argued that symbolism in the later Middle Ages became florid.. 58-61. 30 In Angela's piety as in that of many other fourteenth-century saints. causa 33. In the scores of texts we { have on this topic. lips. 5. "Das Menschenbild der Hildegard von Bingen und Elisabeth von Schonau vor dem Hintergrund der friihscholastischen Anthropologie. pp.. . suffering. . "The Medieval Question of Women and Orders.." Antonianum. 32 But even such argument frequently referred as much to the social preeminence of males (i. It may also suggest that. 347. 31 It is hard to imagine a more graphic illustration of the medieval conviction that those who love Christ should respond to all of his body with all of theirs. and the devout soul responded to this enfleshing with all its bodily capabilities.e. this may merely suggest that there is a modern tendency to find sex more interesting than feeding. By the fifteenth century. mystics). XJII (New York.582-99. 1254-55. Garden City. }2See Francine Card man. twentieth-century readers and viewers are far more literal-minded in interpreting symbols than were the artists. seeJohan Huizinga. Frauenmystik. Friedberg. or salvation.6 5. arts.412 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 413 eyes. all Christ's members-eyes." The Thomist. Antonin Duraffour. What the texts say is that the circumcision foreshadows the crucifixion. 167. pp. Le Livre de l'experience des vrais jideles: texte latine publie d'apres Ie manuscrit d'Assise. Y. his flesh. (Leipzig: Tauchnitz. It is worth pointing out that neither male nor female theologians argued against the denial of priesthood to women.

Sources chrctiennes. Cod. Mass. serie des textes monastiques d'Occident. and church's leaders. 3HWiliiam of St. 5 -6. . ·l('Bernard ofClairvaux. 1-2 ("For your breasts are better than wine. chap. 8 (Paris.35 To depict church as a woman who is Christ's bride or as the mother of all Christians is not. from Honori~s Augustodunensis's Commentary on the Song of Songs.l?raphie. J. viii. it is your breasts..50. Thierry. par.. 38 .. 4.. 122. 260. Spons!ls and Sponsa with Lost Humanity. Talbot and H. The connection was clearly the notion that teachers and authorities should be nurturing. Rochais. fol. Cistercian Fathers Series. and that the bride-church nurses from Christ who is also therefore a mother. Ikono. Thierry. and sermon 41. 228-240. William of St. Bernard of Clairvaux commented on Song of Songs i. therefore church. Dcchanet. might find in you a form not unfamiliar to themselves.140. 3 (Spencer. Migne [hereafter PL I.414 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 415 * * * Medieval texts and medieval art saw the church as the body of Christ. see also sermon 23. !: On Contemplatin. H. 0 eternal Wisdom. Expose sur Ie Cantique des Cantiques. (97 1). 37 It was not the least of the chief reasons for your Incarnation that your babes in the church who still needed your milk rather than solid food . lat. Patrolo.. 82. Vol. cd. par. But medieval texts went further. and church's head himself were mothers. Leclercq. I (Rome. Thierry. 180.49. For example. trans.. Staatsbibl. to make Christ's physical body female. Ecclesia was identified in texts as Christ's body. par. 3.l? God. 139.l?ia latina. and such identification led in a number of passages to discussions of Jesus as mother. smelling sweet of the best ointments") in a way that makes clear not only the medieval tendency to associate breasts with food (rather than sex) but also the medieval tendency to assimilate church as Christ's spouse with church as Christ's body. 1957).. on the Song of Songs.-P. I: Die Kirche. J. in SanCfi Bemardi opera. chap. and sermon 10. sometimes as a nursing mother [plates 4 and 5]. 17William of St. par. atl!.45-46. IV. The Works of William of St. 1962). 5-6. C. as a noun and as an allegorical personification. Meditativae Orationes. addressing Christ: . and that this motherly body is all of us.24. sermon 9. 38 \ I \ I \ 35Schiller. J. Thierry wrote. 2.152-53.. of course. of course. vol. 236A. that nourish the holy infancy of your little ones . not merely his spouse. 36 Following Bernard. 213. at!. Bayr. 455 0 . M. cd. pp. cd.32. Thus church was depicted in medieval art as a woman-sometimes as Christ's bride. 31. Sister Penelope. Munich. And ecclesia was. plates 21 I. Twelfth Century. M. col. feminine. IV. Bernard said explicitly that Christ's bride is the church who nurses us.

Salzburg Studies in English Literature: Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies. For in the same time that God joined himself to our body in the maiden's womb. 8 (1985). ed. Therefore Christ's activity is like church's activity and mother's activity. 13 (1978). Misciattelli.4 (1976). as several scholars have recently pointed out. pp. see The Monk of Fame: The Meditations of a FourteenthCentury Monk. Kari Elizabeth B0rresen. and by means of the flesh it draws milk. and we cannot without pain get that milk that comes from charity. 64. having enclosed us 39Catherine. . and as accessible to humans of both sexes exactly in its femaleness. The Cathedral. . after 1416). II.25. But in the Showings of the greatest female theologian Julian of Norwich (d." Studia mystica. "Christ notre mere. by a Benedictine of Stan brook. 320-29. better said in female than in male images. Brant Pelphrey. and Valerie Lagorio. We must do as a little child does who wants milk. which is the source of charity. "The Motherhood of God in Julian of Norwich's Theology. pp. Barker." Mitteilungen und Forschungsbeitriige der Cusanus-GesellschaJt. 1961). We must attach ourselves to the breast of Christ crucified. D. Julian holds. letter 86. But Christ is mother most of all.290-304. the fourteenth-century theologian." Downside Review. ed. stressed the humanation of Christ. la theologie de Julienne de Norwich. 100 (1982). 2. Paula S. 4URitamary Bradley. 15-37. . It takes the breast of its mother. 39 One might argue. 110-69.4 (Salzburg.416 REN AISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 417 In this twelfth-century text. 40 It expresses a theological truth which is. which is sensual. 8 I . . Other examples of the Jesus-asmother motif may be found in Bynum. Detail from a pulpit. 92.82. Hugh Farmer and trans. 5· Giovanni Pisano (d. "Variations on the Theme of God's Motherhood in Medieval English Mystical and Devotional Writings. that such texts are merely elaborate similes-statements that saving is like mothering or that instructing is like nurturing. and nothing more is meant. mystic and ecclesiastical activist Catherine of Siena assimilated Christ and Charity (a female personification).30. he took our soul. For a similar use of the metaphor by a male writer. "The Motherhood Theme in Julian of Norwich. and associated that humanation with motherhood: We cannot nourish others unless we nourish ourselves at the breasts of divine charity . 1982). Jesus as Mother. and by means of that flesh we draw milk. Pisa. and in taking it. the use of the Jesus-as-mother motif is clearly more than simile. applies its mouth. We must do the same if we would be nourished. Similarly. as subsuming church. Ecclesia lactans standing over the Cardinal Virtues. of course. Le lettere." FourteenthCentury English Mystics Newsletter. The means is Christ's humanity which suffered pain. Love Was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism ofjulian of Norwich . Julian comments explicitly that holy church is our mother because she cares for and nurtures us and that Mary the Virgin is even more our mother because she bears Christ. The Benedictine Studies (Baltimore. Christ's body is treated as female. 1314). 73-74.

43 The same theme is clearly suggested in miniatures that show church emerging from the side of Christ [plate 6].{Norwich. 1978). for Christ. in A Book of Showings to the AIl(horessJu/ian o. 292. 2 parts (Toronto. in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come. pt. it also means creating and saving. pp. 42See Caroline Walker Bynum. revelation 14. and our Savior is our true mother. is perfect man. he united it to our substance. In this union he was perfect man. Stevan Harrell and Paula Richman.418 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 419 all in himself. And truly it is no surprise that your veins burst when in one day you gave birth to the whole world. Ah! sweet LordJesus. 77-79. . Bodleian Library. 44S chillcr. 4JMarguerite. 1986).• Gender and Religion: On the Complexity ofSymbois (Boston. see intra. such as the following meditation by Marguerite of Oingt: My sweet Lord . from a French Moralized Bible of about 1240. 35." in Caroline W. . 57.. The Creation of Eve. The Long Text. Christ was not merely flesh. In the moralized Bibles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. . Oxford.. chap. artists frequently drew parallels between the birth of Eve from Adam's side and the birth of the church from Christ's body. MS 270b. I: Die Kir(he. Thierry. Ikollograpizie. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. The physiological role of the' mother.. " ' . pp. 1978). I.. 153-62. trans. pt. Bynum. mothering means not only loving and feeding. and your nerves and all your veins were broken. plates 217-219. IV. Colledge and Walsh have stressed that this idea has theological roots in William of St. 6. 41 To Julian. And Woman His Humanity': Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages.. Studies and Texts. Christ is mother more than father when it is a matter of talking of the Incarnation. For example. Oeuvres. to A Book of Showings. having joined in himself every man who will be saved. by Colledge and Walsh inJu/iall ofNorwi(h: Showings (New York. are you not my mother and more than my mother? . clearly underlies Julian's sense that. the Birth of Church. pp. 579-80. 42 Such an identification of Christ's saving role with giving birth as well as feeding is found in a number of fourteenth-century texts. whose uterine lining provides the stuff of the foetus (according to medieval medical theory) and whose blood becomes breast milk. So our Lady is our mother.44 Late medieval theologians never forgot that Christ's person was soul as well as body. for she who is mother of our Savior is mother of all who are saved in our Savior. 2.. if gender is to be used of God at all. who ever saw a mother suffer such a birth? For when the hour of your delivery came you were placed on the hard bed of the cross. cd. the Joining of Adam and Eve. p. a writer as effusive (and as orthodox) as Catherine of Siena stressed 41Julian. cds . in whom we are all enclosed and born of her in Christ. fo!' 6r.

158. n. 45 But despite issuing repeated warnings that souls must "also turn to the higher . 236. all ancient biologists thought that the mother's blood fed the child in the womb and then. it also saw bleeding as feeding and as the purging away of excess. 1974). so much so that physiologists regularly spoke of males as menstruating and recommended bleeding with leeches when they did not do so. c. see Schiller. "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women. First. pt. IV. This theory included two different accounts of conception. PL 197. I have said that this body of his [that is. 43. 194 8). Ade!gundis Fuhrkotter and A. Die Zeugungs.D. A History of Embryology.." familiar in exegesis from patristic days.. diss. W. 144-201. "Orgasm. The Female Orgasm and the Body Politic. Ancient theory also held that the shedding of blood purged or cleansed those who shed it. Liber vitae meritorum. 2 vols. col. Reuther (New York.83. 47Hildegard.r. Thomas Laqueur. chap. see also p.. 21 3-66. "Galen's Criticism of Aristotle's Conception Theory. nor either the body or the blood without the soul of this Word. Discussing the eucharist. 225. (Cambridge. 1980). Therefore you would not be given the body without being given the blood as well. Classics of the Contemplative Life (New York. S-. 2. 48 Medieval writers also drew on a second strand that associated flesh and female: ancient physiological theory. 46Kari Elisabeth B0rresen. "Women Mystics." Representations. Elisabeth und die Schrijien der Aebte Ekbert und Emecho von Schonau. 1882). Generation and the Politics of Reproductive Biology. 50 Such medical conJ ~ •.Joseph Needham. work in progress. see Jan van Ruysbroeck. 46 This dichotomy led both to Hildegard of Bingen's statement that "man represents the divinity of the Son of God and women his humanity" and to the vision in which Elizabeth of Schonau saw Christ's humanity appear before her as a female virgin sitting on the sun. 1959). For ecdesia and humanitas in miniatures.. . ed. 195 1). ed.und Vererbungslehren der Anlike und ihr Nachwirken (Mainz. "Equality of Souls.atures an~ texts from the l. vision 6. 206-207. providing its matter as it matured. pp. in Cahiers de civilisation medievale.. par. 4 (1973). Scivias.). Corpus christianorum: continuatio medievalis. 32. "0 Feminea Forma: God and Woman in the Works of St. trans.47 It is also reflected in the fact that Hildegard of Bingen's vision 45Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue. Pitra. Barbara Jane Newman. 10 (1977). Eric Colledge.2 9. iv.. VIII: Analecta sanctae Hildegardis . 2nd ed. . bk. God eternal. Marie-Therese d'Alverny. Subordination et equivalence: nature et rOle de lafemme d'apres Augustin et Thomas d'Aquin (Oslo. see Die Visionen der hI. 43. 37-74. Thus blood was the basic body fluid and female blood was the fundamental support of human life. bk. 100. R.-Paul ofWisques. 1884).d. pp. The Spiritual Espousals. 487-93. Bullough. sOPreus. " Viator. 49 According to Aristotelian theory. "Das Menschenbild der Hildegard. idem.""'" ~J 'i.. For other authors who stress the same point. 1981." Ph. pp. 49Erna Lesky. 210. fed the baby outside the womb as well. 214n. trans. 260. Hildegard (1098-1179).e cross l~n~s the figure with humanitas as"~. 23 I. For texts in which Christ marries humanilas. iv.420 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPL Y TO LEO STEINBERG 421 {·ra!J. esp..82. of imago n:ulieris u. I: Die Kirche.ateq) ct"" Middle Ages that show Chnst marrymg humanrtas as a man marrles a woman. and idem. Vern L. Christ's] is a sun. see Bynum. 20 (1977).65-85. nor the soul or body without the divinity of me. and her body fed the growing child.fBiology. (Monte Cassino. Suzanne Noffke (New York. not by death or by any other thing past or present or future. in Oeuvres de Ruysbroeck l'Admirable. 197 8). Peter Dronke.-B. Liber divinorum operum./ 48Hildegard of Bingen. r." theologians and devotional writers frequently stressed Christ's humanity (conceived of as Christ's fleshliness) and associated it with the female. E.. 10 5. to appear." Journal ofthe History o. i.nder th. F. Three very different strands fed into this complex association of feminine and flesh." Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions. Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval Theology. pp. Aristotelian theory clearly linked woman with the unformed physical stuff of which the fully human is made. Yale University. and idem. According to Galen.~ I '" '1 o~ It. Indeed bleeding was held to be necessary for the washing away of superfluity. I 18. III. and Gossmann. well as wlth ecclesla and m. ed. "Galen's Criticism". the mlnt.. both the unity of Christ's person and the union of divine with human. in Analeaa sacra. 1968). "Comment les theologiens et les philosophes voient la femme?". vii. Catherine attributed the following admonition to God: The person of the incarnate Word was penetrated and kneaded into one dough with the light of my Godhead. k . p. 60ff. trans. Carlevaris. the mother was the oven or vessel in which the foetus cooked. . Moreover. 885." p. plates 2 I I. 3rd ed. pp. Women Writers. ed. (Turnhout. Laqueur. theologians drew on the long-standing analogy "spirit is to flesh as male is to female. Eleanor McLaughlin. Thus medical theory not only associated female bodies with flesh and blood. Galenic theory associated both male and female with the physiological stuff. (Brussels. La femme dans les civilisations des Xe-XIIIe siedes: Actes du colloque tenu a Poitiers les 23-25 septembre 1976. For the one cannot be separated from the other-just as the divine nature can nevermore be separated from the human nature. the mother provided the matter of the foetus and the father its life or spirit or form." For Elizabeth's vision." chap. I. transmuted into breast milk. J. the divine. Anthony Preus. .306. But even according to Galen. two seeds (from mother and father) were necessary for conception. So it is the whole divine being that you receive in that most gracious sacrament under that whiteness of bread. Female Orgasm and Body Politic. Ikonographie. by the Benedictines of St. "Le miroir du salut cterne!. Roth (Brunn.

Dinzelbacher. pp.244. Lane. Moreover. in which consecrated eucharistic wafers turn into bleeding flesh. the vessel. 1924). 182. Newman (Albany. Altar and Altarpiece. N. 55Lane. p. Purtle. Lionel Rothkrug.2 5. I I (Summer. And they took place primarily in the bodies and the experiences of women. "Die Schreinmadonna. Blood miracles proliferated. Mary is priest because it is she who offers to ordinary mortals the saving flesh of God. Marguerite of Oingt. which comes most regularly and predictably in the mass. and others. 9 (1977). "Popular Religion and Holy Shr:nes: Their Influence on the Origins of the German Reformation and their Role in German Cultural Development. X. Altar and Altarpiece. Immaculate Conception. cd. and Charles T. the clothing of Christ. p. Carol J. 520n Mcchtild. 54Dumoutet. it bled food. Francis of Assisi." Marian Literary Studies. of course." The Meall. Suso. 5. in which the bodies of ordinary people suddenly receive and display the various wounds of Christ. such a concept is also reflected in the late medieval Marian paintings in which Mary takes on priestly characteristics." p. (Quaracchi. "Fast. This motif tends to associate Mary's conceiving of Christ with the moment of the consecration. 28. "Europaische Frauenmystik". 55 As John F. Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and Earl)' Renaissance: A Stud). 51 Whatever the respective roles of male and female in ordinary conception. Christ's body had to come from Mary because Christ had no human father. which purges our sin in the Atonement and feeds OUr souls in the eucharist. 59 Stig56Lane. p.233. the container. [9 85). pp. Rudolph M. the robe. 1949). illg of Courtly Love. Physical Phenomena. see Thurston. in certain bizarre events of the late Middle Ages.27-29. 1979). K. and it gave birth. 51 Levi d' Ancona. Benton. J6. "The Doctors' Dilemma: Sin.. there is further support for the argument that bleeding food and giving life through flesh were seen as particularly female activities. Corpus Domini. 57James H. "Women Mystics.C. 33 6 . 32. 1979). As scholars such as James Marrow and Lionel Rothkrug have recently shown. See also Joesph Braun. 1942). 56 Thus many medieval assumptions linked woman and flesh and the (." Speculum.3 S. 1981)." p. and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Carol Purtle and Barbara Lane have demonstrated. Not only was Christ enfleshed with flesh from a . 77-79. This strand was the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the emerging notion of the Immaculate Conception. on walls and wafers. pp. 800. Since theologians increasingly stressed Mary's humanity as sinless from her conception. Bihlmeyer (Stuttgart. Altar and Altarpiece. 1982). see Bynum. and the miracle of stigmata. body of God. Die Wunder. 590n eucharistic miracles. Physical Phenomena. pp. It literally appeared. I allude here to the blood miracles of the thirteenth. see Browe. (Munich. See also Christoph Baumer.. Not only are almost all late medieval stigmatics women.239-72. F. 29· 5HS ee Thurston. 54 and in the socalled Vierges ouvrantes-Iate medieval devotional objects in which a statue of Mary nursing her baby opens to show God inside. Antoine Imbert- . Corpus Domini: Aux sources de la piete eucharistique medievale (Paris. who spoke of Mary as the tabernacle. 204. ed. of the Transformation ofSarred Metaphor into Descriptive Narrative (Kortrijk. 1985). 1907).jesus as Mother. Buchlfin der Ewigen Weisheit." in James Obelkevich. Vision und Visionsliteratur im Mitte/alter (Stuttgart. and Bynum. c. 34 6 . idem. woman. Feast. Edouard Dumoutct. hands and faces. 12.333. 123. 624.34.1. his Qwn flesh did womanly things: it bled. A third strand of medieval ideas also linked flesh. Plates 329. 13-15. pp. "Women Mystics. 53 The notion is clearly depicted in those eucharistic tabernacles that Mary surmounts as if she were the container. II. 264. 71 -72. 58 The two most astonishing new miracles of the later Middle Ages are the miracle of the bleeding host. p. 2 vols. 19(9). be carried to dubious theological lengths. Marrow." Representations. I. in Deutsche Schr(ftetl im Aufirag der Wiirttembergischen Kommission for Landesgeschichte. and passim. Opuscula saneti patris Francisci Assisiensis.710-27. so the humanity of Christ also preexisted the Incarnation in the sinless humanity of Mary. 77-79. Wood. and Caroline Walker Bynum. Der christliche Altar in seinergeschichtlichen Entwicklung. ed. with woman. Holy Anorexia (Chicago. 52 And the entirely orthodox idea of Mary as the flesh of Christ was suggested by William Durandus's commentary on the mass and by the prayers of Francis of Assisi. 2nd ed. H"nry Suso. p. "Clio and Venus: An Historical View of Medieval Love. visions and transformation-miracles of the bleeding host (like all eucharistic miracles) were received mostly by women as well. with female bleeding and feeding. 57 But blood in this period became more than symbol. pp. fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.422 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 423 ceptions of blood led naturally to the association of Christ's bleeding on the cross. Such depictions of Mary as priest have nothing to do with women's ordination.1700 (Chapel Hill.lS ee Bynum. Oeuvres. On stigmata. 229. but a thinker such as Mechtild of Magdeburg began to make them. Religion and the People. The Marian Paintings ofjan "an Eyck (Princeton. 56 (1981). Bell. 360 and 36 1 give a number of examples of the prominence of Mary on retables. Such arguments could. 98-99. they were able to suggest that just as the Logos (the divinity of Christ separate from that of God) pre-existed the Incarnation. Salvation and The Menstrual Cycle in Medieval Thought. Bibliotheca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Aevi.334. blood became an increasingly powerful symbol in late medieval art and devotion. pp. especially Christ's flesh.

Indeed stigmata sometimes appeared as a result of taking communion. 32. "A propos d'une des legendes mariales les plus repandues: Ie 'lait de la Vierge. n. Duran Iconografia espanola de San Bernardo (Monasterio de Poblet. pp. The lactating Virgin is. in this painting.I I. The wound of Christ and the breast of Mary are clearly parallel in picture after picture. For texts which refer to other lactations of adults. pp. 66 Thus we should not be surprised to find paintings that depict Mary as priest. " Analecta Bollandiana. In a number of pictures. 1963).10 and plate I.23 and plate 6." Crteaux in de Nederlanden. M. VI-XV latine conscripta sunt. Lidwina of Schiedam (d. 6OFor example. of course. 343-45. and Flesh." Dictionnaire de theologie catholique. n. thus suggesting that we share the baby's need for sustenance and that Mary offers to us the blessed food. ed. this was true of the Flemish saint. Mary. Purtle. They saw the flesh of God as a clothing taken from Mary's flesh. Marian Paintings. II. chap. June II. she directs her breast toward the viewer. for example. Devlin (New York. II Dialogo spirituale. one of the most common iconographic themes in all of Christian art.e. especially Bernard of Clairvaux. Both baby and breast are the eucharist. 64 Mary's feeding is sometimes explicitly seen as eucharistic. 2 vols. see Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M.3 I. ed.. and Christ's similar bleeding and feeding body was understood as analogous to theirs. According to the statistics compiled by Weinstein and Bell. see Hiller and Vey. WallrafRichartz Museum. 2617. 1939). par. Archetype of the Church. "La lactation de saint Bernard: Legende et iconographie. 100. 1962). . see P. "Fast. Katalog . "Gerard David. 6sLane. 67 or representations of the Mystical Mill in which Mary as the miller (i. see also Carra Ferguson O'Meara. see Albert Poncelet. pp. Altar and Altarpiece. See Life of Alice ofSchaerbeke. xiv. Feast. The cupboard and chalice are modern additions to the painting. Feast. IOOO. Beterous. celebrant) pours in the flour while Christ emerges below as Gourbeyre.420-21." The Art Bulletin. 63 Mary also feeds ordinary Christians. We the viewers are offered the bread and wine that are God. presented to us. Trattato del Purgatorio.424. Moreover there is iconographic support for the textual tradition ofJesus as mother. and Catherine of Genoa. 7 (1956).. 12. For example. 60 Thus it was women's bodies almost exclusively that bled as Christ bled. See also Catherine. plates 126 and 159· In the latter (late fifteenth-century) painting. Once again.19. S. They called the wound in Christ's side a breast. La Stigmatisation: L'extase divine et les miracles de Lourdes: Reponse aux lib respenseurs. V. Mary not only offers her breast. 6. 62 In late medieval and Counter-Reformation art. "Essai critique sur l'histoire des stigmatisations au moyen ige. 123. 64S ee . Mary is assimilated to Christ and celebrant.424 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 425 matic women clearly saw themselves as imitating Christ's bleeding flesh both as it hung on the cross and as it was consecrated in the wafer.5% of the saints. plate 4. 21. whose lactation is depicted in dozens of paintings. 61Two saints who stress substituting their suffering for that of others are Alice of Schaerbeke and Catherine of Genoa. 63Rafael M. and this blood not only purged the woman of her sin but also saved her fellow Christians by substituting for the expiation they owed in purgatory. "Index miraculorum B. 62See Mundy." On the cult of the Virgin's milk in the later Middle Ages. the miniature from the Milan-Turin Book of Hours in which a stream of milk from Mary's breast goes toward the donor (with whom the viewer presumably identifies) while the baby turns away from the breast. 7588.359.1700 (Chicago. Amann. Lane. 65 Vessels to the right of the painting reinforce the suggestion that the artist is depicting the mass. 476. p. in Umile Bonzi da Genova.. art historians have also linked Robert Campin's Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen with the eucharist [plate 7]. Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom. 13 . E. 6 and n. 24 and 27. 22-59. and p. women account for 27% of the wonder-working relics in the Middle Ages. See Bynum. 403 . see Bynum.6Lane. 4 (1975).37. 153. Leon Dewez and Albert van herson. Altar and Altarpiece. Umile Bonzi. von Eroes andJ. See also Otto Semmelroth. 9 8126. The two foods are assimilated. Bell. 1894).2 (1936). Mary's breast is linked with other kinds of feeding-with milk soup and with the grape that is a eucharistic symbol. pp.. When we look at late medieval painting. 130. and Flesh. 67 Lane. 1. Altar and Altarpiece.61 Holy women imitated Christ in their bodies. cols. 21 (1902). This was also true of Lidwina of Schiedam. 1433). 26. (Clermont-Ferrand. 8. Mariae quae saec. V." Etudes carmelitaines. 71 -72 and plate 47. several art historians have pointed out that van Eyck's Lucca Madonna presents Mary as the altar on which Christ sits. Marian Paintings." pp. the baby actually pushes the breast toward Bernard. Marian Paintings. pp. 6-7 and nn. p. "Stigmatisation. trans." p. (. 165-89. "Fast. Purtle. we find that the bleeding Christ is treated as the feeder of humankind. For two other examples. Purtle. pp. " 'In the Hearth of the Virginal Womb': The iconography of the Holocaust in Late Medieval Art. 1982). 25. although they are only 17. iii.' " Bulletin de I'association Guillaume Bude. she also presents her baby. 1953). p. II: Edizione critica dei manoscritti cateriniani (Turin. Similarly. Pierre Debongnie. 63· I (19 81 ). Mary feeds adult males as well. * * * It is clear then from the many texts I have quoted that medieval writers spoke ofJesus as a mother who lactates and gives birth. as ifhe were bread fresh from the oven. AASS. while the baby turns aside. Altar and Altarpiece. Caterina Fieschi Adorno. I (Paris.

II. in another case the blood of the eucharist [see plates 9 and 10]. Sandra Moschini Marconi. 69For depictions of Christ bleeding into the chalice. 175-206. is an evocation (if not a depiction) of the traditional notion ofJesus as mother. In two very different fifteenth-century paintings. " A number of fourteenth. Altar and Altarpiece.101. and Braun. is depicted as food [plate 13 below]. Robert Campin (d. fifteenth and sixteenth-century paintings make the association of Christ's wound and Mary's breast quite clear [see.10. Medieval people clearly found this fact symbolically useful.!: Die Kirche. On the related motif of Christ in the winepress. plates 707. and Louis Gougaud. as recurrent representations of nursing Charity or of the lactating Virtues [plate II] attest. In a painting of I 508 by Hans 6HGetrud Schiller. in the cellar of wine and inebriate yourself with my blood. not men's. 1919). and eat my flesh. ed. pp. Madonna and Child before a Firescreen. 7. for they read: "Come to me. p.69 In medieval experience as in modern. G. xlvii-xlix and 100. Seligman. J. 1955). pp. 1444).. II: Passion. 228-29.710. trans. But there are also medieval paintings that assimilate Christ to Mary. The National Gallery. " Annales de l'Academie Royale d'archeoloRie de BelRique. London. 67 (Antwerp. for example. IV. " "Come to me. p. 1953). II: The Passion oj Jesus Christ (London. plate 336. The texts on the picture (borrowed from the Song of Songs) underline the emphasis on eating Christ's body. dearly beloved friends. 62. most beloved. p. see Schiller. On Quirizio's The Savior. Opere d'Arte dei Secoli XIV et XV (Rome. Der Altar. Christ fills cups for his followers just as Mary feeds her baby. that fed with fluid from the breast. which treats Christ as body that provides food from the breast. Passion Iconography.426 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 427 bread fed to the assembled prelates (who become recipients) [see plate 8]. Bateman (London. Iconography. trans. 104. 7°Adolphe de Ceuleneer. see Luigi Coletti. Iconography ojChristiarz Art. 1927). Ikonographie. Over and over again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find representations of Christ as the one who feeds and bleeds. 148. see Marrow. like woman's. pp. C. Pittura veneta del Quattrocento (Novara. Devotional and Ascetic Practices in the Middle Ages. "La Charitc romaine dans la litterature et dans i'art. for example. 85. Christ's body. . idem.68 All of these pictures are of Mary increasingly assimilated to Christ. 1972). pp.806. 130-31. and Lane. Gal/erie dell'Accademia. The parallel is more than visual: texts on the pictures make the point explicitly. Squirting blood from wounds often placed high in the side.708. it was women's bodies. 70 It thus seems possible to argue that a picture such as Quirizio of Murano's The Savior [plate 9]. Christ's wound is treated almost as if it were a nipple and produces in one case the wafer. plate 12).

plates 798. Moir and Malcolm Letts. through my bitter death. Lane. Mary's suffering for her baby and therefore for all sinners. Public Life in Renaissance Florence. plate 8. about 1440. idem. 71For examples of the double intercession. I argue this partly because.2. II: Passion.800. Gierts (Leyden. IX. H. L. as we have seen. 4-26.799. Richard C. 7th ed. Friedlander. p. see Schiller. and see my breast. sheath thy sword that thou hast drawn. where the Son has sucked.802. Mary's . 1973). 225· sian." They are usually glossed as an association of two sacrifices: Christ's bleeding and dying for us on the cross. Schiller. Pauwels and M. Central Panel. the words above Christ read: "Father. trans. Iconography. (Hereford. p. pp. But I would like to suggest that the parallel is not merely between two sacrifices." And above Mary: "Lord. Trexler. Ulm Museum. plate 156." Oud-Holland 86 (1973). Holbein the Elder. see Max]. II: Passion. Iconography. Studies in Social Discontinuity (New York. Norden with notes by H. and A. The Savior. Accademia. "The 'Symbolic Crucifixion' in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. it is also between two feedings. help men in their need. for example. 26. The World Map in Hereford Cathedral and The Pictures in the Hereford Mappa Mundi. see my red wounds. I I and 19· For the texts on the Holbein. pp. 1460-78). Early Netherlandish Painting. Venice.428 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 429 8. 7-8. 1980). Altar and Altarpiece. 1975). "71 Such pictures are known to art historians as the "double interces9· Quirizio da Murano (fl. Retable of the Mystical Mill.

Niirnberg. Christ and Charity.430 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 431 10. breast and Jesus's vyound. and 13]. Fountain of the Virtues. In an early sixteenth-century triptych from the Low Countries. about 1470. I also suggest such an interpretation because artists themselves sometimes indicate that it is really Mary's breast as lactating that is in question. Cologne. for example. Wallraf-Richartz Museum. 10. not only is Mary's breast parallel to Jesus's bleeding wound (a wound which is recapitulated in the bleeding heart above) but Mary's breast is also explicitly associated with lactation through the presence at her I. when treated independently. Sixteenth Century. 9. are seen as supplying food [see plates 7. A northwest German master. .

Projecting back onto medieval symbols modern physiologi72A. despite their use of male/female dichotomies. To say this is not to deny that men were seen as superior in rationality and strength.~oten. * * * It thus seems that medieval writers and occasionally even artists represented God's body with both feminine and masculine characteristics-something modern thinkers rarely attempt and only with considerable awkwardness and embarrassment.Jesus as Mother. and Carol P. 1977).. cut both ways. How then did it happen that writers and visionaries in the Middle Ages found it possible to mix and fuse the sexes in their depictions of God? The answer lies. Collectorium super Magnificat. 13-36. ed. Women. La saintete. particular human beings were understood as having both feminine and masculine characteristics. 76 And women mystics were even more likely to cut the terms "male" and 73 An infi ntial article that projects back into the earlier western tradition the modern naturd ~lture contrast is Sherry Ortner. and Life ofJda ofLeau. 105-24. . 1984)." in Anthropology and the Study ojReligion. "Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?" in .ichelle Z. For criticism of projectIng modern physiological theory onto earlier concepts. 5Il. MacCormack and M." see Life oflda of Louvain. saw not just the body of Christ but all bodies. Nature. 74For examples of hagiographers who praise women as "virile. Culture and Society (Stanfor . 1971). Eckhart and Gerson spoke of male mystics as fecund mothers or weak women. F. we must never forget the emphasis on reversal which lay at the heart of the Christian tradition: According to Christ and to Paul. Annals of the New York Academy of Sci(New York. Moore (Chicago. Tripty~h-~JX~t. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere. AASS. and idem. ed. 112.. XIII. side of Bernard ofClairvaux. 1 IO-69. 1974). Monballieu. Vauchez. pp. For example. 74 Moreover. 229-48. 434 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 435 14· Goswyn van derWeyden. theologians and natural philosophers assumed considerable mixing of the genders. Reynolds and R. pp. pp.. 67-86. " 'Christ My Mother': Feminine Naming and Metaphor in Medieval Spirituality. on these and other Eleanor Leacock and June Nash. 75See Bynum. treatise 9. pp. they also used female images to attribute an inferiority that wouldexactly because it was inferior-be made superior by God. 15 (1975). From the patristic period on. VIII: L'oeuvre spirituelle et pastorale (Paris. in the fact that-for all their application of male/ female contrasts to organize life symbolically-medieval thinkers and artists used gender imagery more fluidly and less literally than we do. Jesus as Mother. at least in part. those who saw the female as representing flesh while the male represented spirit wrote of real people as both. of course. "Ideologies of Sex: Archetypes and Sterin Cross-Cultural Research. as both male and female. October. Culture and Gender (Cambridge. . 618-45. according to legend.72 cal theory or post-Enlightenment contrasts of nature and culture. as I we shall see. II." Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1967). the first shall be last and the meek shall inherit the earth. April. eds. nursed from her [plate 14]. see Laqueur. Clearly they were. The point about the mixing of genders has been nicely made by Eleanor McLaughlin. Museum of Fine Arts. 75 Thus not only did devotional writers mix gender images in describing actual men and women. The compliment could. 1507. p. pp. who. pp. 159. 127-28. i Careful reading of the theological and scientific traditions I discussed above makes it clear that. But existing.nius Tsg. 1980). Women's Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner's Theory ofLiminality. "Het Antonius Tsgrooten-triptiekje (1597) uit Tongerloo van Goosen van der Weyden. 76Bynum. Antwerp. we \ have tended to read medieval dichotomies too absolutely. Female Orgasm and Body Politic. in Oeuvres completes. Glorieux." Nashota Review. AASS. "Women's Stories. 397-98.John Gerson. however. P. 73 Medieval i thinkers. male devotional writers such as Bernard. 446 n. For criticisms of Ortner's approach. pp.

719. Italian Pictures ofthe Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works: Central Italian and Northern Italian Schools. "Doctors' Dilemma. and Wood. 1968). . IS.. Francis to Giotto: The Influence of St.. ed. A. Women were merely \ less of what men were more. put men and women on a continuum. There is. see also Michael Goodich. 26. lactation. whose assumptions about body were formed at least partly by this medical tradition. what was particularly womanly was the unformedness." paper presented at the Holy Cross Symposium "The Word Becomes Flesh. 3 (197S). etc. For example. fourteenth and fifteenth centuries increasingly emphasized the human body of Christ.. plates 8-20. On the commensurability of bodily fluids." in Bynum. 14. L. Thus Steinberg is not wrong to argue that art. To writers. where in one sense it was not even clear that there were two sexes. even the toes. and Bernard Berenson.e. We can see this assumption at work in medieval discussions of specific physiological processes." History of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psycho history. men's and women's bodies often did the 77Bynum. ders symbolically to talk about self and God. 436 RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY A RE'PLY TO LEO STEINBERG 437 "female" loose entirely from the social or physiological dichotomies they usually represented. with lack of shape or definition. "Bartholomaeus Angelicus on Child-rearing. especially in its Aristotelian form. Thesis. 82. " ' . miraculous lactation. 101-181. II (London. 7HLaqueur. plates 86 and 124. IIS-18. Schneider.'''~II' associating Mary Magdalen and Francis . and Roberta). nurturing flesh that Christ's holy mother received immaculately from her female forebearer. Thus to a medical writer. all human exudings-menstruation.' "I have considered some of the implications of this observation in "The Complexity of Symbols. DeMause (New York. A medieval theologian.g. And Woman His Humanity. McLaughlin. see Hiller and Vey. "The Virgin or Mary Magdalen? Artistic Choices and Changing Spiritual Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages. 1985. ists to fuse or interchange the genders and therefore to use both gen. He has merely failed to explain the range of that bodiliness in its full complexity... On such miracles. of our humanness. and all bleedingslactation. see Bynum. pp. see Vincent Moleta. cures with saliva. nosebleeds. made the male body paradigmatic. Mary M.A. 77 This mixing of the genders was even more apparent in the scientific tradition. 83 and 8S. sweating.. pp. Such medieval ideas made it easy fo'! writers and art. "Fast. same things.. Wallra}Richartz Museum." November 9. etc. 7S-84. emission of semen. "Survivors and Surrogates: Children and Parents from the Nimh to the Thirteenth Centuries. As mystics and theologians in the thirteenth. * * * The analysis above suggests that there is little textual support for Steinberg's argument that the artistic focus of Renaissance painters on Christ's penis was a theological statement about sexuality. Francis of Assisi as the Alter Christus in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian Painting. For examples of Francis curled around the feet of Christ. platt 448. Francis on Early Italian Art and Literature (Chicago.-were seen as bleedings. with openings and exudings and spillings forth. Such a notion identified woman with breaches in boundaries. however. 78 Ancient biology." M. Feast. esp. The male was the form or quiddity of what we are as humans. hemorrhoidal bleeding. . Gender and Religion. Harrell and Richman.on of Assisi with the toes of Christ: see) Ziegler. 79 But this conception also. we should note. University of Washington." nn. and Flesh. Medieval writers. For examples of the Magdalen kissing or hovering over Christ's feet at the crucifixion or deposition. which was understood to be common to male and female bodies. ists gave a new prominence to the body of Christ. 7YSuch a conception encouraged the exuding miracles (e." p. in the case of bleeding the physiological process. 1974). much textual and iconographical support for the argument that the flesh of Christ was seen by fifteenth-century people as both male and female. 1985.-were taken to be analogous. to purge their bodies by periodic bleeding. ecstatic nosebleeds) that characterized female saints. 81. Margery Kempe was especially devoted to the toes of Christ: see The Book . functioned better (or at least more regularly) in women. very farfetched indeed. "in The History ofChildhood. p.} and breasts. Female Orgasm and Body Politic. 1983). of Christ engendered extravagant ejfbtional response. oil-exuding. urged men to apply leeches to their ankles when they failed to "menstruate"-i. menstruation. "The Development ofIconographic Manifestations of St. From St.. the stuff-ness or physicality. Medieval natural philosophy held-as Tom Laqueur has pointed out-that men and women are really a superior and inferior version of the same physiology. that body could be seen both as the paradigmatic male body of Aristotelian physiological theory and as the womanly. speaking of mothers as administering harsh discipline or of a father God with souls in his womb. All human beings were form and matter. 80 Devotion BOOne thinks of the iconographi<.\. painters and sculptors of the frrteenth and fifteenth centuries not only the penis but also the eye. Woman's reproductive system was just man's turned inside out. Katalog . . esp. might therefore see the l:>lood Christ shed in the circumcision and on the cross as analogous to menstrual blood or to breast milk-an analogy that seems to us. 80. Indeed. with our modern theories of glands and hormones. for example.

See also n. UNIVERSITY Q. 1940)." and Kieckhefer. ButlerBowdon. p. Meech and Hope Emily Allen. that medieval piety (at least in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) speaks far more urgently of life coming from death. I. "Antifeminism. Saints and Society. and n. The Making ofthe Middle Ages (New Haven. as Steinberg has also suggested. I (New Yark. 3U-25. • •n 438 RENAISSANCE QUARTERL Y A REPLY TO LEO STEINBERG 439 poured out to Christ our brother. See Jacques Hourlier and Andre Rayez. doctrine et histoire (Paris. ascetique et mystique. Rather than mapping back onto medieval paintings modem dichotomies. as Steinberg tells us. For a reading of Steinberg (very different from mine) that nonetheless draws attention generally to Christ's bodiliness. 81 above. Rather it saw flesh as fertile and vulnerable. 231-40. pp. My argument then is not titillating antiquarianism. 233. pp.. 96. 46 above. "Women Mystics. 1984). to deny that medieval thinkers also stressed the disciplining offlesh. but I would suggest. esp. especially female flesh. and it saw enfleshing-the enfleshing of God and of us all-as the occasion for salvation. medieval artists and devotional writers did not either equate body with sexuality or reject body as evil. 1053-96. mean. I illquiet Souls. Moreover. We should therefore be wary of any modem appeals to medieval traditions that oppose male to female or equate flesh with sexuality. 1959).. we can find support for doing so in the art and theology of the later Middle Ages. HISee Bynum. and Christ our friend. however. . p. _c Diane Bornstein. VII pt. I am arguing here with rather than against Steinberg that things are seldom what they seem." Dictionary of the Middle Ages. To say this is not. cols. 81 There was a misogynist clerical tradition. rooted in theology and piety. Early English Text Society. "Psychoanalytic Criticism: Some Intimate Questions. pp. Unquiet Souls. We should also understand that there is little basis in medieval art or devotion for treating body as entrapment rather than opportunity.38. . and Kieckhefer. 104. They were. if we want to tum from seeing body as sexual to seeing body as generative. Unquiet Souls. of pain and suffering as the opportunity-even the cause--of salvation. See Kieckhefer. p. 89. pp. for discussion oflate medieval notions of using body to approach God. If we want to express the significance ofJesus in both male and female images. of significance located in body. 212 (London. Sanford B. esp.F WASHINGTON H3The fact that late medieval theology stressed crucifixion more than resurrection is well known. 1969). 118-20. As my discussion above demonstrates. 83 A better understanding· of the medieval past might thus enable modem people to give to ageold symbols new meanings that would be in fact medieval. 1982). Nonetheless my examination oflate medieval concepts of Christ agrees in certain ways with Steinberg's emphasis. Medieval symbols were far more complex-polysemic as anthropologists say-than modem people are aware. Christ our bridegroom. to be sure." in Art in America (November. cd. Christ our mother. Southern. suffering as evil to be eschewed rather than promise to be redeemed. Such an emphasis on body as a means of becoming like Christ is very different from a dualistic rejection of body as the enemy of spirit. 15." Dictionnaire de spiritualite. There may be warrant in the Christian tradition for equating the penis with maleness and maleness with humanity. see Jane Gallop. 89.121. if ~e want to find symbols that give dignity and meaning to the suffering we cannot eliminate and yet fear so acutely.I 13. and Weinstein and Bell. at least if the seeming is based on unexamined modem attitudes. It is rather a challenge to us to think more deeply about what our basic symbols Margery Kempe: The Text jom the Unique Manuscript Owned by Colonel W. Richard W. . but I would argue that medieval theology at least as explicitly equates the breast with femaleness and femaleness both with the humanity of Christ and with the humanity of us all. we might find in medieval art and literature some suggestion of a symbolic richness our own lives and rituals seem to lack. pp. 82 But medieval piety did not dismiss flesh-even female flesh-as polluting. There may be warrant in the Christian tradition for seeing the resurrection as triumph over body. "Humanite du Christ. we can unquestionably learn from their complexity.

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