Mary is the centerpiece of virgin-adulation
in the Christian tradition, though she is
not the only religious figure said
to have given birth asexually.
Nor was she the first.
Mighty Isis gave birth to her son Horus
by immaculate conception after Osiris
was murdered and hacked into tiny pieces
by his wicked brother Set.
|Michaelangelo's Pieta - photo © MAK 2010|
This Virgin Mary, of course,
is part of the Pieta,
an incomparable sculpture
carved by Michaelangelo.
Besides being rendered awestruck
by its ethereal beauty, you can't help
but notice that this Mary --
probably in her late 40s or early 50s
at the time of the crucifixion --
has the countenance of a teenager.
There are no wrinkles,
no signs of life lived well.
There is perhaps a suggestion of shock
or perhaps surrender,
but not the overt grief that might be anticipated
from a human mother holding a son
who died too young under horrendous circumstances,
even a human mother
who fervently believed in God's plan.
Her first-born son,
now lying cradled in her lap post-mortem,
is represented as a mature man,
albeit one whose proportions have been altered
to fit in his mother-statue's lap.
But Mary is pictured
as still in the full blush of her maidenhood.
Art critics and commentators have lots of opinions
about the symbolic meaning of Michaelangelo's choice.
One interpretation is that Michaelangelo,
a great fan of Dante's Divine Comedy,
was showing Mary as the daughter of the Son
in the Holy Trinity.
Michaelangelo himself remarked
to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi:
Do you not know that chaste women
stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste?
How much more in the case of the Virgin,
who had never experienced
the least lascivious desire that might change her body?
Oh, for crying out loud!
This woman wasn't just an icon.
She wasn't just a vehicle to bring Jesus into being
(though that's how Christianity treats her).
Besides her rather famous first-born son,
she bore and reared a number of other children.
Are you telling me
that in all the hoo-hah
associated with glorifying
the cult of the virgin aspect,
poor Mary was stripped
of all the passionate glory of sex
that makes it a pleasure to procreate?
She had no desires? That's pitiful.
And says a lot about attitudes
about women's sexuality
if good old Michaelangelo's perspective
Condivi himself suggested
that Mary's appearance as a woman
much younger than her chronological age
was a mark, not only of fortunate genetic inheritance
(though he didn't use that phrase),
but also a sign that she was blessed by God.
Since I'm told I look much younger than I really am,
I like this explanation best of all.
(Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now
but Christianity has been a huge shaper
of attitudes about women, their roles,
and the need to control their sexuality.)