Well, you get two posts in one day from me because I just read the Salt Lake Tribune and saw the story about the Church editing Carlo Maratta’s painting to cover up Mary’s cleavage. This was painted in about 1680.
Call me naive, but I really thought the Church was past this kind of thing. I mean, they just edited For the Strength of Youth to remove some of the micro-managing of female bodies. Nobody has given a General Conference talk focused entirely on modesty in … a while. Um, I guess those are the only reasons I thought the Church was past this kind of thing.
This beautiful painting is reverent, respectful and beautiful. If the Church hadn’t edited it to cover Mary’s cleavage, I bet no one would really even notice that the painting shows cleavage. It certainly isn’t sexualized. She’s breast-feeding a newborn baby; breasts are functional and maternal in that context, not sexual. Here’s the Church’s version:
Can we please stop acting like women’s bodies are inherently sexual? Please? This is entirely unnecessary.
EDITED TO ADD: I should have done more research before posting this. It turns out that Carlo Maratta painted more than one version of this painting, and the Church used the other version, in which the original artist left out the angels and raised the neckline on Mary’s dress. Jack posted a link to the original painting found on the Museo del Prado website and I’ve inserted the image below. I apologize.
One thing that does puzzle me though, the Salt Lake Tribune article said that the image was originally available on the Church’s website as part of a packet of nativity images that members could download, and that the Church removed the image from its website when the SL Trib asked about it. Perhaps the person who selected this version of the painting wasn’t consulted by the PR folks before the image was removed? It seems that an explanation about the different versions of the painting done by the original artist would have solved the issue.
You are absolutely spot on. This is the kind of stuff that makes me embarrassed to be a member. It would be nice if we finally grew up a bit.
Years ago I was in a Desert book in Orem, UT and I was paging through one of those books that was trying to make an archeological case for the BoM being set in Mesoamerica, and it contained images of Mayan art, much of which had very somewhat abstract depictions of human beings, including topless women. I’ve seen this art before, and their breasts are literally just circles or semi-circles with a dot in it. Anyway this book put censor bars over their breasts and I remember laughing at the absurdity of it. The original Mayan line art that is was reproducing, is, in no way, sexy, provocative, or explicit.
(and this if course leaving aside the fact that in pre -hispanic Mesoamerica, as well as many other cultures, both ancient and modern, toplessness among women was/is a normal part of everyday dress and not sexually provocative)
The censor bars were totally unwarranted and led to me to not take the book seriously. It really undermined whatever credibility the author had (presumably) as someone familiar with Mesoamerican archeology or whatever expertise they may have claimed.
But maybe it wasn’t the author’s decision initially, maybe this is something that a publisher like Deseret Book would require.
Well… we all know that Mary wore LDS temple garments so of course the church had to alter the original. This is my snarky comment for the day.
We could go a step farther and talk about double standards of modesty in LDS art. I wonder if the bare chested Nephi artwork now has a BYU T-shirt covering his inhumanly jacked chest.
purple_flurp’s comment reminded me when I was a grad student at BYU many years ago, I bought a book called “How to Do It: A Renaissance Guide to Good Living.” It was a study of how to guides from 15th cen Italy. The cover image was Titian’s Venus and Cupid. At the time, I had a room mate who was dating a girl with very conservative ideals. One day, when she was visiting she saw this book on my desk in the front room and was absolutely mortified. When I explained it was a history book and that the cover was a piece of important art and to top it off, I bought it at the BYU Bookstore, her response was that BYU shouldn’t be selling things like that because it’s not appropriate. All I could do was shake my head and resist the urge to decorate the apartment in Renaissance nudes.
Toad raises a good point about how Nephi is depicted in BOM art. I guess it’s ok to glorify the human body when it supports a Mormon narrative (big strong tough Nephi).
Inspired by @Toad’s comment above, I photoshopped some images for the church to use in next year’s Light The World. Can’t be exposing the children to *immodesty*!!
This may be “borrowing trouble” but my wife and I noticed as we contrasted the original painting with the modified (correlated) version, that there seems to be a lighter skin for both Mary and Jesus. Just wondering if anyone else noticed this? Is it simply an artistic effect due to the added light focused on the baby or was someone concerned about about the mid-eastern skin tone from the 17th century original?
I find the original artwork pretty scandalous. If there had been a shoulder revealed I’d probably be making an appointment to see the bishop. Personally I would have preferred Mary wearing a black turtleneck.
I’m trying to think of how I would try to explain this to a non-member friend. Saying, “I’m sorry, my church is stupid,” is accurate but coarse. I think I would try to make myself look not as stupid as my church by using a fancier word. “Sorry, my church is doltish.” There, that’s better.
I’m dumbstruck. I mean this is so embarrassing. Do we really lack this much judgment, institutionally?
It does seem to suggest the church has big, big problem when it comes to sexualizing everything–talk about projection. The church keeps finding ways to tell me just how screwed up it really is.
Richard, that’s because in the doctored version baby Jesus is glowing like a Coleman gas lantern.
Here’s a comment I left at ZD:
It looks like Carlos Maratta painted more than one version of The Holy Night. The church may have gotten its inspiration from this particular version:
I did go to the museum website not using your link and indeed it shows a lighter skinned and no cleavage version.
Where is this painting being displayed by the church?
If the church were really concerned about modesty they should support females of all ages wearing pants instead of dresses and skirts.
I think if you can’t find “old” art that is acceptable, then pay someone to make new art. Otherwise, leave the original as the artist intended with the lighting, coloring, clothing, and angels. We should be able to handle that.
In the Tribune’s Twitter post, one commenter says that the artist created an alternate version without angels, cleavage, and with the light turned up. He suggests that the church used that version.
If I was Carlo Maratta I’d be retaining a gang of smart, mean lawyers to reassert my position of authority over my own work, and seeking damages. The church is risking (and fully deserves) a high-profile smackdown every time it pulls this stunt, lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum. I’m disgusted to see this current rehash, and it’s because I’m profoundly embarrassed by my people. Again.
I haven’t the bandwidth for writing yet another full response to this, or reading another long comment thread restating the same old appeals and rebuttals.
This is about two related things— 1) controlling the womenfolk in the service of 2) the menfolks’ entitled refusal to grow up beyond leering adolescent attitudes about the sexuality of women. It’s embarrassing that the church is full enough of grown-a$$ men and their grown-a$$ enablers, that nobody will idiot-check this stuff before it gets exposed in public.
For the last time (I wish,) you guys’ boners are entirely your own responsibility, and not the business of any woman, regardless of her attire, her behavior, her age, her hemline, her neckline, the way an artist depicts her, or what have you. It’s completely your business and none of hers. Show some respect for yourselves, and hold each other accountable.
Pretty hubristic to assume ownership of the painting enough to alter it so drastically. Seems pretty typical though to borrow, repackage, and present as inspired. If I had to define the church in one word I think it would be hubris.
So yes I found this horrifying and embarrassing for all the reasons highlighted above.
But also—the angels are gone. Isolate that new mom!
I think there is something very revealing and honest about this whole —vandalism? Desecration? Is it just me, or is one of the effects of the changes making Mary look like she’s about twelve? Creepy much? And while we’ll idealize motherhood with a shiny picture, when it comes down to the actual experience, you’re on your own, honey. All alone with that baby.
There was a traveling Rodin exhibit that came to BYU (lucky us right?) but after a day “The Kiss” caused such an uproar that 4 pieces were removed If I were the curators of the exhibit, I would have pulled the whole thing, and moved on to a venue that appreciated great art.
On an unrelated note (can’t resist a DHO story), A line skirts were the fashion when I was there, which as any woman knows, you cannot walk in one without a slit in the back. DHO was horrified when he spotted a girl in a crosswalk with such a slit. His wife and daughter told him”it’s the fashion” and he said “not at BYU” and DHO relayed this at the next devotional. So we had to go home and sew up our slits. We all wondered “why is he checking out a girl’s butt anyway!” So we sewed up our skits, afraid of the Honor Code “silent referral.” We joked “Sew up your slit or your a slut.” Laughing beats crying, right?
FYI the other thing the church does to classic artwork is to remove halos. The church’s distributed versions of Carl Bloch’s ‘Birth of Jesus Christ’ is one where someone has retouched out the halo https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/image/jesus-birth-nativity-d2181d8?lang=eng
Here’s the original https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-birth-of-jesus-christ-carl-bloch.html?product=canvas-print
The naked torsos of the male shepherds were left in tact. Mary was sufficiently clothed in the original.
Halos are perceived by the church to be Catholic, a demarcation of high church and non-realistic symbol. Over time they evolved to be other-worldly and exaggerated, but originally were a way for artists to depict an aura or radiance of the face, a lightened countenance. We frequently talk about the countenance and shine on Moses or David O. But, yikes- a woman really doesn’t deserve a halo. (Eye roll).
A bit off topic but, as to Purple Flurp and the Deseret Book affair. I’ve never been more proud of my spouse than the day in Rexburg after dropping of a child and visiting Deseret Book, she gathered up a bunch of Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck books, took them to the clerk and asked for the manager. She proceeded to explain in her stern yet kind way how “this crap” is against the policies of the church and should be dumped forth with.
As not much of an art guy, I would never have noticed the change in the painting, and for sure a bit of cleavage would not made me light headed. After visiting the Louvre some years ago I was kind of perplexed by some of the modern art stuff. After arriving home I talked to a dear friend in the ward who was an art professor in a local university about our trip. I apologized and told him I just didn’t get some of the modern stuff, to which he responded he needed a couple of hours to teach me. Sadly, I never got the training and remain a caveman lawyer when it comes to modern art.
Hey all, Jack is right. He pasted in a link to another version of the painting, also painted by Carlo Maratta. This other version has the higher neckline, and doesn’t include the angels.
I’m going to edit the original post to add in this version of the painting, and also to apologize. I jumped the gun on this one. Sorry all.
Janey, I don’t think you jumped the gun on this one. Because it looks like the Church’s edit is an edit of the cleavage version. Which raises the question of why they didn’t use the alternate cleavage-less original in the first place.
I think the original does look better, and whoever was in charge of this in Salt Lake probably thought the same, and I guess thought it was worth it to edit the original rather than use pre-existing, more “””chaste””” alternative.
In my History of Civilization class at BYU (this was 2004 I wanna say), the awesome Professor Luke Howard prefaced the class by explaining that we would be looking at quite a bit of nudity in sculpture and paintings and that it was perfectly ok for us to do so.
He then told the following story:
Two monks were traveling along a road when they came to a river. There was a young woman there who asked for assistance making the crossing. The older monk obliged by carrying her across while the younger monk watched, appalled.
Once across, the monks and the woman continued on their separate ways. The men walked silently a while until the younger monk could no longer bear it. “How could you break your vows,” he demanded, “and carry that woman?!”
“I set her down on the other side of the river,” the older monk replied. “But you have been carrying her ever since.”
So there are (or were) at least some corners of Mormonism where this stuff is handled with a bit more maturity.
Yesterday I was watching surfboat racing on TV. Where surf life saving clubs compete against each other to row their boat with 4 rowers and a sweep at the back to steer .Each club had a female, and a male team. All the rowers had bare bums which were exposed at times during the event. The surf was rough this week and probably 1/4 of boats did not make it out to the buoy and back to the beach. Surfboats have been replaced by jetskees towing a sled for rescues.
During the week we had been to the beach. Most of the women and some of the men have now adopted the bare bum look for beachware.
That someone is editing artwork to prevent clevage showing is sad and pathetic in the real word context.
Surf life savers are volunteers and highly thought of in our community.
Janey, I know we’ve locked horns in the past–but I would like to say, for the record, that I’m impressed by your humility and the way you’ve handled the updating of your OP. That demonstrates that you’re new position here as a permablogger is well deserved.
*your* new position…
I have a question about the alternate painting. Why is the date 1994 painted at the bottom? Hard to see in this post but if you go to the link it is clear someone painted 1994. It is almost the same but the straw is different.
Englecameron, I remember the brouhaha over the Rodin statues too. It began when a group of Mormon ladies went to the exhibit and were scandalized by the Rodin statues and gave university president Merrill Bateman an earful about them. They must’ve been wealthy or had husbands in the Cougar Club (the rich good old boy’s church/BYU network that spends millions on BYU sports while thousands of people in Provo and Utah County go hungry and or homeless) because anyone “lesser” wouldn’t have been listened to. The BYU students staged protests about the removal of the statues because it was perfectly fine to have photos of these same statues in their humanities and art history textbooks, but it was forbidden for them to see the actual statues at the Museum of Art (MOA). Talk about hypocrisy!
When I was a student at BYU there was a prohibition for women to wear jeans or anything made with denim. The church was still equating denim and jeans years after the the 60’s hippie movement. It was fine for the guys to wear jeans but not for us girls. Go figure. A young lady went to take a test at the testing center and was wearing a pair of jeans because it was extremely cold day and it was snowing hard outside, plus the fact that she’d had to walk a couple of miles in this weather to campus from her home. The only pants she had were some jeans. The testing center made a huge and noisy fit over her jeans and unceremoniously kicked her out. Rather than walk all of the way back home and then to campus again just to change her pants she ducked into a women’s bathroom of the testing center building and took off her jeans. Because she was wearing a long trench coat to the testing center she was admitted back to take her test.
A couple of days later she wrote a letter to the editor of the campus newspaper recounting her experience. Cartoonist Pat Bagley did a cartoon for the newspaper showing three panels entitled “dressed for success”, one panel showing a man in a three piece suit and another man in the second one wearing a nice sport coat, Oxford shirt, tie and slacks. In the third panel there was a young woman wearing a trench coat with a pair of jeans draped over her arm standing in front of the testing center. The message was that wearing jeans was evil but wearing just your panties or garment bottoms under a trench coat was perfectly fine.
The denim prohibition got even more absurd when the father of one of the girls in a musical group that I performed in was turned away from the concert hall because he was wearing a nicely tailored denim suit. He’d flown all of the way from Dallas to attend the concert because his daughter was playing a solo, and he missed it because of the ridiculous rule about denim. (Nowhere was there anything written stating that the denim prohibition also applied to anyone outside of the university students, staff and faculty members.) After that experience I purposely wore jeans on campu to go practice, rehearse and do after hours work for a student organization that I was heavily involved in, all of the while hoping that I would be caught so that I could raise my voice in protest against such a stupid policy. It never happened unfortunately.😢
Jesus says that God looks upon the inner person to see if their hearts and minds are aligned with His works of grace, growth and love. Unfortunately, our church is so fixated with outward appearances and policing members’ every move that they often wrongly condemn the pure and generous in heart who do so much good but who don’t slavishly follow some absurd man made (emphasis on “man”) dress code that enforces their twisted ideas about modesty while giving a pass to those who follow their silly “dressed for church success” rules to a T and yet are inwardly corrupt, pompous and/or cold hearted individuals. To quote King Mongkut of Siam in “The King and I” “‘Tis a puzzlement.”
A Poor Wayfaring Stranger—
Yup. I well remember that incident at the testing center with the girl wearing the jeans. It confirmed that I made the right choice not to attend the university of the Pharisees.
Pharisees…….”their teachings reduced religion to the observance of rules and encouraged spiritual pride.”
This article from College Magazine ranks BYU at number 3 in the top 10 most prudish schools in the country:
I think that’s something to be proud of. BYU’s standards might be overzealously enforced at times–but overall the net effect of its honor code has been positive.
And this site shows that BYU has earned the top sober school spot for over 20 years:
Again, something to be proud of.
Looking back and forth at all three paintings, it appears that the church modified the “cleavage” version of the painting, making it look like the original non-cleavage one.
The a GA’s and their minions aren’t very good art critics. They remove the wings from angels. They removed 2 Rodin sculptures because the statues have boners. They don’t like cleavage or shoulders showing on women. They select a Christas that looks decidedly Catholic. The art works (really so-so illustrations) chosen for churches are decidedly pedestrian. They were going to destroy a wonderful mural by Minerva T. in the Manti temple.
In the 60’s, the French BoM had the homoerotic illustrations of Arnold F. That was weird.
Let’s display the religious works of art by El Greco, Millet, Van Gogh, Chagall, etc.
Thanks Jack. We’ll probably continue to disagree on most issues, but I hope to be fair. I learned how to apologize several years ago and it’s been a skill that’s caused a lot of personal growth.
Poor Wayfaring Stranger – that story makes my jaw drop. I hadn’t heard about the denim prohibition before.
@ Kai Christensen
Love it! Well done.
I did my own research into this image and it appears that there are two full size versions attributed to Maratti, as well as the miniature rondo at the Prado. (His name is anglicized as “Maratta” which is favored by Google but the Italian spelling gets results too) They’re interchangeably titled as “The Holy Night” or “Nativity.” The first seems to be the one in the Oratory of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami, a historic chapel in the diocese of Rome, and the other, almost identical, is at the Gemäldegalerie Dresden. However identical in appearance, these are two discrete works with distinct differences. The Dresden painting has only 3 putti (baby angels) and this painting glows with light. The San G. version has 5 putti and seems to have an issue with old, darkened varnish, or something. Both of these are public domain and have high res wikimedia images, and are popular reproduction subjects. Both paintings have the same graceful, slight cleavage in the figure of the youthful Madonna, and one has a transparent layer overlay on the bodice. How baroque!
The Prado version didn’t show up in my searching until I specifically googled ‘Prado’ and there are no high res public domain of that one. Partly because a 13cm diameter painting will naturally have cruder detail, and because the Prado is notoriously protective of the images in its collections. It is not Maratti’s first version of this subject. This is the one with the raised neckline, and in comparison to the larger versions, her bodice appears awkward and flat with little form, exactly as it would be if added later, either by the artist or by someone else , perhaps at the request of the patron who commissioned it. The version digitally altered by the church shows much the same result. Both altered versions, when compared to the earlier, larger works, are a non-verbal treatise on prudery.
Are you bored yet? Art history and provenance aren’t for dilettantes. My brain hurts. There’s a lot more to the story of these paintings than I could dig up, but I’m certain of the two separate versions and both are reproduced rather widely, often without any citations. It’s a sweet, romanticized image that satisfies someone looking for an old master painting of the nativity, with little to no copyright baggage.
I’m dumping my findings here because I believe Janey’s original post is legit, and she has no need to apologize for it, although her graciousness is a credit to her and to W&T.
I spent more time than I should have digging up information, and I’m willing to accept accountability for any error. I have many more questions than answers myself, but will need a trip to Europe to settle them. Or another dilettante with time to google Baroque Italian painters of lesser renown.
If anyone is still reading and has an interest, here are the links to the three paintings of the nativity by Carlo Maratti discussed above. I should have included them in my comment, but my phone is a cumbersome tool.
1. Wikimedia commons — the San Giuseppe version (this is the one used in the OP)
2. Wikimedia commons — the Gemäldegalerie Dresden version (probably the one the church altered for LTW use)
3. The rondo at the Prado, titled “ The Virgin laying the sleeping Christ on straw” and is (correction) 36cm diameter or about 14”
If anyone is still reading and has an interest, here are the links to the three paintings of the nativity by Carlo Maratti discussed above.
1. Wikimedia commons — the San Giuseppe version (this is the one used in the OP)
2. Wikimedia commons — the Gemäldegalerie Dresden version (probably the one the church altered for LTW use)
3. The rondo at the Prado, titled “The Virgin laying the sleeping Christ on straw” and is (correction)36cm diameter or about 14”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the bigger the prude, the bigger the perv. The problem I have with the no cleavage version is that it emphasizes Mary as a child, which is probably rather accurate given the time frame. Also, most contemporary virgin birth stories are very young teens who don’t realize what has happened to them. The whitened skin is very noticeable as well.