Crystalline Wombs and Pregnant Hearts

Gala will be our guru on this article for Thursday’s discussion. Just a little background: one of the “hottest” new trends in medieval art history is Christian materiality—that is to say that the materials that are used to create works of art are imbued with agency and must be considered in the same way one examines symbolism or patronage, etc. This article is a stunning example of this approach. Unfortunately, Inter-library loan sent this to me without footnotes so we are reading it without the full advantage of her erudition. Some questions to start the discussion:
1. How did devotional images function within a monastic context? Did this differ from the way they functioned outside the monastery?
2. What were some of the properties ascribed to crystals during the Middle Ages? Are there any contemporary parallels to these beliefs?
3. How does Gertrude’s vision of the nursing Madonna differ from the medieval concept of nursing both in utero and post partum?
4. Does it seem incongruous to you that pregnancy should be a model for one’s union with God for both males and females in monastic settings?
5. According to Jung, what did the nuns see in the crystalline wombs of the Virgin and Elizabeth in the statue group of the Visitation?
6. Do you feel that X-ray vision is unique to the medieval period?
7. Why was Guta’s gaze problematic?
8. Finally, what is the dialogical relationship between the observer and the object in the monastic setting?

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One response

  1. People at the time believed that crystals came from water that was so cold it became permanently frozen, and was a metaphor of purity. They were often associated with liquid still, even though praised for their hardness, and were proscribed as a medical treatment to those suffering from dry ailments, for example, dry breast milk. I found it surprising that such a hard rock would for centuries be associated with liquid. The crystal wombs represent the pregnancy of saints, though because their conceptions are divinely inspired, it relates to the monastics conception of a spiritual pregnancy, that this is the way one can closest connect with God, if he plants a holy seed in you. It’s like imitating these holy women, and nuns and monks are supposed to be in a holy union with God, so it does not actually seem that strange.
    As far as I know, Superman has X Ray vision, thus I would not say it is unique to the Middle Ages

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