How Warm it is Lying in the Little Side: Medieval and Early-Modern Depictions of the Side-Wound of Christ

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Now that the semester has ended, I am beginning to work on a new painting. It is based on Western medieval depictions of the side-wound of Christ.

wound 01
Christ’s Side Wound, From Psalter and Prayer Book of Bonne de Luxembourg, before 1349.

Much has been made of the vaginal appearance of the wound in modern academic writings, just as with the mandorla of iconography.

russian icon
Russian Orthodox Icon with Christ in mandorla, 19th century

It is undeniable, and not a bad thing. Witness this illustration from one of the Bible Moralisèe, France, c. 1225, in which the personification of the Church, or Ecclesia, is birthed through the side-wound:

wound 04

But the suggestive side-wound is not about Christians attempting to subsume “goddess” imagery. Since the semester is over I won’t turn this blog entry into a research paper. Instead, I will recommend the secular, academic yet accessible Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages by Caroline Walker Bynum. Her work is an even-keeled antidote to the modern writings on the topic, which tend to be gleeful and gawking, with talk of “queering” the sexuality of Christ. Writings full of smug “discoveries” of the “gender fluidity” of medieval Christianity, as though something naughty has been uncovered within secret Christian tomes. are sure to please. These simplistic, titillating pieces are popular in the short term, even though on a deeper level they betray a severe (and very probably willful) misinterpretation of the medieval approach to gender and sexuality- which is much, much more fascinating and enriching than such works would lead a person to believe. As a Christian who is braving academia in order to study both the history of art and of medieval culture, this type of facile bullshit is the background noise of many hours of my days, like the sound of flies.


Anyway, pictured here are some of the examples I am working from. It should be noted that my painting is not to be an (Orthodox) icon of any sort. As far as I know, the devotion to and obsession with the individual wounds of Christ is a phenomenon of the Western/Latin church. However, while I don’t stray from the traditions and advice of the Orthodox Church and Her Fathers, the medieval consideration of the wounds has long appealed to me both as an artist and a Christian. I will post progress and finished pieces.

Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “How Warm it is Lying in the Little Side.” Ortolana Studio. Ortolana Studio, 25 March 2018.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Univ. of California Press.
The Measure of the Side Wound and the Body of Christ, an Indulgence.The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
Renaissance Manuscripts Online – The Morgan Library & Museum.
The Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg, Duchess of Normandy.The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum.

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