The Art of …

First, I’d like to thank all of you who left comments for me about the direction of this column. For now, I’ve decided to continue jumping around and letting it be a daily surprise. I don’t have a classical education and often feel inhibited about commenting on the art that I choose, but I’m going to try and be more open about what appeals to me. To that end, I’d like to thank Tethys and Flex for the information about Kay Neilsen from yesterday’s post. Neilsen is one of my favourite artists of the Art Nouveau period. I find his work sensual and suggestive. I will also be following up with artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, whose work was a delight to discover. Thanks, Tethys.

Today we’ll take a peek at the art of … sacrilege, by respected Dutch-Swedish painter Martin Van Meytens the Younger, This is a rare double-sided painting, the front depicting a pious nun at prayer and the backside showing her naked bum to the monk who stands behind her. It’s a fun and naughty painting from a time when the catholic religion was a powerful force that declared sexuality as only for procreation through the bonds of marriage.

The Nun’s backside, 1731, Martin Van Meytens The Younger. Image from The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

The Nun’s backside, 1731, Martin Van Meytens The Younger. Image from The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things


  1. flex says

    I’ve seen this before, but it is a great ribald painting. The lecherous face of he monk, along with the touch of white fabric at the back of the nun in the front side, hints at what the back shows. But it doesn’t proclaim it, so the revel is surprising.

    I don’t have a classical education and often feel inhibited about commenting on the art that I choose, but I’m going to try and be more open about what appeals to me.

    Please do.

    I don’t have a ‘classical’ education either, but I’ve had an interest in art for years, and I’m old so I’ve learned a few things. I also have pretty good research skills, as well as a fairly decent library, so when I find something interesting I can learn more about it.

    But one of the reasons I don’t blog is because I am far more interested in what other people are thinking rather than regurgitate my own thoughts. It’s amazing how much you can learn by listening to other people. Of course, once someone does say something, it can be the start of a good conversation. Although I often neglect to start a conversation, simply due to time.

    So speak up. There are no wrong opinions about art. No one will mind if you say something we can all see, and many of us will be interested if you see something we never had before. I’ve had this discussion with my wife many times; for any piece of art you can look at it in many ways. Some of these ways include; how the artist intended it to be viewed, how the viewer sees it, how another viewer sees it, from the perspective of current events, from the perspective of events happening at the time it was created. There are dozens of ways to view a single item, because even something which does not fall into the category of traditional art can be considered as art.

    The best illustration of this idea, in my opinion, is the short story by Jorge Luis Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. The conceit of this story is that the author Pierre Menard is writing Cervantes’ Don Quixote, line for line, word for word, in 17th Century Spanish, in 1939. So how does the novel Don Quixote change when it is written against the backdrop of 1939, while a very bloody civil war is going on in Spain?

    At the time, the academic view would say that Cervantes’ Don Quixote> should be considered a product of the writer’s time. From that perspective, to “correctly” understand The Quixote the reader should have some background in medieval history as well as the current events of the 17th Century. No later events should be considered. Under this view of literature and the arts, there is a right opinion and a wrong opinion. But the point Borges made so brilliantly was that if the reader (or academics) will look at the exact same text differently if it was written by Pierre Menard in 1939, then there is no right or wrong answer. Most academics today have acknowledged that there is no privileged perspective, although there are holdouts. There are a multitude of perspectives, all of which are valid, which can yield insight and understanding of a creation. Even perspectives that the creator never expected. All these different perspectives can generate thoughts, ideas, and spark additional creations.

    The only wrong answer is to not think.

  2. Ice Swimmer says

    It’s a rather well-done visual gag. I like it. I’ve never heard of Martin van Meytens, but I’m glad I do now.

    So, Martin van Meytens was born at the start of the Great Famine* of 1695–1697 in the Swedish Realm. He then began his career as a miniaturist in Great Britain in 1714, the same year Finland was occupied by Russia (the occupation in known as the Great Wrath). These are all coincidences. He seemed to have been quite a cosmopolitan.

    His Dutch-born father Martin Mijtens seems to have come to Sweden in his late twenties and remained there for the most of his long life under the reigns of four monarchs, two absolute (Charles XI and Charles XII), one reigning queen (Ulrika Eleonora, the sister of the military adventurer king Charles XII after he got shot in the head** in Norway) and one constitutional monarch, Frederick I*** from Hessen who luckily didn’t meddle in anything important. Mijtens the older did paint a portrait of king Frederick.
    * = One of the most serious ones ever.
    ** = We don’t know from which side the bullet came. At the time, The Great Northern War had raged for 18 years and the arrogant teenager king had become a 36-year-old who had committed a colossal military overreach resulting in Sweden losing big time.
    *** = Hunting and having sex with his mistresses (but not his wife, they had no kids) were enough for him.

  3. Jazzlet says


    I have several of the prints of the paintings of flowers that MMM did with CR Mackintosh around Walberswick, I like them a lot. They were a reward for staying with my future MiL in Lowestoft, we would visit Southwold for the wonderful fish shop where we found delicacies like bloaters as well as disgusting things like red herring, then go to the bookshop and I would pick a new flower print to take home as a reward for my forebearance*.

    * This included not only not spitting out the first melt-in-the-mouth sprout, but eating the rest of the sprouts on my plate.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    As for the lack of classical education, I concur with flex. While formal education can bring more background knowledge and context, I think art stands on its own, the artist has set up their little corner of the world and you experience it your way and I experience whatever I experience. Neither is wrong.

  5. Tethys says

    Art is subjective is one of the few principals I recall from art class. I am not well educated about art, but did get a bit of art history and symbolism along with learning color theory. The symbolism of the classical masters and religious art was truly fascinating.

    I know the art that I like, which tends to be either art nouveau or impressionists. In looking at some of Kay Nielsens illustrations after the last post, I discovered that the light fixture I recently installed in my dining room strongly resembles a light fixture that he drew, which is hanging in a troll cave.

    You are very welcome for the mention of Margaret Mackintosh. I am pleased that others also appreciate the works of MMM and the Glasgow School. It was a strong influence in the arts and crafts movement.

Leave a Reply