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A Monk and a Nun

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem1591

Frans Hals Museum

Frans Hals Museum

A monk squeezes a nun’s breast. The explanation of this picture most often given is that it is a sixteenth-century satire on the dissolute lives of those living in cloisters: monks and nuns were frequently accused of drunkenness, gluttony, avarice and licentious behaviour. The wine and the fruit would therefore allude to an immoral life.
In old museum catalogues, however, the subject of this painting is described as ‘the miracle of Haarlem’. According to the legend, a Haarlem nun was accused of having concealed a pregnancy and birth. It was believed that her motherhood could be detected by squeezing her breast: if milk was expressed, the accusation was true. The painting depicts the moment when a monk ‘experienced in the medical sciences’ squeezes the nun’s breast. This is when the miracle occurred: it was not milk, but wine that flowed from her breast. This proved the nun’s piety and innocence. In this case the wine and fruit symbolize a virginal life. Which explanation is the correct one remains the question.

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Details

  • Title: A Monk and a Nun
  • Creator: Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem
  • Date Created: 1591
  • Physical Dimensions: Canvas, 116 × 103 cm
  • Type: Painting; genre painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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