The Bolt – 25 November 2019

Look closely at this painting. What do you see?

Maybe a young, beautiful woman, who is fully dressed, struggling in the arms of a man, who is himself partly clothed. He has muscular arms. With one he holds the woman close to his body, while with the other he pushes home the bolt to lock the door. The woman has raised her arm to push back from his hold, her head twisting aside. The man is still and strong, the woman, including her clothing, full of movement. The implication of this painting is that the man will overcome the woman, and a sexual act will follow.

Or maybe, as described in the Louvre where this picture hangs, here is ‘a woman half-heartedly fighting off her lover’s advances’. The room is ‘in disarray indicating what is to come’, the bed ‘embodying the protagonists (plural) sexual urges’.

This painting, ‘The Bolt’, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1777), is considered a masterpiece of French libertine art. The word ‘bolt’ is a euphemism for ‘penis’.

Today, 25 November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the first of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. Pictures like this one here, which hang in nearly every national gallery in Europe and North America, reveal how deeply acts of rape and violence are embedded within western culture.


In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.

When she took (bread) to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”  “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me!

But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

2 Samuel 13:1-2, 11-12, 14

God bless you
with insight to recognise violence in all its forms,
and courage to name it,
speaking out for justice.
The Lord Jesus bless you
with compassion for the vulnerable,
and grace to stand with them,
sharing his strength.
The Holy Spirit bless you
with a prayerful heart,
and power to breathe peace,
transforming the world.
The blessing of the holy and glorious Trinity,
eternal Wisdom, living Word, abiding Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.

Tear Fund, prayer for those working to end violence against women