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15th-century painting becomes local meme

Social media users have noticed a resemblance between Northeast Philadelphia residents and a monk depicted in a 1446 Early Netherlandish painting, and, of course, there’s a meme about it.

Meme of the century: Social media users have been editing a fifteenth century portrait of a monk to resemble a typical Northeast Philadelphia resident. PICTURE VIA KENNY SCHEFFEL


Meme of the century: Social media users have been editing a 15th-century portrait of a monk to resemble a typical Northeast Philadelphia resident. PICTURE VIA NORTHEAST PHILLY MONK FACEBOOK PAGE

In an unexpected testament to the timelessness art can wield, a 1400s Early Netherlandish painting has recently blown up in the Northeast Philadelphia spotlight thanks to a social media observation that evolved into a meme.

Portrait of a Carthusian, an oils on oak painting created by Petrus Christus in 1446, is a three-quarter portrait of a Carthusian monk currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is regarded as a masterpiece. The painting rose to local prominence when Colt Shaw, a local journalist, noted on Twitter that the monk in the portrait resembled modern day “Northeast Philly dudes.” 

The straight-banged haircut with a fade and long beard style, combined with the 15th-century cowl reminiscent of a modern-day hoodie, made the comparison resonate with thousands of social media users who liked and shared the observation.

As the internet is prone to do, it quickly followed up with the creation of countless memes pontificating off the idea, accessorizing the monk with a Father Judge High School hoodie or a cigarette behind one ear, or placing him in front of a Wawa or popular local businesses. 

A couple of Facebook pages sprouted up, including Northeast Philly Monk Memes, a group where the community can share their self-made memes, and Northeast Philly Monk, a page where Holmesburg resident Kenny Scheffel curates top-quality memes.

“The meme picked right up because everybody in Northeast Philly gets the joke,” Scheffel said. “The character is identifiable and the locations are identifiable and when they match like that, it’s fodder for hilarious comedy.”

The original Portrait of a Carthusian. METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART/PUBLIC DOMAIN

In a week, his page has amassed more than 2,800 likes. The community group has grown past more than 4,000 members.

Scheffel is a Father Judge graduate and a lifelong Northeast Philadelphia resident himself. He doesn’t create the memes, but shares his favorites ones with the creator’s credit.

“I can’t even look at his face anymore without laughing,” he said.

He said the monk’s lack of a smile, likely from hours of posing unmoving for the painter, was particularly characteristic of the Northeast Philadelphia guys he resembles.

At the end of the day, it’s a joke with no harm intended that has taken on a life of its own.

“It’s helping us get through this time in our lives where there’s nothing to do outside, so the more the merrier,” Scheffel said. 

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