The destruction of nudes
The Venus of Willendorf, at 30,000 years of age, the doyenne of humanity, yet today censored for its nudity.
The very first time a human carved the image of another, 35,000 years ago, it was in the nude. From the very inception of art, the nude was one of the defining aspects of mankind's creativity.
Then Classical Greece depicted its gods looking human. Not only did gods looked human, but since humans looked like gods, it was as if the pedestal usually reserved for the divine was now shared with mankind. This is why it is sometimes difficult, looking at a Greek or Roman statue, to know if one is looking at the statue of a god, or of a man.
In the wake of Adam and Eve who covered themselves, having gained knowledge that nakedness was shameful, nude statuary became extremely rare in the Middle Ages.
The nude ceased to be the realm of divinities, a celebration of the body of heroic men, a depiction of inner and outer beauty, but became instead a badge of shame, a depiction of vulnerability, of the sinner falling into hell.
Gods and goddesses joined heroes and emperors into the kiln, recycled into construction material for the new places of worship. If nudes were painted or carved on medieval churches, there was no glory, but helplessness, fear and the horrors of hell.
The Renaissance was an attempt to revive the genius of Antiquity, and nudity reappeared, without shame. But at the peak of the Florentine Renaissance, Savoranola did not see a revival of the arts and philosophy, but a city of “orgies and debauchery”, where nudity was particularly denounced. Twice, a bonfire of Vanities took “disgraceful and lascivious paintings and sculptures, mirrors, powder and other cosmetics and lascivious perfumes, poetry books, and every other disgraceful reading material, and books of music”.
Michelangelo might have created amongst the greatest Christian art ever made in the Sistine Chapel, it did not stop the criticism against the nudes he painted. Repeatedly, 16th century Popes threatened that the Sistine Chapel paintings would be “cast down to the ground”, to “throw it to the ground”, to have the “painting scrapped of”, only to be saved when the director of the Arts Academy “threw himself at the Pope's feet and passionately begged so that Rome would not be deprived of such marvel”.
The threat against nudity in art still exists, for example a Gauguin painting was attacked in a museum because “I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. I think it should be burned”.
The destruction is now replaced by virtual censorship, when public artworks, paintings in museums, and even a descent of the cross by Rubens -the body of Christ taken from the cross- are censored. Even the 'Venus of Willendorf', who spent 30,000 years old unclothed, one of the most iconic prehistoric artworks, could not escape being censored.
This is a preview of the chapter about the destruction and censorship of nude artworks from the book Lost Treasures.
The title of the chapter is from Tartuffe by Molière.