Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Religious Art in the News!

A friend of mine pointed to me to the recent "News OK" story about a controversial St Damiano Crucifix recently commissioned for a church in Oklahoma.

This led me to check out other crucifixes, and I'll post some here. While I think this issue is really about artistic style, it hints at a larger issue within religious art that I find fascinating: the humanity of Jesus. Jesus' life as a man has been pondered and argued about for millennia, and that's probably not going to change. But I want to read, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, by Leo Steinberg, on the subject. But think about it: if you are an artist, trying to portray the humanness of your subject, then you will want to be accurate, right? I mean, Jesus was a Jew, and he was circumcised, so....

Here's the mini-review from the Amazon site about Steinberg's book:
Originally published in 1983, Leo Steinberg's classic work has changed the viewing habits of a generation. After centuries of repression and censorship, the sexual component in thousands of revered icons of Christ is restored to visibility. Steinberg's evidence resides in the imagery of the overtly sexed Christ, in Infancy and again after death. Steinberg argues that the artists regarded the deliberate exposure of Christ's genitalia as an affirmation of kinship with the human condition. Christ's lifelong virginity, understood as potency under check, and the
first offer of blood in the circumcision, both required acknowledgment of the genital organ. More than exercises in realism, these unabashed images underscore the crucial theological import of the Incarnation. This revised and greatly expanded edition not only adduces new visual evidence, but deepens the theological argument and engages the controversy aroused by the book's first publication.

But most of the time, nowadays, when we see a crucifix, Jesus is tastefully draped in a cloth, with his privates covered. We are comfortable with that. In the "controversial" icon above, he is covered, but it is the image of his abdomen that looks suspiciously like a penis that has people upset. I think, if you look at a lot of religious art, you see this type of depiction of Jesus' body a lot, and it's not a big deal. But, I may well be in the minority on this point. What do you think?