The Sexuality of Christ in Modern and Renaissance Art

Speaking of the scandal of the Incarnation, I thought I'd point you to a thread over at The Daily Dish regarding Renaissance depictions of Christ's genitalia. The thread initially pointed to this controversy in Oklahoma regarding the icon to the right which parishioners found offensive for its subtle (or not so subtle) depiction of Jesus' penis.

There is actually a rich history for this sort of artwork. The classic account of this tradition is Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. The publisher description of the 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.
A Dish reader links to a photo gallery of this artwork. Surf at your own risk...

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3 thoughts on “The Sexuality of Christ in Modern and Renaissance Art”

  1. I own a shirt that says "Jesus was Breast Fed" but EEK--I'm having a hard time reacting to this abstractly because this art is just so graphic. I've probably seen this stuff for years and never had it register this way.

  2. It is kind of odd. Some of the abdominal renderings are pretty explicit, but for many of the others I just say to myself, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes six-pack abs are just six-pack abs..."

  3. That's quite a distension! A complement to this might be the much discussed Medieval associations of Christ's wound (vulnus) with a vulva -- etymologically they're not related, but the similarity in sound was noted, and both bleed, both are penetrable, both are the gateway to life, etc. -- which makes Thomas' engagement with it very interesting.

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