Pornography for priests

Naked, smiling and being touched by curious young boys.

Dead Christ with Angels

Dead sexy

Rosso Fiorentino painted his “Dead Christ with Angels” as “a work for private devotion” for Bishop Tornabuoni around 1526 (phrase from the Courtauld’s John Shearman).

No blood, no pain, no suffering, just a relaxed body being inspected by inquisitive little angels looking like altar boys grasping enormous phallic candles. What a treat for a bishop!

And a complete disconnect from Jesus’ message of the need to purify Israel, and return to the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”). But then again, this is Paul’s Christianity, not Jesus’ Judaism.

The logic of the painting is baffling. With Jesus dead (and his spirit having left the body and gone somewhere else?), why would angels put on clothes to look at his naked corpse? What world are we looking at, the spiritual world but with a physical corpse? Or the physical world, with physical fully-clothed angels such as we rarely see these days? And what does an angel need a candle for anyway? It is a work of deliberate fantasy, with no attempt at fact or logic.

There was a time when angels were considered to be terrifying powerful manifestations of divine power. Here they’re just something for the priesthood to salivate over, and to look and see what kind of reaction the painting gets from other viewers. “Come up to my room and let me show you my work for private devotion…”

Of course, if you want the traditional view, you can just listen to a couple of Khan Academy art critics talking about “elements that are hard to figure out” and “heightening the spirituality” and so on.

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Religion, or pornography?

A lot of religious art has a pornographic quality to it. Baby Moses in the bulrushes, with various naked females. Jesus being taken down from the cross, naked and very languid. And, of course, the activities of the Greek and Roman gods…

Derek Santini's "Leda and the Swan"

Santini layers a series of still photos onto ribbed plastic sheeting that creates a hologram-like effect as the viewer passes.

Photographer Derek Santini’s studies of Leda and the Swan made news recently when a London bobby on a bus spotted obscenity inside the Scream art gallery and had the offending work taken down on the spot.

But the problem here was that the policeman wasn’t educated enough to recognize the classical religious reference. Better to stay with the stories that even the cops know.

Next up for Santini… how about that story of the Virgin Mary getting pregnant?