The Church and the Renaissance Nude

Dear Reader,

First and foremost, Merry Christmas.

Secondly, I have a brief note on the nude in the Renaissance. While working my way through coffee and Buche de Noel at my in-laws, I came across some interesting information in James Cleugh’s The Medici: A Tale of Fifteen Generations.

While, in my younger and more tender years, I had previously thought that the Church had always endorsed the painting of nudes as long as it was meant to inspire love of the human form (an argument I now know that was given by Neoplatonists and neopagans, not sincere Catholics), nudes were prohibited by more conservative Churchmen–especially in the early 15th century. Previously, I had thought that it was the dour Protestant Puritans who had condemned the nudes, but it was both conservative Catholics and Protestants who condemned nudes while the “easy-going” and debauched clergy promoted and even financed them.

What is more, Cleugh provides a detail of how Fra. Bartolommeo’s San Sebastian was so impure that it was removed from a Church due to complaints from women that it was a near occasion of sin.

Francis I of France eventually took the painting to use, Cleugh suggests, as a means of seducing women.

Remember, this is a religious nude that was originally used for devotional purpose.

Am I saying that the nudes should be destroyed a la Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities?

By no means.

But the fact that the more conservative Churchmen have always condemned their public display is something to think about.

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