The Body in Christian Art

Throughout this short series we focus on pictures of Adam and Eve
because artists knew from the creation account in Scripture
that they had been naked.

 

During the early centuries, under influence of helenistic and Gnostic thought, Christians avoided portraying naked women or men in their art. This is sharp contrast to classical Greek art.

Representations of men and women tend to be sexless.

See here.

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During the Middle Ages, in line with the theology of the time, the body was looked upon with suspicion. This applied especially to women.

The beauty of the human body was seen as a risk, an invitation to sin. In the typical Adam and Eve scene, the tempter is shown as a woman, often as a snake with a woman’s head.

See here for examples.

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When the Renaissance broke out in Europe, artists rediscovered the reality of the human body. Men and women are portrayed as they are.

Discarding the misplaced shame about the body in the past, they are not afraid to be quite explicit. The glory of the human body reflects the glory of the Creator.

More information here.

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Unfortunately, a reaction soon set in. While the outside world continued in its path of liberated art, Christians returned to their previous state of embarrassment. This led to the socalled ‘fig-leaf campaign’: the attempt to hide genitals from public view.

See here.

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