Reflection on Naked Jesus

JESUS has no clothes

I was shocked when I first saw Michelangelo’s sculpture of Risen Christ. He was completely naked and his genital completely exposed. The famous David sculpture is the same: naked with the penis visible. Two questions came to my mind about Renaissance religious art:

(1) Why are those nude figures of Biblical personalities all male, none female? Mary shows one breast sometimes, but that’s about the extent of it as far as the undraped Biblical female figures are concerned.

(2) Why none of them is circumcised though they were all Jewish.

I looked at other Renaissance religious arts and ventured to do some speculation. I also looked at paintings by artists like Donatello and Raffael who depicted the Mother and the naked Holy Child. Some of them had baby John the Baptist with them, equally naked.

I came to a conclusion that Renaissance religious arts reflected an official church views that demonstrated male chauvinism and anti-Semitism that prevailed throughout the twenty centuries of Christianity. Happily the church stopped burning at stake and/or torturing of those who go against the official doctrines. But persecution of those who go against the out-dated and persistent views in many churches still exists. Think of the way homosexuals, Muslims (or believers of other religions), and pro-choice women, for example, are treated by fundamentalist Christians.

Some people defend Renaissance artists: that they were merely reviving the Greco-Roman art. At one time, the Greeks believed that female bodies were incomplete hence regarded less perfect esthetically. So for a long time, the Biblical nude figures in Renaissance religious art were all male. They are imitation of Greek art, nothing more, they explain.

I don’t accept this argument. Looking at the many nude figures of Christ and of other Biblical heros like David, I believe that the church, therefore the artists, tried to emphasize their maleness. The church must have tried hard to stamp out all the lingering yeaning for divine female characters. Hence they justified witch-hunts and other acts of misogyny. Lingering discrimination of women in many Christian institutions still exists and is rationalized. The only woman considered to be holy is a virgin and a mother, an impossible feat for a normal woman, therefore doesn’t exist.

The church also tried hard to erase all Jewishness from Biblical figures. It is impossible to pretend ignorance: saying “artists didn’t know how a circumcised penis looked like.” Nonsense! Circumcision is such an important mark of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people in the Bible and is impossible to ignore. Also, people who lived in the Mediterranean Europe during the Renaissance period must have seen circumcised males, be they the North African slaves or the Jews. They could not say they didn’t know how it looked. It shows how anti-Semitism in the Christian Church was deep-rooted. No wonder it took the church two millennia before the Vatican II officially recanted Anti-Semitism.

It is about time all religions abandon doctrinal rigidity and learn to be humble.

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