The great art cover-up: Renaissance nudity still has power to shock
Source:theguardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2016-07-26 Size:
You never know what will offend people. Researchers at the University of Cambridge……

Too curvy? A sketch of Leonardo Da Vinci’s destroyed painting Leda and the Swan, c 1503.

You never know what will offend people. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that a skirt was crudely painted over the naked Eve in a Renaissance manuscript soon to go on view at the city’s Fitzwilliam Museum. Some time between the 16th and 18th centuries a particularly prudish owner had this image bowdlerised, even though the nudity of Adam and Eve is a venerable and respectable religious theme.

It’s far from the only incident where Renaissance art has been considered so sensual and provocative that it has been censored, or even destroyed. Works of art get lost for many reasons, but there is a suspiciously high destruction rate for those involving nudity. Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan was one of the first openly carnal depictions of myth in art, delighting in a big-bosomed, curvy-hipped Leda. Today, this painting is only known through drawings and copies. A French owner probably destroyed it deliberately.

Leda and the Swan is a particularly troubling Greek myth: understood literally, it is the tale of a woman who made love to a swan. In our own time it has been provocatively filmed by Sam Taylor-Wood, before she went on to make the Hollywood film of 50 Shades of Grey (as Taylor-Johnson). Perhaps one day a religious censor will destroy all copies of Taylor-Wood’s Leda video. Not only did someone obliterate Leonardo’s version, but yet another pious fool destroyed Michelangelo’s (admittedly highly perverse) painting of Leda.

Michelangelo’s statue of the Risen Christ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, with a loincloth added after Michelangelo’s death.

Michaelangelo gives Leda the face of his male assistant Antonio Mini and presses her/his lips to the tip of the swan’s hard beak. This suggestion of fellatio may be one of the factors that pushed a prude to destroy the painting. Even a copy that survives in the National Gallery has a controversial history: in the 19th century, it was kept in the director’s office because it was considered too disgusting to be on public view.

Another racy Renaissance painting in the National Gallery was, until comparatively recently, censored just like Eve in the Cambridge manuscript. Bronzino’s great, and stupendously sensual painting An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (about 1545) had a flimsy veil added to make Venus “decent”. A myrtle branch was also added over Cupid’s buttocks. The nipple Cupid is caressing was painted out. These clumsy additions and erasures date from the 19th century. Only in 1958 did restorers remove them to reveal the full glory of Bronzino’s masterpiece.

Why has so much great Renaissance art been censored over the centuries? The nudity of Eve in the 1505 manuscript at the Fitzwilliam reflects the classical sensuality of the Renaissance. This explosion of the carnal in art, when Europe rediscovered the beauty of the nude and the freedom of ancient Greek and Roman thought, crashed into religious revivals, iconoclasm and holy war during the Reformation and counter-Reformation, not to mention the later hypocrisies of the Victorian age.

Religion turned against the sexual freedom of Renaissance art. When it was unveiled in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s Last Judgment was accused of being more fit for a gay bathhouse than the Pope’s church. As soon as Michelangelo died, a painter was hired to cover the buttocks of his flying nudes with “decent” draperies. Many of these idiotic veilings are still there – the Vatican has not allowed modern restorers to remove them.

The same goes for Michelangelo’s statue of the Risen Christ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, which wears a ridiculous loincloth added after Michelangelo’s death. It’s all gratifying proof of the power and life of great art. The Renaissance is still dangerous after all these years. Just ask its censorious enemies.

Agnolo Bronzino, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, as it was meant to be seen.

[Editor] 张艳