Depictions of Nudity and its Significance in Christian Art

Depictions of Nudity and its Significance in Christian Art

Depictions of Nudity and its Significance in Christian Art

The exhibition is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and it captures the medieval and the 11th century Christian art. At the time, nudity was considered a violation of the human body. In fact, the naked body illustrated weakness and defenselessness and was rarely part of art exhibitions. However, modern-day advancement in art and human realistic expectations replaced shame in nudity with the glorified expression of God’s creation and power among other religious elements (Sorabella par 4). The exhibitions highlight the contribution of the Catholic faith in the portrayal of sexuality, sacrificial figures, motherhood, and last judgment, which are significant Christian virtues and doctrines.

Christianity values deemed nude art a form of social disdain, which explains its suppression. However, the rise of Roman art led to an appreciation of nude art as illustrated in the Canterbury Cathedral (Jones par 2). Nudist art is either male or female and it figuratively represents Biblical figures. For example, the Virgin Mary art is a symbol of feminine character and sexuality from the Christian point of view. Most Christian art is presented in a reclining position that hides the physical attributes of sexuality, which is an indication that contemporary art is still not open to nude representations of any character (Gale par 6). Therefore, the significance of the naked body in contemporary art is still reserved and traditional. Moreover, Christians maintain the modesty values of the different figures represented in the art.

Figure 1: (Art Institute Chicago)

Sexuality is a relevant part of the exhibition as illustrated by the Biblical narrative of Adam and Eve. The artwork was created by Hans Sebald Behan in 1543 in Germany. The art piece is made from ivory laid paper and the engraving is in black. The dimensions for the piece are approximately 84mm and 58mm. Adam and Eve arts capture the aftermath of the fall of man and it is the perfect representation of humanity and understanding of sexuality. Based on Biblical knowledge, the tree of knowledge led to the knowledge of good and evil, which was the first experience of sexual awakening. The art piece comprises Adam and Eve and a skeleton that masks the snake. Adam is stark naked while Eve’s hand covers her sexual organs (Art Institute Chicago par 1). The art piece represents the initial reaction to sexuality in which nudity is associated with shame and sin, which is depicted by the postures and gestures.

Sexuality is a recurrent topic in historical and contemporary art. The creation of sexually explicit images was designed to express feminine traits such as beauty, fertility, and temptress among other qualities. The Adam and Eve portrait differentiates male and female characteristics. The female features such as breasts and genitalia are hidden while the male one is in full view. The female figure is the centre of temptation and evil and seeks to expose how female sexuality is associated with temptation, sin, and punishment. The belief in female sexuality applies to historical audiences. Thus, the female body is covered to maintain spiritual expectations and social standards in modesty.

Motherhood is a common theme in past and contemporary art. The painting Nursing Madonna, also referred to as Madonna and Child, is a 1450 creation made of gold and wooden panels. The physical features of the painting include a mother and a young child, which is a symbol of Mary and baby Jesus. The Nursing Madonna and Virgin Mary portrait is a symbol of motherhood duties. In addition, they represent the image of an ideal woman as illustrated through societal standards and Biblical beliefs (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica par 1). The picture of Mary is idealized by the dressing and tranquil expression that signifies her role as a spiritual figure.

The artistic representation of Mary is based on Biblical meanings and illustrations, which means that Mary is a societal archetype of devotion, womanhood, and motherhood. The contemporary use of the artwork is evident in the use of Virgin Mary as part of church structures (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica par 3). The artistic work is supported by spiritual and theological ideals that emphasize the importance of motherhood. Thus, the Madonna with a Child and Virgin Mary was created to capture the essence of ideal womanhood and motherhood in society. The illustration sets the benchmark of the societal expectation of women in regards to their behavior, character, and responsibilities.

Figure 2: Nursing Madonna (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica)

Madonna and Child, oil painting by the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500; in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Another artistic aspect is the use of Jesus Christ as a sacrificial lamb symbol. The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents the Crucifixion and Passion of Christ. The painting is meant to foster the Christian understanding of Christ as the redeemer and the sacrificial lamb. The picture comprises a portrait of Jesus hanging in the cross with a bowed head and heavy bleeding. Sacrifice and martyrdom are part of Christian traditions and beliefs in which blood is used to cleanse and redeem. Jesus and Christian martyrs represent self-sacrifice as a sign of devotion to God (Puică 87). Thus, the representation of the passion of Jesus is crucial to Christian art in worship buildings. Moreover, the passion of Christ painting is an idealized version of ancient models of religious figures. The image of Jesus on the cross relates to many Roman art aspects, such as nudity since Jesus is clothed with a tunic during his crucifixion and the downward gaze or the bow that symbolizes Christian humility.

Figure 3: Passion of Christ (Blumberg par 1)

'The Crucifixion'. Rubens, Pieter Paul (1577-1640). Found in the collection of the State M. Ciurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas. (P

The Michelangelo is a 14th-century artwork that represented the complex concept of last judgment. The art piece was displayed on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The painting is designed to capture the audience’s sense of heaven and hell in a single space (Florence Inferno par 3). According to Christian literature, the judgment day will be filled with panic and pain, which is perfectly depicted in the painting. Judgment day means the last seconds of earthly living, which makes it challenging to explain in the painting. The Michelangelo painting manages to capture and convey the terror that engulfs the people during the judgment day. The painting is meant to portray the end of life and hopelessness of the people (Steffon and Crow par 7). The artist manages to present a crowd that awaits differentiation and orchestration that will separate them depending how they lived. The painting comprises muscular figures of angels and saints flying towards the skies at the top part and the chaotic and frenzy filled zone that is hell at the bottom. Therefore, the Last Judgment art piece is a significant piece in Christian faith since it is a symbol of the end times and the Biblical consequences during eschatology. Although controversial, the artwork encourages Christians to lead a good life for them to go to heaven.

Figure 4: Michelangelo

The Last Judgement by Alun Salt

Figure 5: Separation of Heaven and Hell


The exhibition is a comprehensive expression of different aspects of Christian faith. The concept of nudity symbolizes different ideologies such as the mighty power of leaders and religious figures. Adam and Eve art piece is a significant revelation of sexuality and Christian perceptions about it. The nudeness in the photo is masked on Eve, which is an illustration of the societal gaze with relation to the women’s body. On the other hand, Adams sexual organs are fully displayed. Motherhood and maternity represent the idea of parenting and child-rearing in Nursing Madonna painting. In addition, idealization of women through the image of Virgin Mary presents the society with an example to emulate. Moreover, Mary represented the perfect womanhood and motherhood the Christian woman is expected to follow. Other Christian related topics in the art include sacrifice and martyrdom that promote the idea of sacrifice as a Christian virtue. Moreover, Jesus Christ and martyrs sacrificed their lives for the sake of Christianity. The expectation is that Christians need to forgo comfort for the sake of the church sometimes. Lastly, the judgment day is a Biblical phenomenon illustrated by the Michelangelo. The artwork portrays the end time confusion and scenery of heaven at the top part and hell at the bottom. The art encourages Christians to do good while shunning all evil in preparation for the end times.

Works Cited

Art Institute Chicago. “Adam and Eve.” The Art Institute of Chicago, www.artic.edu/artworks/80764/adam-and-eve. Accessed 13 May 2019.

Blumberg, Antonia. “Look: Jesus’ Crucifixion Depicted In Art Through The Ages.” HuffPost, 17 Apr. 2014, www.huffpost.com/entry/jesus-crucifixion-art_n_5168763.Accessed 13 May 2019.

Camara, Esperanca. “Last Judgment – Essay by Dr. Esperanca Camara.” Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/michelangelo/a/michelangelo-last-judgment.Accessed 13 May 2019.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Madonna:Religious art.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Madonna-religious-art.Accessed 13 May 2019.

Florence Inferno. “The Last Judgement by Michelangelo in Rome.” Florence Inferno, 14 Dec. 2017, www.florenceinferno.com/the-last-judgement-michelangelo/.Accessed 13 May 2019.

Gale, Thomson. “Nude in Visual Arts.” Encyclopedia.com | Free Online Encyclopedia, 2007, www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nude-visual-arts.Accessed 13 May 2019.

Jones, Jonathan. “No Faith in Flesh: Art Exposes Christianity’s Original Sin.” The Guardian, 22 Feb. 2018, www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/sep/21/faith-flesh-art-christianity-nude.Accessed 13 May 2019.

Puică, Ilie M. “The Lamb Sacrifice Expressed In Religious Art†.” European Journal of Science and Theology, vol. 7, no. 2, 2011, pp. 77-99.

Steffon, Matt, and Paul Crow. “Christianity – Eschatology.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Christianity/Eschatology.Accessed 13 May 2019.

Sorabella, Jean. “The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of

Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.


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