1/25 25

Sometimes, having no knowledge at all of a culture can be an advantage, helping you seeing realities that may be opaque to the inculcated. For people raised with the Christian story, it might be hard to see the forest through the sheaves. But for those of us who were raised heathen, these deeply emotional works of art often send confusing messages.

The Greek and Roman gods had a robust sexual nature that often drove their stories and actions. Their beauty and physical prowess was a big part of their myth. But the central visual representation of Christianity — a nearly naked man impaled on a cross — is drained of all sensuality and maleness in Christian teaching. The focus is on redemption, sacrifice, and surrender.

So why are there so many visual representations of Christ that are exquisitely sensual and detailed in a corporeal, sexual way?

Before exploring the abundance of homoerotic renderings of religious events, which peaked during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, it's important to consider why the depiction of naked male body has been considered in the last few centuries as homoerotic rather than just plain erotic.

The concept of homoerotic art seems to have a basis in an unpleasant bit of misogyny. Naked muscle men and milky-skinned youths as subjects of art were fine as long as they were in support of religious, mythological, or allegorical works. There had to be a moral message, however flimsy, attached to the work. Honor, strength in battle, and sacrifice were all noble subjects that were used to justify presenting some pretty hot stuff. And to be sure, art was created by men, for men to sponsor and view, and for the enrichment of men's souls. So any depiction of a naked man in art was presumed to be a part of that closed system — so there had better be a good moral reason for those sinewy flanks and weightless pectorals. Presumably women were to avert their eyes to avoid the more fleshy religious artworks.

If the master of the household or the local priest had a breathtaking moment of rapture in front of a particularly vivid depiction of the flagellation of Christ, for example, that trembling feeling in the pit of the stomach, or maybe a bit lower, could be safely interpreted as religious fervor and passion.

Herewith we present a collection of stunning examples of nearly NSFW biblical images for you to judge. Try to look at these images as if you have no previous knowledge of the stories they illustrate. See where your eyes land, and see if you can discern whether you are having a lofty spiritual feeling or something more biological.

1/25 25

Quantcast