Medieval Censorship, Nudity And The Revealing History Of The Fig Leaf
How did we come to use fig leaves to cover naked figures in art? The tale of the fig leaf is part of the long history of censorship in art.

Those who love Instagram know that there are strict guidelines about the parts of the body that can be shown on the site. While some have risked removal of their photographs by posting nudes, others like artist Claudia Sahuquillo have begun to explore how the material used to cover sensitive areas of the body can themselves be seen as art. Instagram’s censorship of nudity is nothing new. It can be traced back to the Renaissance use of fig leaves to cover nude statues and frescoes.

A mosaic of Adam and Eve from the 5th c. CE now at the Cleveland Museum of ArtSarah E. Bond
A mosaic of Adam and Eve from the 5th c. CE now at the Cleveland Museum of Art

The first mentions of a fig leaf to cover nudity is in conjunction with the book of Genesis (3:7) with the Hebrew words עֲלֵ֣ה תְאֵנָ֔ה. Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with a loincloth or apron of fig leaves that were–as later early Christian commentators noted–quite scratchy. In his commentary on Genesis, the late Roman bishop and theologian Augustine would hypothesize that these leaves symbolized lying, whereas the Venerable Bede noted that they were a symbol of the tendency to sin.

Relief of Adam and Eve from the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, dated to 359 CE Wikimedia
Relief of Adam and Eve from the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, dated to 359 CE

The earliest depictions of Adam and Eve in the catacombs in Rome (from the third and fourth centuries CE) often show the two shamefully clutching fig leaves to cover their naked bodies. Well into the later fourth century, fig leaves were attached to the story of the Garden of Eden but were notably not applied to all works of art. Classical statuary depicting heroic nudes and other types of naked bodies continued to be appreciated during the late empire. However, the heroically nude statues of classical antiquity began to become a symbol of a “pagan” past within medieval Europe and the Byzantine Empire. Continued…Read full original article…

Source: Forbes

31st October 2017

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