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“The Great Castration”: How the shame was covered in paintings and sculptures at different times

The history of art knows many examples when, at the change of cultural eras, works created by predecessors begin to be perceived not quite correctly. Probably the most revealing in this case is the example of the appearance of fig leaves on antique statues. For the sake of preserving moral principles in the Middle Ages, thousands of ancient masterpieces underwent “great castration”. Interestingly, this tradition is gaining a “second wind” today.

The theme of nudes in art often becomes a stumbling block and still causes heated debate so far – does the artist have the right to expose her model, is this really an artistic device or just a way to attract unhealthy attention? In the case of ancient statues, it would seem that the issue was resolved a long time ago and unequivocally: they were created in the culture where nudity in men was considered normal and did not cause an ambiguous reaction.

Of course, the statues of philosophers or strategists were dressed, but the images of athletes are always only naked. The fact is that young men were engaged in sports in this form. There is even a historical fact of the 8th century BC about the Orsipe runner. During the competition, he tore off his loincloth and prevented him from winning. Since then, in ancient Greece, men were engaged in sports only naked, rubbing the body with olive oil. In the classical Hellenic era, the ideal of kalokagathy was formed – the harmony of the human inner world with its external appearance.

Medieval culture was diametrically opposed to this issue, covering everything that could be covered in a person’s image. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Vatican leaders suddenly realized that they were in an ambiguous position, owning many precious masterpieces of ancient art that did not correspond to the cultural tradition of their era. Pope Paul IV began the struggle for morality in art. True, at first it was of a more peaceful, recommendatory nature, but literally after another 100 years, Pope Innocent X took up the “cover of shame” seriously. It is to his rule that the famous “great castration” is attributed. At the same time, many ancient statues physically lost their virtues – they simply broke off, and later covered the places of cleavage with fig leaves made specially for this purpose. Pope Clement XIII and Pius IX continued this noble struggle.
The very idea of ​​using this particular plant was taken from the Bible: Adam and Eve, when they realized their nakedness, “sewed fig leaves, and made themselves girdles.” Fig is a fig and a fig. So in the art of the Middle Ages there was a canon to cover these paintings with statues and statues of human ancestors. In the future, the expression “fig leaf” received a figurative meaning – the cover of deliberately shameless or dishonest actions.
Time passed, mores changed towards more openness, but the need to “cover shame” among the statues remained relevant. In 1857, Queen Victoria was presented with a copy of the famous David Michelangelo. Created in 1504 (that is, even before the unfolding struggle against excessive openness), the masterpiece escaped the fate of many statues and delighted the eye with a realistically fulfilled male dignity. It is believed that the Queen was so embarrassed by the sight that she immediately “sent” a gift to the recently founded London Museum of Victoria and Albert.

In addition, by D. Brucciani & Co. a fig leaf half a meter in size was urgently executed. They did not begin to spoil the statue, and the leaf was fixed on special steel hooks. He covered David, by the way, right up to 1950. Now it is shown separately in the same hall.

Another interesting case occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. And he was connected with the picture. Henry Matisse commissioned the Moscow merchant and collector Sergei Shchukin to write paired panels “Dance” and “Music”. The paintings exhibited before being sent to the customer in the Paris “Autumn Salon” of 1910 caused a scandal by shocking outcropping and “unexpected interpretation of images”. Schukin even refused them after that, but literally a few days later changed his mind by writing to the artist: “Sir, on the road (two days and two nights) I thought a lot and was ashamed of my weakness and lack of courage. You can’t leave the battlefield without trying to fight. ”

However, after receiving the painting, the collector’s nerves still could not stand such indecency (his daughters grew up, and the painting was intended for the second floor of his house). At the request of the customer, Matisse painted over the genitals of a sitting boy, drawn in particularly relief. However, he made it easily washable by writing a note to Schukin that, if he changes his mind, the picture can be restored to its original form by wiping this place with strong cognac.

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