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Such censorship, Steinberg believes, was meant as distraction from an uncomfortable theological premise: “A disturbing connection of godhead with sexuality.”To bring to the surface this suppressed artistic trend, Steinberg reproduced dozens of paintings and drawings in which Christ’s genitalia are indisputably a central thematic concern.
Like Schapiro, Steinberg imbued his reflections on older art with a modernist sensibility.
Steinberg was one of those mid-twentieth-century Jewish intellectuals who were drawn to Catholicism.
And the many representations of the Christ child’s circumcision are important as foretellings of his crucifixion—the blood of Christ’s penis is fulfilled in the blood from Christ’s wounds.
Entering with obvious relish the realm of Christian sexual hermeneutics, Steinberg relies on St.
In some pictures, the Christ child exhibits his genitals in a style similar to Venus displaying her sex.
“Again and again,” Steinberg writes, “we see the young God-man parading his nakedness, or even flaunting his sex in ways normally reserved for female enticements.”Many representations of the Three Magi show one of the foreign kings closely inspecting the infant Christ’s genitalia.
Augustine, who emphasized his surrender to and then escape from the “fleshpots of Carthage,” to argue that Christ’s erection was a singular way to demonstrate Christ’s chastity.
Without the capacity to yield to lust, Christ’s triumph over carnal desire would have no human meaning.
And it is hard to believe that in, say, quattrocento Florence, an epoch so liberated in its sexual mores—Fra Filippo Lippi, for example, lived openly with a defrocked nun, whom he used as a model for his Madonnas—artists could resist being simultaneously worldly and pious.
For Steinberg, however, theological motives were preëminent.