Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
In Fig Leaf writer and broadcaster Stephen Smith uncovers the secret history of the humble fig leaf. In doing so, he opens a window on to 2,000 years of Western art and ethics.
Beginning in the Classical times, Smith explores how the human nude was once celebrated by Greek and Roman sculptors. Only with the spread of Christianity was nudity deemed shameful and the fig leaf introduced as a cover-up device in art.
During the Renaissance, sculptors tried to reverse the trend. Smith reveals how the work of Michelangelo fuelled the infamous 'Fig Leaf Campaign', earning Michelangelo the nickname l'inventore delle porcherie (the creator of pork things); how Bernini turned censorship into a new form of erotica by replacing the fig leaf with the slipping gauze; and how the ingenious mac hinations of Rodin brought nudity back to the public eye.
Along the way, Smith meets contemporary artists Alexander Stoddart, Marc Quinn and Orlan, and examines the sculpted fig leaf as a fine art object in its own right.
In telling this story, Smith turns many of our deepest prejudices upside down, showing how the Victorians had a far more sophisticated and mature attitude to sexuality than we do today.
He ends by casting an eye over what he considers to be 'the cheap sensationalism' inherent in so much contemporary art and wonders if modern sculpture might not benefit from a fig leaf or two.
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