Erotic Art & the Middle Ages
Censorship of Eroticism
Censorship has been the scourge of European artists but never more so than in the Middle Ages. As we discussed earlier, the nude and eroticism were prevalent in European history right up until the appropriately named "Dark Ages." This was largely due to the spread of Christianity in Europe.
Up until 313AD Christianity was punishable by death in the Roman Empire, then Emperor Constantine finally made it legal for Christians to worship in public. In an astonishing turn of events, the worship of all Gods other than the Christian God was made illegal by Emperor Theodosius in 391AD when Christianity was made the official religion of Rome. This was four years before his death, and four years before what historians consider to be the beginning of Rome's collapse and the dawn of the Early Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages.
"Christianity defeated and wiped out the old faith of the pagans. Then with great fervor and diligence it strove to cast out and utterly destroy every last possible occasion of sin; and in doing so it ruined or demolished all the marvelous statues, besides the other sculptures, the pictures, mosaics and ornaments representing the false pagan gods" - Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)
Aside from the indiscriminate destruction of the representation of Pagan deities, many explicit statues that were considered too obscene to be seen by modern society were removed from outdoor areas to the ironic privacy of public baths.
Though even there they weren't safe. As Christian modesty and superstition grew ever stronger, these nude images were thought to harbor daemons. It was thought that while the bathers were naked, they were vulnerable to the influence of these daemons. In order to render the statues harmless, it was found necessary to castrate the statues.
The art of the Middle Ages was dominated by the Church though not entirely due to their censorship. In those times the Church was the art world's biggest patron. Nearly all paintings produced during that period were commissioned by the Church and more often than not they depicted religious scenes. For a period of almost 1000 years, practically no nudity can be found in European art, and on the rare occasions where nudity did sneak past the censors, it was usually associated with sin and was depicted in representations of Hell.
That is until around the 15th Century, when classical nudity began to resurface with the Renaissance.
Sheela Na Gig