July 23, 2021

Ask Fr. Rutler

 An old "Ask Fr Rutler" column:  

Q: I’m a big fan of Bouguereau, but sometimes I wonder if that doesn’t owe more to just his exquisite technique. How much nudity in art is too much, Christianly speaking? -Andrew B, Florence, SC

A: As an amateur painter, I confine myself to landscapes and still lifes whose only déshabillé consists of bare branches and peeled fruit. The technique of Bouguereau is breathtaking, as is that of Alma-Tadema. In their generation, borderline eroticism was acceptable so long as the scenes were classical – so, for instance, a naked duchess would not have been acceptable unless she was posed as Cleopatra. Bouguereau’s religious paintings tend to the sentimentality for which the brilliant Norman Rockwell was later criticised.

But as with some famous preachers, one can learn a lot from their method while ignoring their content. Great Victorian art will long outlast our expressionism and nihilism. Queen Victoria was not a Victorian in the caricatured sense. In 1841 she commissioned Emil Wolff’s statue of Prince Albert, half naked in strategically arranged Greek armour. She thought it was “very beautiful” when it arrived in 1844, but “we know not yet where to place it”. Multiple nudes followed, beginning with William Dyce’s fresco for Osborne House, showing naked Neptune rising from the sea with nymphs lacking bathing suits.

Should we read into it that he's not been reinstated to his parish? 

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