User:Jahsonic/AHE/The Middle Ages/Atone for your sins in hell
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
But in any case, the scarce instances of biblical eroticism are not depicted in paint or print until the Renaissance. For the time being, the only nudity a late medieval artist 'wastes' his brush strokes on are depictions of Adam and Eve or the Madonna, in other words, puritan renderings of innocent nudity. Or maybe not: nudity can also be found artists' depictions of hell, doomsday paintings in which nudity is inextricably coupled with sin. Between these two extremes, innocent nudity on the one hand and sinful and shameful nakedness on the other, there seems to be no compromise. The actual deed, the most joyous and adventurous of the erotic experience, is never depicted, not even alluded to. In these grim images of hell naked and humiliated people atone for their sins. These doomsday paintings are a condemnation of and a warning against sexuality. An excellent example of such erotic horror, one that is at times reminiscent of sadomasochist imagery of modern times, is the depiction of the Last Judgment - in Christian dogma still the moment when everyone's fate is determined - in works of art by Giotto, Memling and Bosch, Giotto representing the Italian Renaissance and Memling and Bosch the Northern Renaissance.
The Italian Giotto (fully Giotto di Bondone, ca 1267-1337) painted the Last Judgment [image] in 1304-1305. It is the oldest medieval image that we scrutinize. It is part of a fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua which portrays the lives of Mary and Christ. The Last Judgment is the largest fresco of the series and the last thing the visitor beholds before he leaves the chapel. Satan sits in the middle of the fresco, a dominating giant compared to the tiny people. In one hand he holds a woman and in his mouth are the half-eaten remnants of another human being. The scene that interests us here, is located to the right hand side above Satan. We see naked women molested by demons, women hung by their hair, their tongue, and men suspended by their genitals. Ouch. In short, we see all horrors that Satan could wish upon a a human body.
The Last Judgement by Hans Memling (c. 1433-1470) (The Last Judgment (Memling)), a triptych created between 1467 and 1471, omits any reference to the sexual act and simply equates the naked to the horror of hell.
In the triptych which Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) devotes around 1482 to the theme of the Last Judgment, one can still -- with some Freudian good will -- detect traces of sexuality [image]. Bosch knew like no other to use the bible in order to satisfy the sensationalist fantasies of his clients - and undoubtedly his own. He devoted two works to the temptations of the Holy Saint Anthony and again we see how the purely earthly, including the seductive woman of course, tries to lead the saint astray from the righteous path. A striking example of his erotic imagination is the 'earth woman' [image] we find on the left panel of the Anthony triptych of about 1500. It shows a woman on all fours, sitting under a hill, we only see her backside. Her abdomen and genitals are a cavity in the hill. Women depicted as landscapes would become a trend in the so-called somatopia - from the Greek for body and place - in 18th-century English literature.
But at the same time, Bosch can be very lofty, and with a soaring imagination, he paints a man and a woman sitting lovingly in a bubble, in a detail of the central panel of his Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1500). The scene shows two young and playful bodies about to embrace each other. Her hand is on his knee and his hand rests on her belly. I used to think that the couple is sitting in a soap bubble and that Bosch is endowed with enough realism to show the bursts in the bubble, forecast the fragility of joyful passion. The tiny cracks -- I thought -- illustrated the fleetingness of love. I thought that Bosch's message was that any love bubble will inevitably and invariably pop open, thereby covering its residents with a sad veil of love sickness. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the bubble is covered in veins, and cannot be considered anything else than an amniotic sac. British artist Paul Rumsey has noted that since the bubble is connected to a flower, "and has part of the flower inside it, the detail should be seen a mixture of the organic vegetable (flower/fruit) and the animal (womb), and the human figures as seeds, thus projecting human eroticism onto the cycles and forms of nature, and vice versa."