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The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion

2d edition, revised and expanded
Originally published in 1983, Leo Steinberg’s classic work has changed the viewing habits of a generation. After centuries of repression and censorship, the sexual component in thousands of revered icons of Christ is restored to visibility. Steinberg’s evidence resides in the imagery of the overtly sexed Christ, in Infancy and again after death. Steinberg argues that the artists regarded the deliberate exposure of Christ’s genitalia as an affirmation of kinship with the human condition. Christ’s lifelong virginity, understood as potency under check, and the first offer of blood in the circumcision, both required acknowledgment of the genital organ. More than exercises in realism, these unabashed images underscore the crucial theological import of the Incarnation. 

This revised and greatly expanded edition not only adduces new visual evidence, but deepens the theological argument and engages the controversy aroused by the book’s first publication.

426 pages | 300 halftones | 7-3/4 x 9-1/4 | © 1996

Art: European Art

Gender and Sexuality

Religion: Christianity

Table of Contents

I. Whether the subject exists
II. Whether the subject ought to be publicized
III. Regarding the reached-for chin
IV. Of the practice of fondling a man-child’s genitalia
V. The Baldung Grien woodcut: irreligious or orthodox’?
VI. Who needs God’s divinity proved?
VII. Dogma as pictorial subject, including the precociousness and the smile of the Child
VIII. God’s greater deed
IX. The signal at the breast
X. "Complete in all the parts of a man"
XI. The necessary nudity of the suffering Christ
XII. Baptism and required dress
XIII. The virginity of Christ
XIV. Potency under check
XV. Concerning Michelangelo’s Risen Christ
XVI. Of the nudity of the Christ Child
XVII. The body as hierarchy
XVIII. 14th-century nudity
XIX. Gossamer at the hips
XX. Exposure as revelation
XXI. A digression on the "Stone of Unction"
XXII. The eighth day
XXIII. Resisting the physical evidence of circumcision
XXIV. Of sermons and homilophobia
XXV. The blood hyphen
XXVI. The calendrical style of the Circumcision
XXVII. The showing in Bethlehem
XXVIII. The protection motif
XXIX. Images of self-touch and of Infant erection
XXX. Bowdlerism
XXXI. "A peculiar notion"
XXXII. On the afterlife of Boccaccio’s jest
XXXIII. Sesostris’ hieroglyph
XXXIV. Wings of excess
XXXV. Not other than willed
XXXVI. The un-dead hand on the groin
XXXVII. In imitation of Christ
XXXVIII. The Throne of Grace
XXXIX. Postscript by John W. O’Malley, S.J.
1. The Second Coming of Adam
2. New Arrivals
3. Explaining Away
4. The Pendulum of Christ’s Human Nature: A Theological Interlude
5. The Ibiquity of the Erection Motif
6. Please Delete Sexuality
7. A Trial of Texts
8. Further Lines of Resistance
9. Ad Bynum
Epilogue: Lines of Convergence
List of Illustrations

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