Leo Steinberg   The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion.
Pantheon, 222 pages, $19.95

In the conclusion to the Decameron Boccaccio writes that there will be some hypocritical lady who will no doubt take exception to his use of certain little everyday words, like “hole” and “peg,” “mortar and pestle,” and “sausage.” But surely, he goes on, he should be allowed the same freedom as the painter. No one objects if the painter makes St. George or St. Michael strike the dragon with a “sword” or a “spear,” and “wherever he pleases.” Indeed, the painter “makes Christ male and Eve female, and the feet of Him himself, who wished to die for the salvation of humankind upon the cross, he attaches to the cross sometimes with one nail and sometimes with two.”

This passage has always...


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