Nude // Church: Art and the Provocative Body in a Sexualized Society

It's not every day you see life-sized nudes displayed in front of a church... 

...unless of course you live in downtown Minneapolis (or, I suppose, are a Christian living during the Renaissance).  In fact, even early Christian art included depictions of nudity in baptism.  Some churches, such as the Sistine Chapel continue to display nudes.  This, of course, is quite different from the nude church which ABC News reported on in 2010.  
The sculpture above draws its inspiration from Hebrews 12:1: "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles."

Pope John Paul II reportedly said that "the human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty... Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness... Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person...The human body is not in itself shameful... Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person."*  I certainly agree.  But his comments are neither about art, nor made with reference to cultural realities which have a huge impact on what nakedness means.

So I think there's good conversation to be had about the function and affect of nude art in church in the context of our hyper-sexualized society.

What do you think?  Does nude art in churches serve to honor the body which God pronounced good--providing a counter-narrative to the caricatures of Christians as prudish gnostics?  Or does it have the opposite effect, degrading the body by participating in the logic of a market driven by the truism that sex sells?

Is it a corrective for the sexualized view of the body that is characteristic of our society...or is it merely a symptom?

*Karol Cardinal Woytyla (John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, translation by H. T. Willetts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 1981.


  1. Whoa nelly! The link for the abc church was, ummm much more than I expected?

    Regarding that specific sculpture, I would ask, why does he have six pack abs? It seems to just further emphasize cultural stereotypes of what beauty and value is in the male physique. Seems counter intuitive. I would have expected someone more average, if it's a sculpture for a church? Maybe that's just me.

    Or maybe heaven or a fully restored person is all about the six pack? There must be truth to why it's so appealing right? Hmm...

    In the end, if something is tastefully and purposefully done, I don't have a problem with it. (Of course, tastefully and purposefully is my opinion)

  2. Apologies for the shocker. There is an ironic relationship between the bodies in the ABC News clip and your questions about the sculpture with a six-pack. Interestingly, the people still apparently "entangled" in the sculpture are also it's not like they close are the sin they are throwing off. In this sense, nudity seems in the piece to have both sinful and redeemed connections.

  3. Hello from England.
    Just wondered if you could say if the sculpture is a permanent feature and if so, can you provide the name of the church - I'd be very interested to find out more about the work.
    The ABC video raises an interesting issue not often examined today. The early church clearly viewed nudity in baptism as acceptable, and used the Roman baths as part of everyday life, so there's more to examine on the matter, but I very much doubt that will happen in mainstream Christian thinking today, which is often dualistic if not Gnostic in its common attitude or definition of redemption. Christians who are artists, for example, working in this field, are usually marginalized and miss-understood, as this well composed blog shows:

  4. Howard,
    It's Westminster Presbyterian Church, downtown. It appeared to be permanent. The sculpture was created by Paul Granlund (

    1. Many thanks, Christopher. A pity there wasn't much of a discussion on this.