The Infant Christ should not be depicted naked
Year mention: 1617
Infant Christ

It is wrong to paint or sculpt the infant Jesus naked

Molanus, Johannes
Hans Kamensetzer - Birth of Christ, c. 1470
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,

Molanus condemns the artistic practice of depicting the Infant Jesus naked.

“It is well known that artists often paint or sculpt the infant Jesus naked, but for this, they are widely criticized by men of no little piety and wisdom. For what sort of edification can there be in this nakedness? All one can hope for is that children are not endangered by this or little ones are brought to harm. May the painters therefore see that instead of finding out their evil through what the Lord says: ‘Who shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone was hung round his neck and that he was drowned in the sea. Woe to the men that bring scandal!’ Certainly, these painters should look at the paintings of the past, they would soon observe that the boy Jesus was decently and modestly portrayed then, and realize how far they have degenerated from the simplicity of their ancestors. Add to this what Gulielmus Durandus the Bishop of Meaux writes about certain Greek churches in his Rationale Divinorum Officiorum: ‘The Greeks’, he says, ‘use images, painting them (as it is said) only from the navel above, and not lower, so that every opportunity for foolish thoughts is removed.'”

“Notum est pictores saepe infantem Iesum nudum sculpere aut pingere: sed ob hoc male audiunt a multis non exiguae pietatis et prudentiae viris. Quid enim in hac nuditate esse potest aedificationis? Atque utinam nulla hinc oriretur in parvulis destructio, nullum in pusillis scandalum. Viderint ergo pictores ne suo malo discant quid sit quod Dominus ait, ‘qui scandalizaverit unum de pusillis istis qui in me credunt, expedit ei ut suspendatur mola asinaria in collo eius et demergatur in profundum maris. Vae homini illi per quem scandalum venit.’ Certe si antiquas picturas consulere facile advertent in eis puerum Iesum decenter et honeste depictum esse, ac sese multum a maiorum simplicitate degenerasse. His adde, quod Gulielmus Mimatensis Episcopus scribit de quibusdam Graecanicis Ecclesiis in Rationali divinorum officiorum, ‘Graeci’, ait, ‘utuntur imaginibus, pingentes illas ut dicitur, solum ab umbilico supra et non inferius, ut omnis stultae cogitationis occasio tollatur.'”

Quoted Authorities

 Gulielmus Durandus, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, book 1, ch. 3. 

Date mention

Historical Location

Iconclass Number

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 42, 145-146

David Freedberg, “Johannes Molanus on Provocative Paintings. De Historia Sanctarum Imaginum et
Picturarum, Book II, Chapter 42″, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 1971, Vol. 34 (1971), pp. 229-

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