April 20, 2018

The Real Problem with the Vatican Nativity Scene

Life-size statues depict the corporal work of mercy of clothing the naked in the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, December 14, 2017. PHOTO: CNS

Far be it from me to join the Catholic prudes who are being negative about the Vatican nativity scene. People are grumbling about the naked man who is being clothed as an act of mercy.  Some are also creeped out by the dead person being prepared for burial because it looks like a scene from a horror film.

Like most things in the Catholic Church, we’ve been there before. Folks were not pleased at all the naked bodies in Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel paintings, and you’ll see lots of partial nudity or gruesome scenes in plenty of Catholic arworks. David holding Goliath’s severed head? Jael nailing Sisera’s head to the ground with tent stake? For goodness sake, the central image of our faith is that of a naked man tortured, exposed and nailed to an execution tree.

I don’t mind the nudity and gore. I sort of mind that it is bad art–schmaltzy and poorly executed. The figures are stilted and awkward. It looks like one of those tableaus in a third rate wax museum. You could say, “C’mon. This is Catholicism. We’re used to kitsch.” OK, but the Vatican should do better.

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