Last updated: July 1st, 2013
Why is it OK for us to enjoy Caravaggio's paedophile [sic] art?
"Take a look at the painting above [careful, now]. It is St John the Baptist, commonly acknowledged as a masterpiece by one of history’s greatest artists, Caravaggio. Painted in 1603, it usually hangs in the Pinacoteca Capitolina in Rome, but this summer it is on loan to Siena Cathedral: which is where I saw it, last week, amongst a queue of art-lovers.
Now hold this image in your mind, and head north. A few weeks ago the veteran English artist Graham Ovenden was given a suspended sentence, by Plymouth Crown Court, after he was found guilty of six charges of indecency with underage girls. Ovenden’s particular crime was to molest the young models who posed nude for his paintings.
What is your reaction to the Ovenden case? [it is all persecutory madness, of course]. Possibly you feel that the sentence was too lenient [hardly]. The Guardian newspaper, amongst others, demanded a more severe punishment. The Attorney General is now revisiting the case, with an eye to putting Ovenden behind bars.
In the light of Ovenden’s crimes, many have also reacted against Ovenden’s art. The Tate gallery has removed the painter’s work from its walls and website. It’s very difficult to imagine a mainstream newspaper printing the more explicit images.
All right and proper, you might say: the art is obscene [indecency, Sean, indecency] . And created by a paedophile [sic].
But look again at that Caravaggio masterpiece at the top of this blog. Experts believe that the boy who modelled for this painting was one of Caravaggio’s young assistants. Historians further believe that Caravaggio was sexually involved with this prepubescent boy. That’s disquieting, isn’t it? [no]
The evidence for this relationship, between the artist and his subject, actually comes from another Caravaggio masterpiece, Victorious Cupid, which shows the same assistant in a different pose. Victorious Cupid was notorious even in its own time, when contemporaries confirmed that the subject was the "boy that laid with Caravaggio".
How do I know all this? Because I read it in an essay in, yes, the Guardian, which eagerly praised this paedophile [sic] painting, and its pedophile [sic] creator, exactly nine days before the same paper demanded the imprisonment of a paedophile [sic] painter, known for his paedophile [sic] paintings.
You see the dissonance, of course [not at all, we are more than comfortable with the reality]. On the one hand we are horrified by the evils [sic] of paedophilia [sic, are we?]. Yet we queue to see blatantly paedophile art [sic]. Perhaps such art is acceptable if it is by dead people? But how dead do they have to be? Centuries? Decades? Weeks? Will Graham Ovenden go back in the Tate, as soon as he passes away?
All this raises a further, more profound [?] dilemma [?]. Sexual morality is perceived as an absolute [who says?]: we all believe pedophilia [sic] is absolutely wrong (and I agree) [well, we do not, and so do many others]. Yet sexual morality also evolves over time [indeed], in complex ways: hence our confusion [sic] about these artworks. And sexual morality evolves quickly [indeed, sometimes, it has not really changed at all].
No one knows this better than Harriet Harman, who was a legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1970s, when they believed in the legalisation of paedophile sex [sic, not quite]. I can’t imagine her going near a group which evangelised such a position today [no, such is hypocrisy, Liberty too].
So how can we be sure that our sexual morality won’t evolve again? [if it has changed at all]
If anything, history tells us that it will change, and not in directions we expect – we may decide that homosexuality is wrong after all [you have decided it is 'right'?]; we may decide that pederasty is excellent, like the Ancient Greeks; we may prohibit fornication, or prostitution, or make pornography compulsory.
It’s a disturbing idea [it is a glorious idea]. But then, Caravaggio’s great painting of St John the Baptist is also rather disturbing [why?]. Once you know the back story."
Graham Ovenden: 'Unduly lenient' sentence to be reviewed
Graham Ovenden sex crimes: Artist gets suspended jail term
Sean Thomas is a novelist, journalist and travel writer. He also publishes thrillers under the name Tom Knox. He is currently writing a memoir of his extremely misspent youth, and similarly misspent adulthood, and tweets under the name @thomasknox.
Society's lenience belongs with Graham Ovenden's child portraits – in the past
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Graham Ovenden Not Guilty of Indecency Involving Witness JB
3:33pm UK, Wednesday 09 October 2013
Artist Ovenden Jailed Over Child Sex Offences