Art and bared bodies have been going together at least since 25,000 BP (Before Present) when the fully exposed figure of a pregnant female known as the Venus of Willendorf was carved out of limestone.

It’s not known whether cave dwellers thought it indecent, but in our time, art with exposed anatomy has proven a hot-button issue.

At issue

The latest controversy comes with a twist. Rather than museumgoers calling an exhibit obscene, it’s the other way around: museums calling out their viewers for obscenity. The controversy comes down to this question: If adult-film stars re-enact interactive scenes of bare-skinned figures in Old Master painting, should the re-enactments be X-rated?

Yes, says the Louvre and Uffizi. Both the French and Italian museums are suing Pornhub, an adult site on the internet, for vulgarizing pictures in their collection.

According to the Daily Mail, the legal action comes down to infringement rights – use of images without permission. This is hardly surprising to art writers like me who illustrate their work with reproductions of museum art and are required to obtain permission.

Using pictures without authority, and inappropriately besides, ought to be an easy lawsuit to win. As a spokesperson for the Uffizi told The Daily Beast, “No one has granted authorizations for the operation or use of the art.”

In the meantime, both museums insist that the company stop doing what it’s doing with their collection.

Defending the indefensible

ArtNet doesn’t mince words, saying that Pornhub is “turning works by Titian and Courbet into hardcore pornography.” In their defense, adult star and director Asa Akira is quoted saying, “Time to ditch those boring self-tour recordings and enjoy every single brushstroke of these erotic masterpieces with me.”

One of the works in question, Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, a sharp focus photo-real close-up of a woman’s lower anatomy is owned by the Orsay museum in Paris.

It’s notable that this museum is not pursuing legal action. My guess is that officials there know that the painting would be hard to defend in a court of law as anything more than a skin-flick in paint – even despite its ornate gilded frame.

But to Akira’s point, here’s some of what Orsay’s exhibit note says about The Origin of the World: “Thanks to Courbet's great virtuosity and the refinement of his amber color scheme, the painting escapes pornographic status.”

Does that do it for you?

Do picture-making skills excuse the artist’s zeroed-in imagery of female genitalia absent any frame of reference? Infringement rights aside, don’t art museums invite the vulgarizing of their work with cagey justifications like Orsay’s?

Another abuse

And the hits keep coming. The Independent reported that an art historian has identified the model whose private parts were so openly exposed in The Origins of the World. In his 2018 book, French historian Claude Schopp made the case that the model was the ballet dancer Constance Queniaux.

According to Artnet, the historian freely acknowledged that Queniaux’s identity “was deliberately concealed” when she ascended to Paris’s elite social circles.” Whatever the reason, isn’t telling a secret also an infringement?