Word of the Day – June 12, 2012

blasphemy (noun)

BLAS fuh mee

disrespectful or irreverent speaking of God or sacred things

In the year 1573, the painter Veronese was summoned before the Inquisition to answer a charge of blasphemy. In a painting of the Last Supper he had created an outer scene of worldliness in contrast to the inner scene of solemnity. Among the figures of the outer scene was a dog, and it was the dog that constituted the blasphemy. Ten years earlier the Council of Trent had decided upon the proper iconography for this and other religious scenes: their decision was held to be final, and a dog was not among the items listed. The painter sought to explain the formal considerations which had led to this arrangement. His explanation was disregarded and he was ordered to substitute a Magdalene for the dog or be subjected to whatever penalty the Holy Tribunal might decide to impose. Veronese did not yield (he retained the dog and changed the title of the painting).
Ben Shahn August     1957

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