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How a not-so-rude Rubens fazed Facebook

25 July 2018

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

As an inhabitant of Counter-Reformation Europe, Peter Paul Rubens was no stranger to the idea of censorship. Since then, his nudes have sporadically provoked strong reactions, and assorted prudes – from Charles III of Spain to a jail warden in Virginia – have done their best to cover up the artist’s astonishing depictions of flesh. Somewhat inevitably, Facebook has now got in on the act, removing an advert that featured Rubens’ The Descent from the Cross, seemingly because it depicts Christ in no more than a loincloth.

Understandably, the Flanders Tourist Board, which posted the ad, was baffled by Facebook’s attitude to the region’s most celebrated artist. ‘Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us’, wrote Visit Flanders chief executive Peter de Wildes in a letter to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.

In a further response to the social media giant, the tourist board has posted a satirical video to YouTube in which actors playing (more or less) Facebook-branded security guards prevent visitors to the Rubens House in Antwerp from viewing nudes by the artist. ‘We need to direct you away from nudity, even if artistic in nature,’ one tells bemused gallery goers.

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