We are indebted to World Sex News Daily for finding the link to this very thoughtful article by a London art critic about (I would say) the hypocritizing influence a “fine art” label has on our perception of smutty images:

Not far from the strip joints of Soho is an image of a child having sex with an adult that can be seen for nothing any day of the week. The child is a boy of about 10 or 11, completely naked, his backside raised and partially turned to the viewer. The adult is a young woman, also naked. She is slipping her tongue into his mouth; he is squeezing her right nipple between his fingers. Not only is the boy clearly underage, but this sexual abuse of a minor turns out to be incestuous, too – the woman is actually his mother.

Anyone can view this scene between the hours of 10 and 6 throughout the year. There are no cordons or barriers, no advance warnings. Children are actively encouraged to look. The police have never shown the slightest interest. Indeed, practically the only people who have tried to censor Bronzino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid are the Victorian moralists who painted over the nipples.

What is going on in this bizarre gridlock of limbs? At the National Gallery, where the painting hangs, there is general agreement that nobody agrees. The picture was probably painted for a French king known for “his lusty appetites”, in the euphemism of the gallery guide; but it may also incorporate a warning against depravity: the howling figure on the left is commonly held to personify terminal syphilis.

Now, I submit that when you look at reproductions of the image – away from the milling crowds, out of its frame, in a different context, all of which could describe equally well the conditions in which it was painted – you cannot help but notice that a child is explicitly fingering an adult. It may be that you are struck by this in the gallery too, in which case you have probably also observed that your fellow visitors manage to notice no such thing. We are either blind to – or very good at ignoring – the sex in old master art.

Also:

We would never remove these paintings from the National Gallery or the Louvre. Not only are they prophylactically sealed against affront by virtue of time and status in these cathedrals of sanctified art, but they have the figleaves of myth on the one hand – not real people, only gods indulging in the usual revolting ways – and moral content on the other. To the pure of mind, everything is pure; filth is in the eye of the beholder.

And in any case, these are paintings not photographs. They have passed through someone’s imagination; they don’t stand in one-to-one relation to reality. They are what we might call fictions. But that, alas, apparently no longer stands as a legal argument in the English-speaking world. Witness two recent cases in America and Australia.

In Australia a man was convicted of possessing child porn in 2008. The offensive images showed Bart and Lisa Simpson engaged in lewd acts. The defence argued – as we all might – that the Simpsons aren’t real children, never mind that they are bright yellow, have only four fingers and very oddly shaped heads. The judge ruled that “the mere fact that the figure depicted departed from a realistic representation in some respects of a human being did not mean that such a figure was not a ‘person'”.

In America, last December, Dwight Whorley appealed against his jail sentence for knowingly receiving pornographic manga cartoons involving the rape of children. These were defined as “obscene visual depictions”. The judgment – Whorley versus the United States of America – is extremely finely detailed and involves numerous other counts, including downloading obscene photographs of children, all of them indicating the defendant’s paedophilia – but what it makes clear is that the court allows no distinction between “actual” and “virtual” pornography.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Bronzino (or the National Gallery, to be precise) might be in trouble were a case to be pursued before such judges in America.