Sour response to sweet Lord

My Sweet Lord …

This story is disappointing if unsurprising:

A MANHATTAN art gallery has cancelled its Easter-season exhibit of a life-size chocolate sculpture depicting a naked Jesus, after an outcry by Roman Catholics.

The sculpture My Sweet Lord by Cosimo Cavallaro was to have been exhibited for two hours each day next week in a street-level window of the Roger Smith Lab Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.  …

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights had called for a boycott of the hotel, writing to 500 religious and secular organisations.

“This is an assault on Christians during Holy Week,” said Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the league, which describes itself as the largest US Catholic civil-rights group.  …

The archbishop of New York called the sculpture “scandalous” and a “sickening display.”

However, Cosimo Cavallaro’s depiction of Christ is rather more likely to be historically accurate that most of the solemnly sanctimonious, loincloth-draped effigies the Church generally favours:

 Was Jesus naked and exposed on the cross? Men were ordinarily crucified naked. Schneider tells us, “Sometimes 1 was stripped and his clothes were divided among the executioners, though this was not the common rule.” The very purpose of crucifixion was utter humiliation for the condemned. What would be more humiliating than to strip a person naked.

But among the Jews, nakedness, particularly nakedness in public, was considered exceedingly shameful. Edersheim cites Sanhedrin vi.3.4 that in Jewish executions by stoning, “the criminal was undressed, only the covering absolutely necessary for decency being left.” While he concedes that Jesus was executed by Romans, not Jews, he feels that “every concession would be made to Jewish custom” and thus Jesus would have been spared the indignity of exposure as being “truly un-Jewish.” Green, on the other hand, assumes Jesus’ nakedness at the crucifixion. Was Jesus naked on the cross? We just can’t be sure.

Why should truth be “scandalous” or “sickening”?  Especially since a deep understanding of the fact that Christ died for our sins, deliberately humiliated and after prolonged agony, is arguably central to the Christian faith:

Crucifixions were carefully designed to generate the greatest feelings of horror and thus to have the greatest deterrent effect on the populace. They were a form of psychological terrorism by the government …

Most Catholic clergy seemed to have had little difficulty in accepting (as I also do) the theological legitimacy of Mel Gibson’s almost pornographic movie portrayal of the unremitting and sadistic violence of Christ’s death, yet somehow merely depicting his physical nakedness in static form is scandalous and sickening. 

Moreover, by creating Christ from chocolate, I assume the artist was making an ironic comment (with which one would expect Catholics to agree) about the crass commercialisation of Easter.  I don’t recall the Church calling for a boycott of Woolworths or Coles over their sale of easter eggs, bunnies, bilbies or hot crossed buns, even though their purpose is in no sense critical and wholly motivated by profit.   It’s difficult not to conclude that this incident has more to do with the Church’s warped, repressed attitude towards sexuality and the human body than with any considered response to a fairly inoffensive work of populist art.

  1. the condemned person[]

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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David Rubie
David Rubie
17 years ago

Sweet Chocolate Jesus!

D’ya think we can get Lindt to wrap it in gold foil so I can buy one at K-Mart?

Just think what the kids would say when they saw that on Easter Sunday. Might have to censor it a bit though judging by the photo.

17 years ago


Bring Back CL's blog
Bring Back CL's blog
17 years ago

fairly inoffensive eh.

A rather inaccurate display that has now gone the way that all tasteless displays should.

I wonder why he didn’t think of a naked Mohammed?
Do you think Muslims would have merely complained?

17 years ago

Would you similarly criticise the resulting muslim actions (certain to be extremely violent) should an historically accurate (and chocolate) depiction of a naked 56-year old mohammad raping his nine year old ‘wife’ Aisha be displayed at ramadan? It could be billed as an ironic comment on the issues of fasting for 40 days, after all.

An artist could certainly ensure that it was “likely to be historically accurate” as well.

This was simply a tasteless insult offered to Catholics at the holiest part of the year, with the aim of attracting attention to the alleged ‘artist’.

It worked – and no Christian has shot and stabbed the ‘artist’, slashed his throat and left a missive pinned to his corpse by a knife, either, as occurred with Theo van G for HIS artistic endeavours.


17 years ago

I’ve posted a few of the cartoons of which you speak over at my place.

17 years ago

Chocolate. A food. So this might imply it being edible and therefore being ett? Tres strange and this for me is the interesting thing, whether it be Christ or just some bloke it certainly is a bit confronting for anyone who might stand gazing upon it wondering whether they were being somehow macarbre in contemplating snapping off a limb and munching through a few fingers.

17 years ago

Live and let live kinda guy that I am, I would probably have let things go were I the Church’s representatives. Even if I find it very hard to think of Christ in milk chocolate. At least dark chocolate might have been more to the point.

But it is essentially provocative. There may be a legitimate point to make about the commercialisation of Easter, but that point has kinda been made already, hasn’t it? Not to mention that it hardly requires a graphically nude Christ. With respect to that there may be a point also about the incredible gulf between the strictness of Christ’s injunctions to us and our present comfortable tolerance of evil and suffering, but somehow I doubt it.

And legitimate as either point may be, they are hardly more ‘legitimate’ than the offense felt by some people who believe that the moment this piece purports to represent was one of the holiest and most profound events of all time.

In which light I agree with some of the above commenters that this seems way over the top:


17 years ago

How pathetic.

17 years ago

More apropos in the Australian context would be a chocolate David Hicks in his Gitmo jumpsuit. It looks like he won’t be a martyr, but he will be the next Australian hero, fighting American hegemony before it was fashionable.

17 years ago



I mean…yeeeesh.. Jesus the man, assuming his existence, would have had the regulation issue male appendage.

17 years ago

If you go to this place you can buy crucifix lollypops to go with your chocolate Jesus or Mary. Since the church hasn’t closed them down I presume it’s the chocolate penis which is causing the outrage

17 years ago

Chocolate Jesus, Chocolate Jesus
Sittin’ on the dashboard of my carrrr
Made with chocolate so delicious, tastes so good it’s sacrilicious
but he melts if I travel farrr…

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
17 years ago

I cannot find anything bitter or anri-catholic in Ken’s post. It is a considered piece. And I think certain commenters have no basis on which to conclude that the artist is just attention seeking.

17 years ago

No, Deng, he would have had much more than a regulation issue appendage!

Ingolf Eide
17 years ago

Perhaps, in fairness, a considered response would have been to ignore it, or simply issue a mildly worded statement expressing their sorrow that the artist was so insecure he felt driven to such pathetic calls for attention, and their hope that he would find meaning in his life.

That brief comment from Patrick seems about right to me.

17 years ago

PS, Chris Lloyd, I guess warped and repressive attitudes are in the eye of the beholder. I know a good many Catholics, and except perhaps George Pell who is a bit odd, I wouldn’t say more than one hundredth of them are in any way ‘warped’ and perhaps none at all were ‘repressive’.

Whilst I don’t care much myself about this artwork, I think it requires a somewhat warped perspective to think it odd that people might.

Pavlov's Cat
17 years ago

I was really startled when I saw that their objection was to the nakedness; I would have thought it would have been to the chocolate.

The question is, is he circumcised? The reflected gloss on the chocolate (‘bloom’, I believe it’s called) makes it a bit hard to tell.

17 years ago

It’s bald with a stiff dick! That’s not the Jesus Bannerman was taught about so many decades ago. He’d not be eating the chockie either. It’ll be off after 2,000 years.

17 years ago

I agree with Pav. Cat. It is not that JC is naked that is shocking, but that he is edible, in the Easter way. But wait. What about Holy Communion and the body of Christ we cannabilise?

A chocolate Christ would be a helluva lot more palatable than that dry wafer thing, sticking to the roof of your mouth, though it has been many years since I have indulged. I say this is a brilliant marketing move. The Catholic Church should be grateful. Why the friggin’ hell didn’t they think of it before?

17 years ago

Possibly it is difficult, perhaps well nigh impossible to depict agony in chocolate sculpture, but this in fact may be the real reason the CC hierarchy have had a hissy fit over this sculpture.

A JC that looks pretty taut and terrific and as if he were flying emits a heretical message. Torture and persecution don’t always end in defeat or termination. And penance, or suffering, can provide sustenance and nourishment for others.

The idea that we don’t need, and is futile to rely on a Saviour who dies for our sins, that we have in ourselves all that is needed to save ourselves and others, even the smallest of creatures, and those most reviled, is the most heretical message of all at Easter.

Go Cosimo Cavallaro!

17 years ago

Torture and persecution don

17 years ago

Sorry, Patrick, I am often obtuse, but your point being…?

17 years ago

The part of your comment which I quoted is standard Christian doctrine and, ironically, the point of the resurrection. So hardly heretical as that word is usually used. Yet, to my reading, your comment claims it is.

So my point was that either I misread you, or you had not understood Christian doctrine as expounded in the Bible. I suppose there is a third, perhaps happiest, alternative: that you miswrote.

17 years ago

Mmmm… sacrilicious!

17 years ago

From what I have read it seems the boycott and outcry has been from the Catholic League which is a political activist group. I doubt that you could call them representative of the Catholic church.

Cardinal Egan made a comment which was well within his right to do but I am finding it hard to determine whether he was supporting the League in calls for boycotts, was alerted to this exhibition by the League’s mailouts or was responding to a request for comment or what. I certainly can’t see any reference to nudity there.

And as for Cavallaro:

Cavallaro is best known for his quirky work with food as art: Past efforts include repainting a Manhattan hotel room in melted mozzarella, spraying five tons of pepper jack cheese on a Wyoming home, and festooning a four-poster bed with 312 pounds of processed ham.

Yet another fruit cake posing as an artist.

Which is why I agree with Patrick and disagree with Ken on this point:


James Farrell
James Farrell
17 years ago

There are two quite separate issues here.

The first is whether the work is offensive. Since none of the critics, from Ms McCaffrey through the Archbishop to Patrick and Mark L, has offered a word of explanation as to why it’s offensive, it’s impossible to make any progress on this question.

The second is whether it’s a good work of art. As Ken says, it comes under the category of populist art. It’s an anatomically pleasing depiction, and would be generally admired if people didn’t know it was chocolate. It’s been propduced by a guy whose medium is food, so it’s partly a statment about the versality of the medium. It makes standard argument about the incongruity of the religious meaning of Easter and the way we celebrate it, and suggests a chocolate Eucharist as a cheeky resolution. Transparent, but well executed, and an interseting talking point for all that. That’s what populist art is.

17 years ago

I am not personally offended by it. But I would have no difficulty imagining that someone who believed that Christ had died for their sins might find it offensive to see Christ depicted in an apparently irrereverent manner, gratitously naked, by someone who evinces not one iota of interest in exploring the serious issues his art might possibly be construed as raising.

It is a matter of perspective. Obviously someone perfectly open-minded is not going to be offended. But none of us are that, so why so perplexed?

James Farrell
James Farrell
17 years ago

‘…someone…might find it offensive to see Christ depicted in an apparently irreverent manner…’

I think that’s what they call circular reasoning, isn’t it?

As for ‘gratuitously naked’, do you mean Like Michelangelo’s David?

17 years ago

Well, yes James, if you replace ‘who believed that Christ had died for their sins‘ with an ellipsis, it does become rather circular.

If you leave it in, it becomes a perfectly reasonable proposition for anyone who is not so militantly atheist that they cannot allow themselves to comprehend the idea of reverence.

And no, since Michelangelo

17 years ago

But wasn’t Ken’s point that the historical Jesus was naked for his crucifixion? Therefore gratuitous doesn’t apply here.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
17 years ago

Here’s the transcript of a surreal debate on CNN (Anderson Cooper 360) between the artist of “Sweet Jesus” and the president of the Catholic League. Sorry I don’t have time at the moment to edit it down.

COOPER: Well, I don’t think it’s our job here on 360 to tell you what to think about something. We just ask the questions and help you decide.

A few minutes ago, I talked to artist Cosimo Cavallaro and the man who worked to shut down his exhibit, Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League.


COOPER: Cosimo, I want to start by asking you what your intention was with — with this — this piece of art.

C. CAVALLARO: My intention was to celebrate this body of Christ, and in a sweet, delicious, tasteful way.

COOPER: Why — why use chocolate?

C. CAVALLARO: Because it’s a substance that I like. And it’s sweet. And I felt that the body of Christ, the — the meaning of Christ, is about the sweetness.

COOPER: Were you trying to shock, I mean, to — to cause attention?

Often — usually, when Christ is shown, he’s wearing some form of clothing. This is a naked Christ, which has also caused some concern.

C. CAVALLARO: No more than the religion, the way they use it. I was just using it as an iconic figure.

I mean, that my intentions was to shock people, no. I was — my intention was to have them taste the — and feel what they’re looking at in their mouth.

COOPER: Bill, you call this exhibit hate speech. You said it’s — quote — “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.”

What specifically offends you about it?

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Well, of course, asking the public to come in and eat Jesus, with his genitals exposed, during Holy Week I think would be self-explanatory.

If we took an image of this artist’s mother, and made her out in chocolate, with her genitals exposed, of course, to be equal, and then asked the public to eat her on Mother’s Day, yes, he might have a problem. Maybe he wouldn’t.

But you know what bothers me? It’s not even the artist. I mean, we have a lot of these loser artists down in SoHo and around the country. What bothers me is that this guy Knowles, who is an artist in residence, the owner, the president and CEO of an establishmentarian site, the Roger Smith Hotel, 47th and Lexington, in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, that is what bothers me, because now we have the establishment kicking in.

And to put this out during Holy Week, on street level, when kids can walk in off the street, these people are morally bankrupt. And my goal is to make them financially bankrupt.

COOPER: Cosimo, do you understand the outrage this has caused? I mean, do you think it’s overreaction? Do you get it?

C. CAVALLARO: Yes, I get it. I think it’s an overreaction.

You just heard the gentleman calling artists losers, or me a loser. I think what he’s — his assault is on the public at large, artists, and freedom of speech, and every Catholic. I’m a Catholic, and I’m a Christian.

And I think this gentleman doesn’t even represent the people that are in his faith.

DONAHUE: That’s funny. You said I put out a fatwa, right? Or the — or the — that was the — the guy who ran the lab, says I put out a fatwa. I put out a news release.

So, you’re accusing me of being like the Taliban; is that right?

C. CAVALLARO: Who, me? You’re not that intelligent.


DONAHUE: Oh, no, let me tell you something. You’re — you’re lucky I’m not as mean, because you might lose more than your head.

COOPER: Cosimo, did you want people to eat this? Was that part of this?


Did you hear what this gentleman is saying, that I would lose my head?

DONAHUE: No, I — you heard what I said. I said you’re — you’re lucky I’m not like the Taliban, because you would lose more than your head, which is why…

C. CAVALLARO: Right. So, therefore…


DONAHUE: … guys like you wouldn’t do this against Mohammed during Ramadan.


C. CAVALLARO: No, because I’m a Christian. And I’m not trying to…

DONAHUE: Oh, you’re a Christian. Please. Don’t lie about it, all right? Don’t lie about it.

C. CAVALLARO: I’m not lying. No, I’m not lying about it.

DONAHUE: Yes, you are.


C. CAVALLARO: I want to ask you a question, Mr. Donahue.


C. CAVALLARO: Where do you think I should exhibit this? Because you — you have bamboozled an art gallery.


C. CAVALLARO: And you have bamboozled an establishment. You have put fear in people to listen to your rhetoric and to believe — just because a man has got his arms extended and he’s made in chocolate — it’s your Christ — and it’s offensive.

DONAHUE: That’s right.


C. CAVALLARO: And, by the way — excuse me. I’m going to talk to you for a minute. You keep quiet.

DONAHUE: And you want the public to eat him.


C. CAVALLARO: Now, you go to the Catholic Church…


COOPER: Let Cosimo finish his point.

C. CAVALLARO: You go to the Catholic Church, and you’re going to see statues from Michelangelo that are nude. Are you going to clothe them for the Holy Week?



C. CAVALLARO: And are you telling me that, apart from the Holy Week, we could do anything we want to do with the genitalia? What are you talking about?


COOPER: OK. Let Bill answer.

DONAHUE: All right. All right, first of all, Leonardo, you’re not.

But, quite frankly, where should you have this displayed? In New Jersey is where New Yorkers put their garbage. There’s a big sanitation dump. That’s where you should put it.

COOPER: Bill, let me read you something that David Kuo, the former presidential assistant to President Bush, who worked in the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, said in reference to your protest.

He said — quote — “Instead of getting all amped up over this art, Christians should be spending time facing the real and very challenging Jesus found in the Gospels, and encouraging others to do the same.”


COOPER: Are you making a bigger deal out of this than it deserves?

DONAHUE: No, no, no, no.

COOPER: And doesn’t this, in fact, give this more attention than it ever would have received otherwise?

DONAHUE: If, in fact, it was at some dump in SoHo, I probably wouldn’t pay too much attention. But the fact that the Roger Smith Hotel…


C. CAVALLARO: … dump in SoHo.

DONAHUE: … right here in New York City is doing this thing, no. If I don’t pay attention to it, then I — my people should ask for me to be fired.

By the way, I am delighted with the response from Jews, Muslims, and others, not just Catholics and Protestants, with this. People are basically saying, enough is enough. This is absolutely revolting.

And what you’re saying, sir, is totally disingenuous. No one believes it. I don’t even think you believe it.

COOPER: But, Bill, doesn’t — doesn’t — I mean, don’t people have a right to express themselves? And isn’t that what art is about? Aren’t artists supposed to provoke thought?

DONAHUE: That’s right. And, if we — and if we put a swastika out on a stamp in the United States, we could call that art. It was an art exhibition. I don’t think Jews would go for that.

Just because art is art doesn’t mean that it is a right that is absolute. Art can be insulting and it can be offensive. And when these people are whining, claiming victim status, as this guy is doing, because of my exercise of my First Amendment right of freedom of speech — I didn’t call the cops to come in and censor this.

I’m simply saying I called up about 500 of my friends and — running different Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and non- sectarian organizations to boycott the Roger Smith Hotel. They’re morally bankrupt. I want to see them financially bankrupt.

COOPER: Cosimo, I want to give you the final thought. Do you plan to — to display this elsewhere?

C. CAVALLARO: Yes, I do, hopefully.

And I would like to add to the gentleman who referred to the swastika, he’s actually acting like a Nazi.


C. CAVALLARO: And I — I would like to ask one question.

Where do you suggest that I exhibit this? Because you basically pulled it out of a gallery for me. So, where do you think…

DONAHUE: No. I — I told you…


C. CAVALLARO: Where — no, excuse me.

Where do you suggest that an artist should exhibit his work that you don’t infringe on?

DONAHUE: Well, you know, go to some dump down in SoHo, where…


DONAHUE: … nobody will pay attention.

C. CAVALLARO: Is there a church in SoHo that’s a dump, too, because…

DONAHUE: Oh, you would like to…


C. CAVALLARO: No, let me tell you something.

DONAHUE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

C. CAVALLARO: There’s two priests that have wanted to exhibit this in their church.

DONAHUE: Is that right?

C. CAVALLARO: Yes, absolutely.

DONAHUE: Give me their names.

C. CAVALLARO: I will not, because you’re a bully.


C. CAVALLARO: And you know what? I believe that there’s people in your organization that would like you to resign.

DONAHUE: Is that right?

C. CAVALLARO: Absolutely. And you’re…

DONAHUE: Well, how come — I haven’t heard from them.

C. CAVALLARO: I got to tell you something, there’s more filth that comes out of your mouth…

DONAHUE: Is that right?

C. CAVALLARO: Yes — than I have seen…


DONAHUE: Look, you lost. You know what? You put your middle finger at the Catholic Church, and we just broke it, didn’t we, pal?

C. CAVALLARO: No. You’re wrong. You’re wrong.

DONAHUE: Yes, we did. You lost.

C. CAVALLARO: I have a lot of believers.

DONAHUE: We — we won. You’re out of a job.

C. CAVALLARO: And I’m a Christian. And there’s a lot of people like me, who are opposed to what you’re doing, because you made a big…

DONAHUE: Yes? But I got a job, and you don’t.

C. CAVALLARO: You made a — “I got a job, and you don’t”?


C. CAVALLARO: You’re acting like a 5-year-old.

DONAHUE: I got a job, and you don’t.

C. CAVALLARO: You’re talking — you’re acting like a 5-year-old. And I feel sorry for you.

COOPER: All right. We’re going to — we’re…

DONAHUE: Well, I won on this, and you lost, didn’t you?

COOPER: Well, let’s — let’s leave it there.

You both expressed your opinions.

Bill Donahue, appreciate you being with — and, Cosimo Cavallaro, appreciate it as well. Thank you, sir.

C. CAVALLARO: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thank you.


17 years ago

Well, I’ll take neither side.

I stick to what I said above about a suitable Catholic response, and as is probably obvious, I wouldn’t have created such a piece of art as that (as a matter of ability as well as of taste!).

I definitely also stick to what I said re this being more about attention-seeking than any exploration of serious issues. Except I guess I could extend that to both sides!

Legal Eagle
17 years ago

Interesting post!

It has inspired me to write my own post (with a bit more of a legal spin) which considers some of the issues you have raised here.


[…] Ken here at Troppo picked up the story of the Chocolate Jesus and other bloggers followed suit, from a variety of perspectives: Legal Eagle,Pommygranate, Arts News Blog and Alternative Hymnal, who manages to get in an always-welcome Tom Waits angle. Legal Eagle also deals more generally (and from a partly legal perspective) with “blasphemous” art and cultural works. […]