Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis




Public History

First Advisor

Allison Marsh


In 1959, the Bob Jones University Gallery of Sacred Art acquired St. Francis Receiving the Christ Child from the Virgin, a large altarpiece by Denys Calvaert. The painting was altered during restoration, as someone painted a wisp of fabric to cover the exposed genitals of the nude Christ Child. Bob Jones Jr., founder of the collection and then University president, cited the expectations of the University's Fundamentalist constituency in defending several such alterations, but the exhibits and publications of the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery are silent on the matter. In this paper, I analyze the causes and consequences of that problematic silence before offering specific proposals to remedy them.

First, I describe how the acquisition, alteration, and interpretation of the Calvaert conform to the expectations of M&G's founder and its Fundamentalist constituency. M&G has acted to reconcile the Catholic content of the collection with the anti-Catholicism of Fundamentalist tradition, and to maintain a standard of "modesty" appropriate to the perceived preferences of that tradition. Next, I explain why the retouching and the lack of public information about it are unfortunate, emphasizing how they conflict with the museum's own stated educational goals. The nudity of the Christ Child on this altarpiece is integral to its religious, cultural, and art-historical origins. In conforming to the expectations of one segment of its audience, the museum has lost part of the history and therefore diminished the educational potential of its collection.

Finally, this paper offers several specific strategies for incorporating information about the original and altered states of the painting into the existing interpretive structures at the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery. These proposals include altered text for gallery panels and audio tours, expanded training for docents with new participatory elements for docent-led tours, additional material for student visits and class projects, and improved and updated coverage in print and online publications. By adopting these proposals, the gallery could begin to recover the lost value of the Calvaert for religious, cultural, and art history education by bringing forward the missing elements of the history of the painting and the institution.