Would you want to wear a fig-leaf? The other day I was talking to a friend about figs and figleaves, as you do, and the conversation brought to mind a newspaper article I had read years ago. The article was about the relative sensitivity of different parts of the body and it was illustrated by a diagram with the various parts scaled according to their degree of sensitivity, something like this diagram.
A week later a letter was published expressing surprise that the man's genitals were omitted from the diagram, but then added, "On second thoughts, if you've ever felt the underside of a fig leaf, you shouldn't be surprised by this".
Out walking recently, I came across a number of wild fig trees and, with the conversation fresh in my mind, I inspected the leaves closely. Sure enough, they are mildly abrasive. They are also an odd shape.
Surely, hardly suitable to cover your dignity. Where did this custom originate? The edible fig was one of the first domesticated plants. There is evidence they were first cultivated roughly 9000 years BC. It's original range was Iran, Pakistan and the Mediterranean region.
But in ancient Greek and Roman art, fig leaves weren't added to statues of the naked body. Although Adam and Eve were said to have clad themselves in fig leaves when they realised they were naked, it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the prudery became common place. From that time, new as well as many existing works were covered up.
When Queen Victoria saw the cast of Michaelangelo's David at the Victoria and Albert Museum, she was so shocked that a fig leaf had to be made to spare female blushes in future. The fig leaf attached to David was half a metre high (but don't excite yourselves, David was 6 metres tall). Since then nudity has become more commonplace and the fig leaf has been removed. It does however remain on display - in a case of its own behind the figure.
If you do ever have a chance to see the statue of David, do so. It is beautiful, with or without its figleaf. But make sure it's the full size version because the smaller ones don't have the same impact.