Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Kissing Nun

with 13 comments


Oliviero Toscani is a well-known fashion photographer whose work has appeared in magazines such as Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Stern. However, it is his advertising campaign (The United Colors of Benetton) for Benetton from 1982 to 2000 that made him and the firm world famous. In the United Colors, he brought together strongly contrasting opposites in the same image to symbolize the acceptance of differences, multiculturalism, the fight for equality and peace.

“Kissing-nun” (1992) dealt with the theme of religion, contrasting a profane, sensual kiss with the sacred vows pronounced by men and women who enter religious orders. Challenging the principle of religious celibacy, the picture encourages viewers to refuse traditional constraints and thereby directly attacks the basic values of Catholicism. The public felt deeply offended; in Italy, bowing to pressure from the Vatican, the use of the image was finally prohibited. The French authorities demanded the withdrawal of the posters.

In the later years, he moved away from the original intention of the advertisements (the presentation of Benetton clothes) with pictures of a black woman breastfeeding a white baby, of a white wolf and a black sheep or of a tiny black hand held in a large white one. In 2000, his Death Row campaign used portraits of 26 American prisoners who had been condemned to death which created a public outcry. Benetton fired Toscani. Toscani went on which his career, causing further controversies along the way. In 2002, making the poster for the movie Amen (about the Vatican’s wartime collaborations with Hitler) he combined a Christian cross with a Nazi swastika.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 5, 2009 at 6:37 am

13 Responses

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  1. Yesterday I found the photo of “The Kissing Nun” on the cover of Photo Mazagine for September ’09.
    As a woman religious (nun) I find this photo a total
    contradition to what it means to be a nun.
    After a rewarding life with a career, the company of
    men, travel I felt called to enter the Catholic sisterhood. My life is fuller than I could ever expect. I have missed nothing but my choice.
    This photograph is a repetition of the constant ridicule of nuns throughout movies, literature,
    jokes, etc. There is no understanding of the dignity
    of the sisterhood. Instead of displaying a photo of this lowly quality, why not photo nuns throughout the
    world who are making a difference. There are nuns who have been murdered for their beliefs. American nuns have been caring for the poor and disadvantaged
    since the 1700’s. It would be good if this photographer knew his history. Thank you.

    Sister Meg Holden

    September 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm

  2. I agree with the Sr. Meg Holden’s comments. If such disrespect were shown to icons of the Left, let’s mocking homosexuals as perverrts and depraved souls, there would be such an uproar. I will pray for Mr. Toscani.

    Miguel Bosqua

    May 9, 2010 at 11:19 am

  3. No one denys that nuns have done many magnificant things. Just like there happened abuses in some orphanages run by nuns. Meens; the story is not that one-sided. After all, nuns stay human in their action.
    But the picture is about none of these subjects.
    I plays rather with the sensuality of forbidden acts. The kiss of a nun and a priest is one of these. The picture doesn’t even make the nun, priest or religion look bad. It simply shows two religious persons how they are – human and loving. I fail to see anything bad in either of these characteristics.
    I think no one can deny that there were and are actually nuns and priests who don’t stick to the celibacy.
    So the picture is not more but a documentation of something probably much more common than one would think.


    June 13, 2010 at 9:10 pm

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  7. […] Benetton, an upscale Italian clothing company whose advertisements were designed to shock us –– OMG A GUY WHO KIND OF MAYBE LOOKS LIKE A  PRIEST FROM BEHIND IS KISSING AN UNCHARACTERISTICALLY BEA… — as were their […]

  8. […] its infamous “Pieta” showcased a man dying of AIDS. And in 1992, its billboard of a kissing nun and priest raised a furor among Roman Catholics. Some years later, it used its own magazine, COLORS, […]

  9. […] its infamous “Pieta” showcased a man dying of AIDS. And in 1992, its billboard of a kissing nun and priest raised a furor among Roman Catholics. Some years later, it used its own magazine, COLORS, to run […]

  10. […] 1991, its infamous "Pieta" showcased a man dying of AIDS. And in 1992, its billboard of a kissing nun and priest raised a furor among Roman Catholics. Some years later, it used its own magazine, COLORS, […]

  11. […] hundred and five;&#one hundred ten; 1992, its billboard of &#ninety seven; kissing nun and priest raised &#ninety seven; furor among Roman Catholics. Some years later, &#one hundred […]

  12. […] éclatent, avec des particularismes en fonction des pays qui ne réagissent pas aux mêmes thèmes (la religion en Italie, le nouveau-né en […]

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