By spitting in Sienna Miller’s face in order to create a suitably sensational image, the paparazzi remind us of an important point. Nothing in human life is inherently private. Certainly not urinating, defecating and copulating, which only a few centuries ago could be performed in public with no sense of shame. Bedrooms were not particularly private places in medieval Europe, and wanting to relieve yourself unobserved might be considered as eccentric as wanting to crack jokes in utter solitude.

The frontier between public and private shifts from time to time and culture to culture. In pre-modern Europe, the three great spiritual or symbolic areas of existence – religion, sexuality and art – were all public affairs. Religion was a mighty political force, in the alliance between throne and altar. Sexuality was a question of dynastic marriage, the union of landed estates and the generation of labour power. The artist was the paid hireling of church, court or state.

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