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The Nude in Art

 ( Part Two )

Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus


The Nude - especially the sensual, voluptuous and provocative Female Nude - is probably the most popular subject in the history of painting, inspiring artists for centuries. Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, created the first monumental female nude in his Birth of Venus, in 1484, certainly one of the two or three most iconic images in Western Art. That was followed by Giorgione da Castelfranco’s (1477-1510) Sleeping Venus in 1508 (24 years later!), which was the first lying female nude. Those two paintings opened the floodgates for almost 500 years of countless standing and lying female nudes to be created, many of them sublimely beautiful or delightfully erotic. Almost every artist since then, at one point or another in his life and sometimes even quite often, has focused his genius on attempts at representing and expressing his reaction to the female form.

Birth of Venus

Sleeping Venus

The appeal of the painted nude has often had less to do with the search for a cultural experience than the desire for erotic sensation. It has even made some people behave in a somewhat bizarre manner. Cardinal Richelieu, for example, that famously over-zealous tyrant, once went to the most extraordinary lengths to acquire RubensBath of Diana. Some people even became passionate art collectors, sensitive connoisseurs on the surface, whilst in truth just (quite reasonably, in my opinion) thrilled by the idea of acquiring a particularly appealing nude.

In the days of antiquity, the founding days of our Culture, it was the Male Nude that predominated; in fact almost to the point where the female nude was hardly ever created at all. Sculpting was primarily the Art of those earliest days, and we find very few female nudes, although male ones are everywhere. The male was regarded as the symbol of perfection, both physically and morally. He was considered the expression of virility, and invariably shown in heroic stances. The rare female, on the other hand, was of course called Venus and only ever shown with her hands coyly covering her sex. The Greeks were amazingly untouched by all the exquisite beauties and possibilities of expression contained in the female nude. For them, the epitome of perfection lay both visually and intellectually in the male, and his nudity was a common part of both art and life. Sports were an extremely important part of early Greek life, and the majority of the almost exclusively male participants appeared naked.

With the advent of Judaism and Christianity, the poor female was doomed to virtual anonymity for another fifteen hundred years, the dam only being burst asunder by the Italian Renaissance and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the end of the fifteenth century. Before then, the medieval world had attempted to conquer the senses; through humanist ideals, the Italian Renaissance honoured them. Since then, the nude, particularly the female nude, has happily never looked back.

In the Middle Ages, the nude represented evil or death; in the Renaissance the nude combined idealism with sensuality. Later, so-called religious nudes even tried - ostensibly - to convey a sense of Spirituality, while Baroque and Rococo artists simply gloried in their erotic quality. Although photography has caused the modern eye to see the nude as little more than a pin-up, I still see it as the most marvellous vehicle of expression out of all the other possibilities in any of the other genres. After having achieved mastery in all the other genres, it was finally to the nude that I turned, with the intention of making it the central subject of my work as far into the future as I am able to see.

The Nude in Art, Part Three

Anthony Christian

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