Nudes as a primary theme in art

It was a prime subject from ancient times, the Greek art and after a period of transition in the Middle Age era had bloomed again in the Italian Renaissance, as a representation of the ideal male and female body shape. The nude is still a subject for contemporary art masterpieces.

Michelangelo’s “David”

Michelangelo, one of the most talented masters of the Renaissance, after finishing the sculpture of “David”, the biblical hero who killed Goliath (the champion of the Philistines in the Book 1 of Samuel), had said:

“What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is nobler than the shoe, and the skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?”

The 14 feet sculpture of “David” was done in secret by Michelangelo in a courtyard and he worked on it from 1501 when he was only 26 years old until 1504 when he finished it. It is a male body so perfect and so astonishing described by Giorgio Vasari, in his “Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects” where he had declared that never somebody saw such “beautiful contours of legs, …slender outlines of flanks that are divine” and the posture was full of grace and, “feet, hands and head so well in accord, one member with another, in harmony, design, and excellence of artistry”.

Michelangelo, David (1501-1504)

“The Birth of Venus” and “Venus of Urbino”

The female body was always desired and venerated by male painters; for centuries “in the European artistic tradition” the female nude was one of the genres of art. Some themes with nude females were “mythological or biblical” why it was easy to display the female as an object of “contemplation” and make the public believe that it was a “legitimate subject of art” to the total enjoyment of male “spectators”.

Sandro Botticelli, Italian Renaissance painter, has portrayed Venus the “love goddess” sitting on a shell in “The Birth of Venus” (1484) using the same principles of composition as the “ancient artist Praxiteles”, and according to Plato and his disciples “the contemplation of physical beauty can lead the mind to heavenly truth”.  In Botticelli’s painting Venus is a beauty who illuminates the planet. She is not a “sex object” as other female nudes are, and she brings joy to the viewer’s eyes and soul.

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (1484)

One of the masters of painting nude female was Titian, and his masterpiece, “Venus of Urbino” (1538; Uffizi, Florence) shows the provocative, ravishing woman’s body instead of the “ideal geometry” perfect body. There is “something divine about such beauty”. He has painted the most fascinating female nudes, tempting and suggestive, a real celebration of “carnal glory”.

Titian, Venus of Urbino (1538; Uffizi, Florence)

“The Rokeby Venus” by Velázquez

Diego Velázquez, the Spanish painter in “The Rokeby Venus” (1647-1651) or “The Toilet of Venus” makes an impressive link “between displayed flesh and secret soul.” Venus is looking in a mirror where her face is not very clear and her expression is showing a lot of tightness “between mind and body”. Her “pink flesh” so alluring and sensuous is “laid out” on a silvery bed cover with a fiery red drape in front of her which is adding more steamy fascination and shameless erotic desire to her body’s shape. At the beginning of 20th century, the art piece has been “attacked by a suffragette who slashed it repeatedly”, trying to destroy the unbelievable power of the irresistible nude figure.

This painting is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez, because of the Spanish Inquisition. The name “Rokeby” come from the saloon at Rokeby Park, Yorkshire, where the painting has been hung in 1813. Nowadays, the original is hanging in the National Gallery in London, and a copy of it in the saloon at Rokeby Park.

Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus (1647-1651) or The Toilet of Venus

The mistress of the King of France painted by Boucher

François Boucher in 1752 has painted Louise O’Murphy, “the mistress of the king of France” who is not posing only for the artist; her pose is also very provocative and erotic.

For decades, the female nude painted on a canvas was seen as an “ethereal pursuit of classic beauty”, but how this painting proves is also about the male desires and his sensual dreams.

François Boucher, Louise O’Murphy, (1752)

In 1814, “La Grande Odalisque”- beautiful painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres – is showing an out of this world woman’ physique, “an exotic depiction in the Romantic style of an eastern concubine”. Sitting on some silky bead spreads with a heavy drape on the right side covering her legs, she is looking over her right shoulder very sure of her naked body and her posture. She is not shy at all and, she is sure about the sexual attraction she is spreading around her. “Her perfume of Orientalist fantasy casts the onlooker as a decadent connoisseur of sensual pleasure”.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque (1814)

For the last 200 years, some of the art movements which are part of the contemporary art are “cubism, surrealism, and modernism”, and one artist who is representing the cubist movement is Pablo Picasso. In “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” (1932) he has seen his mistress as a “welcoming cloud of pinkness, a constellation of curves”, and the female body is reduced to the components of a “still life”. But his masculinity can be felt in each stroke of color; his sexual possessiveness is in every color hue on his canvas. In his honesty he is the singular owner of the female body because he has put a part of his sexuality in the composition.

 

Pablo Picasso. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932)

Bibliography:

galeriemichael.com/2018/02/common-themes-and-subjects-of-contemporary-art/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depictions_of_nudity

metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm

arthistoryteachingresources.org/lessons/sexuality-in-art

theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/apr/15/top-10-female-nudes-art

Author: Rozalia Mos

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