Nudity in art as well as the human form combined can be traced through out all the eras in art starting from pre-historic times and still being seen in today’s art, recently in photography as well. The nude figure in art has generally reflected, with few exceptions, social standards of aesthetics as well as morality of the certain time period in the painting, sculpture and more recently photography. Just as in human history the human nude figure has been one of the principle subjects in art history for artists. The nude figure has been represented on pre-historic statues and paintings throughout all eras since. The male nude was more commonly used in the start, especially in ancient Greece. Today society and their morality, values and outlook on life has evolved and likewise so has the female nude in art, lately to be more highly represented and regarded. Today, unlike in the past many cultures approve of nudity in art even when they don’t approve of actual nudity. For example, even an art gallery which exhibits nude paintings will typically not accept nudity of a visitor. Just like the female nude figure has evolved throughout art history due to social, political and religious influences so has all art through the years. Evolution is part of life and so is art, thus art has evolved through the and just like evolution influences bring upon changes in art, it is safe to say that art influences graphic, interior architectural and other design throughout the eras.
The nude figure may be absent in Egyptian, Persian, and Etruscan art but definitely not from Greek art. The Greeks seemed to embrace it, when it came to the male figure that is. The nude standing male figure in art first became popular in Ancient Greece sculpture art. This sculpture was associating the male figure with moral excellence and athletic power. Women however where seen in a different way when it came to nudity. The female figure was associated with divinity of procreation. For almost five centuries it was said that the Greeks preferred to see a female figure clothed. In the 4th century BCE sculptor Praxelitis carved Fig.1 (Knidian Aphrodite,) a naked Aphrodite. This established a new artistic tradition of the nude female form.
Fig.1 Praxiteles, (Knidian Aphrodite)
This sculpture was not like the exaggerated fertility figurines from the Middle East but was sculptured using idealized size and proportion that were based on mathematical ratios. Here the female nude has a self-protective pose that adds to her modesty. This is seen through the way she is holding her hand and covering her sexual organ. This sculpture was created to portray the ideal version of the Greek female nude. This female nude was also designed to appeal to the viewer’s senses as well as his mind. This way of portraying the female nude figure was later adopted by Hellenistic Greco-Roman art and later discarded during the Pax Romana era. Some of the finest Greek sculptors of female nude statues include: Phidias, Polykleitos, Myron Praxiteles and Hagensandrus, Polydorus and Athenodoros. It is also important to note that the Harappan culture predates Greek art by about two Millennia and was one of the first cultures to produce nude bronzes. In fig.2 (The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro) we see a six-inch high statuette made of the lost wax method which was cast in about 2, 500 BCE.
Fig.2 (The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro)
Female Nudes in Early Christian and Byzantine Art
The Medieval Christian and Byzantine era, was a Christian culture from the outset. In this era the female nude figure was much diminished and nude figures were used only in rare depictions of Adam and Eve as well as the Christ-child figure. Female nudity was rarely seen in work from this era, rarely in paintings or Byzantine mosaic art. When it was shown in these rare cases it was associated with either feelings of shame and guilt or with low-brow humor. As far as Byzantine culture was concerned, the nude male and female were too directly associated with that of pagan Greek culture.
Female Nudes in the Art of the Middle Ages
When the era of Gothic Art eventually came along, perceptions and attitudes towards female nudeness in sculpture, paintings, stained glass and other types of art. Nudity became portrayed as sinful, this can be seen in the well known story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Early in the Christian era emphasis was placed on chastity discouraging images of nudeness even further. However here lies a paradox with the Gothic artists (including cathedral sculptors) were permitted to alternate to the nude female figure in the name of “purity”, portrayed as a virginal suggestion of the body. In Fig.3 Gregor Erhart (St Mary Magdalene) we see a polychrome wooden sculpture, also known as “La Belle Allemande”. This figure was created by the Late Gothic wood carver Gregor Erhart in Augsburg, Germany
La belle allemande
Fig.3 Gregor Erhart (St Mary Magdalene)
Female Nudes in Renaissance Art
During the Italian Renaissance Roman-Greco art as well as its cultural values were rediscovered. This lead to a return of the female nude to the vanguard of creativity, not only in sculpture but in fine art as well. Differing from the earlier eras in art the artists of the Italian Renaissance can be seen as figurative masters. These artists were not satisfied in restricting themselves to creating idealized nude female figures based on mathematical proportions. These artists such as Botticelli, Titian and Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto wanted to portray the natural full-bodied beauty of a woman. Seductive warmth became more important to them than the correct geometry.
This change can be seen in Fig.4 Alessandro Botticelli (Birth of Venus, 1484).The figures of the women in this painting can be seen as much more voluptuous and full rounded than in the previous art eras where the proportion of the nude female figures are idealized and based on mathematic proportions. The nude female figure is naturalistically portrayed in this era.
Northern Renaissance artists proved just as equally open. Jan Van Eyck was an artist from this era and had already incorporated naturalism into his paintings. Another artist from this era, Hieronymus Bosch, used female nudity to add force to his apocalyptic outlooks on that of sin as well as divine judgment. Bosch’s most well known painting can be seen in Fig.5 Hieronymus Bosch (The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1510). In this painting the nude figures are sinners and the downfall of human and mankind is depicted. The figures in this painting, typical to the era of renaissance, can be seen as naturalistic rather than idealized.
Fig.5 Hieronymus Bosch (The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1510)
None of these changes in the Renaissance means that Christian morals and values had changed. In fact, if it delayed to the creative talents of Titian and other artists of the time, the Christian Church still remained consciously guarded, even opposed, towards the use of female as well as male nudity in public sculptures and painting, especially in churches. It was no surprise to anyone that the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church, attempted to bring to a stop the “immoral” and “paganizing” elements which had been claimed to become too widespread in Renaissance art, under the authority of classical canons.
Female Nudes in Baroque Art
The Renaissance continued to have an influence throughout the different art movements in European Art. After the renaissance the nude figure fascination continued. This encouraged artists to renew their outlook on the nude figure and the antique tradition. The female nude figure received a fresh new meaning in the art of Rubens, who with much satisfaction painted women with generous voluptuous figures as well as radiant skin. The Baroque flavor for allegories based on traditional metaphors also preferred undraped figures. These figures were used to represent concepts such as the Graces and Truth.
Female Nudes in Rococo and Neoclassical Art
In Rococo art one can see how the usage of the female nude figure evolves and becomes more suggestive the female nudes becomes more playful as well as suggestive as well as playful. This is clearly depicted in art works like in Fig.6 Francois Boucher (Reclining Girl, 1751) and Fig. 7 Jean-Antoine (The Judgment of Paris, 1751). http://www.galerieversailles.com/MyImages/BOUCHER%20-%20Girl%20Reclining%20(Louise%20O_Murphy).jpg
Fig.6 Francois Boucher (Reclining Girl, 1751)
In this painting we can see how the female nude has become more suggestive by looking in the way the women is lying on the daybed, on her stomach with her legs spread wide, possibly looking at someone.
The more playful depiction of the female nude can be seen
In this Fig.7 Jean-Antoine (The Judgment of Paris, 1721) through the way the woman is standing with the drape over her head.
Fig.7 Jean-Antoine (The Judgment of Paris,1721)
Fig.8 Joseph Nollekens (Venus, 1773) is an example of Neoclassical female nude. This era was exemplified by sculptor artists such as John Nollekens and more others. These sculptors reconverted to the antique forms and poses of sculptures.http://www.mutualart.com/Images/2009_03/12/0066/134858/134858_8bfc7373-7e4d-423b-a3ed-db57c7e8f0e7_-1_570.Jpeg
Female Nudes in 19th-Century Art
Female nude figures from 19th-Century Art can be seen as placed in far- fetched, unusual settings, and not everyday scenes as in the other art eras.
Fig.8 Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres (The Valpincon Bather, 1808)
In this figure we see a nude woman sitting on the edge of a bed with her back towards the viewer.
When looking at the fantasy images of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema an extraordinary setting can also be seen. In Fig.9, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (The Tepidarium, 1881) a nude female is lying on what seems to be some sort of day bed. She is lying on a mat made of animal skin and covering her sexual organ with a feather. The extraordinary setting can be related to the name of this painting. Tapidarium is the room between the hot and cold rooms in Roman baths. Her face is slightly turned away and has no expression on.
Fig.9 Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (The Tepidarium, 1881)
From these settings one can see that in the 19th century artworks the female nude is merely an object of desire. In these art works women are the sex that is looked at and men are the sex that is looking. The female nudes here don’t have much personality; the faces are turned away from the viewer or have no emphasis on them. The female nude in the 19th century exists simply to be enjoyed by the viewer who is most likely the male figure. More figures that represent this are Fig.10 Francisco Goya (Naked Maja, 1800) and Fig.11 Ingres (Odalisque, 1841).
Fig.10 Francisco Goya, (Naked Maja,1800)
Fig.11 Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres (Odalisque, 1841).
Female Nudes in 20th-Century Art
In the twentieth century the academic tradition lost its own cultural superiority, yet the nude figure has remained a steady feature in contemporary or modern art. Artists like Paul Cezanne (Les Grandes Baigneuses, 1900-6), Amedeo Modigliani (Reclining Nude, 1917 and others), Pablo Picasso (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907), and Gustav Klimt (Adam and Eve, 1918) all incorporated the nude female figure into their style. So did all the German Expressionist groups.) In 20th-century sculpture art, realism of the anatomy was anatomical realism was exemplified by the nude polyester figures of a contemporary photorealist artist from America. John De Andrea.
Fig.12 John De Andrea (Couple, 1971)
The voyeuristic tradition was held constant by Balthus (The Guitar Lesson, 1934 and The Room, 1952),Anders Zorn a prolific Swedish Impressionist (Girls From Dalarna Having a Bath, 1908), as well as a German artist Gerhard Richter (Ema: Nude on a Staircase, 1966).
It is safe to say that throughout art history and it’s eras we have witnessed many different approaches towards not only the female nude but the male nude figure as well as subject in art. Every era clearly had changes in its own style and attitude. It is not surprising that after all these years the genre of the nude female is still popular and is continuously being investigated by new breeds of artists in new ways. In this ever changing depiction of the genre it has become widely academic today and can even be said to be passé by some, then being seen as just one more genre art students at college need to study before moving on to other important matter. This is due to a society that has become saturated with sexual media and causes for the traditional female nude in traditional art to lose its ability to shock and titillate. The perception of the female nude has evolved throughout the different eras in art and is seen the way it is seen today because of society and it aesthetics and moralism. I do believe that art has influenced the human and evolves with society as the world evolves, thus art has influenced, graphic, interior architectural and other design throughout the centuries.
Visual-art-corks.com, Female nudes in painting and sculpture [Online]. Available From: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/genres/female-nudes-art-history.htm [Accessed : 22 March 2011]
Sorbella.J(2008) Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Nude in Baroque and later Art [Online.] Available From: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/genres/female-nudes-art-history.htm [Accessed: 20 March 2011]