During Medieval times, the figures usually had to depict Adam and Eve, whom the Bible itself characterized as nude, or figures from Greek mythology, whom everyone knew cared little for anything more modest than a bit of gauze. Bathers were acceptible. They had good reason to be nude. The same was true of those just having finished bathing, or those disrobing and about to bathe. Likewise, allegorical figures were okay since they had little or no fleshly being in the first place.
Michelangelo lived and worked within these constraints, as did artists of all nationalities for the next 300 years. By the mid 1800s however, artists, especially male French artists, whom we all know to be the most sensuous of artists, were starting to chafe a bit under such constraints. It was, in fact, incredible to see the lengths to which the great academic painters, for whom the idealized nude figure was their stock-in-trade, would go to depict sanitized female nudity they knew and loved in new and unique ways. Well, actually, some of them weren't all that new and unique. The Paris Salon show of 1863, for example, had no less than five Birth of Venuses each strikingly different, each lusciously beautiful, each delicately idealized, but all not far removed from Sondro Botticelli's first attempt at the subject over 350 years before.
|Birth of Venus, 1863, Cabanel|
|Birth of Venus, 1863, Bouguereau|
|Olympia, 1863, Eduoard Manet|