Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Naked and the Nude

Aphrodite of Cridus,
350 BCE, Praxiteles
The Spearbearer,
440 BCE,
The female nude has been a subject matter for the almost exclusively male army of artists marching forward all the way from the cave paintings of the Stone Age. Though eventually, the Greeks, during what has been termed the Hellenic period, let the male nude take his place along side their Aphrodites , there has never been any doubt which of the two sexes was the most popular subject matter in the male-dominated world of art sweeping up through the centuries and encompassing even our world today. When we talk about a Madonna today, we don't bring to mind a religious work but a singer/sex symbol.

Olympia, 1863, Edouard Manet
For centuries any sexual overtones surrounding the nude female figure were usually deeply subdued and sanitized. However, in 1863, a French artist by the name of Edouard Manet struck a blow to break this tradition. His painting titled Olympia very closely imitated the pose and subject matter of Titian's Venus of Urbino painted some three hundred years earlier. The difference was, wherein Titian painted his figure "nude" reclining graciously on a couch, Manet's model was very clearly "naked", and not only that, but very obviously a prostitute as well, receiving a bouquet of flowers from a would-be client, and awaiting his imminent arrival. The image was blatantly flat, and harshly lit. There was direct eye contact with the model, and the effect was graphic, stopping little short of the pornographic. Even for France, it was outrageous. The public and critics alike scorned it.

Ajitto, 1981, Robert

In art of a more recent vintage, one would have to look to the homoerotic photographic work of Robert Mapplethorpe for anything approaching the controversial impact of Olympia. What differentiates between a nude figure and a naked figure? An art history professor of mine years ago explained it this way: "A nude figure is in his or her natural state given the circumstances. A naked figure is not." Today, were it not for the fact that there are children living among us, one might easily suspect that sexuality, nudity, and outright nakedness might be far more prevalent than they are. In olden times, perhaps children never visited art museums. At any rate, if young people must be exposed to nudity in some form, and at some stage in their youth, an art museum may be a fairly safe, sanitized venue as compared to Internet browsing after midnight.

No comments:

Post a Comment