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Art Depicting Nude Women Through the Ages

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Emily Ross

on 11 April 2014

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Transcript of Art Depicting Nude Women Through the Ages

Art Depicting Nude Women through the Ages, 4th Century BCE - 20th Century CE
Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Knidos, 4th Century BCE, marble, Late Classical
Rajasthan, Lacma Celestial Nymph, 1450, Hindu Yakshi
Hans Baldung Grien, Death and the Matron, 1520, oil paint, Northern Renaissance
Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538, Renaissance Italy
Boucher, Girl Reclining, 1751, Rococo France
Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863, French Academy
Gauguin, Two Tahitian Women, 1899, Post-Impressionism
Mother and Child Figure, late 19th early 20th Century, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yombe culture, from CMA
Manet, Olympia, 1865, French Modernism
This painting is from the High Renaissance period in Italy. Here, the female nude represents fidelity and marriage. The nudity is not meant to be graphic or overtly sexual but rather sweet, and meant only for the eyes of her husband. The softness of her form is typical of the Renaissance painting tradition, though her hand over her crotch does imply something sexual. Nudity during this time period was not abnormal, but was meant to please men, not to give power or sexuality to women: they were still the property of men. Women were expected to be sweet and delicate, like the flowers in her hand.
These is a piece from the French Rococo period. The period was characterized by the lavishness, extravagance, drama and promiscuousness of the French court at Versailles. In this painting, Boucher expounds upon these themes, depicting a naked woman in a French aristocrat’s bedroom. This painting touches upon the infidelity and promiscuity that was rampant throughout the French court. The Rococo takes nudity and normalizes it, making it represent luxury and carelessness. The natural colors and soft brushstrokes romanticize the nude, making her almost seem like an angel. The nudity here emanates a sexual mood.
This painting is from the French Modernity movement in the mid-19th Century. Manet embraces the idea of modern society and rejects the conservatism and restrictions of Renaissance Europe. While this work uses a motif that was used often in the Renaissance period, a nude woman reclining, and recalls the work of Titian very closely, aside from the subject matter, nothing else is similar. Manet’s style is revolutionary, with harsh outlines and looser brushstrokes, caring more for the mood that the painting evokes rather than having perfect and accurate representations. Manet depicts a prostitute here, and her nudity is even more emphasized by the accessories she wears: heels, jewelry, and the flower in her hair. The look on the woman’s face is not sweet like Titian’s woman, but rather has a look of mocking in it. This woman is in control of her sexuality, unlike the Renaissance women, due to her status as a prostitute and the fact that she is unashamed to be nude.
This painting by Gauguin was made during the Post-Impressionist period of the 19th Century. Gauguin’s style is evidently influenced by the Impressionists through his loose brushstrokes and use of bright colors. Gauguin was known for his depictions of foreign cultures through the eyes of a foreigner, in a sometimes demeaning way. Here, we see two Tahitian women whose nudity seems casual and normal. Gauguin seems fascinated by this casual nudity, and depicts the nudity of these women in an every-day way without over sexualizing them. However, the women are almost treated like animals or wildlife in this depiction, as Gauguin is fascinated by them like they are otherworldly creatures.
This is a sculpture from the Late Classical period in Ancient Greece. This is the first statue of a naked female, and it set a standard for future statues. Before this time, having a sculpture of a nude woman was unheard of, and the bodies of women were not depicted realistically in sculpture, as their curves were diminished. Here, Praxiteles depicts the female body quite accurately, giving her a soft, shapely form. Aphrodite’s hand is caught in a gesture of modesty that only calls more attention to her nudity, evoking an erotic mood.
This is a work of Hindu art from the 15th century depicting a yakshi. A yakshi is a Hindu symbol of fertility and is always portrayed with wide hips, a skinny waist, and voluptuous breasts. In the Hindu tradition of art, nude women were depicted in a very voluptuous fashion to display their childbearing abilities, something that Hindu culture values very much. The ideal of beauty in this culture was curvy women with wide hips, and the depiction of naked women was meant to be a spiritual symbol that could bring luck to women trying to bear children.
This figure of a nude woman is from the Yombe culture in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Yombe culture valued childbearing very highly and women were judged by their ability to bear children. As such, a woman’s level of beauty was based on having large breasts and wide hips to show that she is fertile. The depiction of nude women in this culture was not meant to be sexual but rather, was meant to help women bear children. The woman’s breasts are pointy and over-exaggerated, but this was seen as a sign of beauty and good fortune. The woman is breastfeeding the child to show the gods that she is a fit mother and deserves to have children.
In this painting from the Italian Renaissance, Botticelli moves away from the Christian tradition of art in Europe and toward Classical tradition through the depiction of Classical subject matter. The female form here is based on the proportions of the female nude from the Classical Greek era. Her body is soft and feminine, and her displays of modesty through covering her breasts and private parts actually just accentuate her nudity more. Her face is soft and sweet, and her ideal beauty is that of a goddess. The nudity is overt, yet modest, and she represents the virtues of the days of the Classical period.
This painting was created in the Neoclassical style in 19th Century France during the time of the French Academy, the pinnacle of high art at that time. This Neoclassical style tries to revive the artistic traditions of the past. The Neoclassical artists sought to copy the techniques of the great artists of the Classical and Renaissance periods. This nude woman evokes a mood of blatant eroticism, yet her nudity also evokes a sense of virginity and purity, magnified by the putti surrounding her. She is a vision of beauty and embodies the aesthetic of a goddess.
This depiction of a female nude by Hans Baldung Grien during the Northern Renaissance era denounces ideas of sexual lust through this nude female figure being attacked by a symbol for death. This painting presents the idea that death is inevitable and sudden, and that anyone is susceptible to it. The nudity here is used to symbolize naivety, innocence, and purity, all of which heighten the shock value of the woman’s attack. Her pale skin gives her an air of purity, while the expression on her face depicts pure horror.
Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1486, Florence, Renaissance
The theme of this gallery is the art of nude women through the ages and across cultures. The societal values and the ideals of beauty for women change over time and vary among cultures, but I found many similarities throughout the works. The female body is often seen as a vessel for children, especially in non-Western cultures, and the female body is often valued for its purity and virginity within the European tradition. Women's bodies can also be seen in a sexual and erotic manner.
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