The Nude – A Classical Pictorial Theme in Painting and Photography
The nude is one of the pictorial themes of art that has been and still is equally popular with artists and the public in almost all epochs of painting and photography. To this day, the unclothed human body is a source of ever new forms of artistic exploration and interpretation. The origins of nude art can be traced back to various early advanced civilisations, for example, Egypt, Greece, and India. In European antiquity, deities such as Venus, Apollo or Diana were depicted as nudes. Throughout art history, nude art was only depicted in religious, mythological, and historical motifs. Not until around the 19th century the secular figures gradually became established in nude painting. Nude painting made significant progress in painting technique when, from around the Renaissance onwards, the study of the human body and its depiction became an integral part of training at art academies. Having people model without clothing initially had quite practical reasons. For example, the proportions of the body, especially the musculature, were best recognisable in order to be transferred to sculpture. The invention of photography in the 19th century also brought great changes to the art of the nude. With this new technique, realistic images could be produced in a much shorter time. In addition, the cameras were mobile, and the models no longer had to remain motionless for hours. Nevertheless, despite the "flood of images" that accompanied the triumph of photography, the nude continued to prevail in painting.
The Symbolism and Meaning of Nudes
Nudes not only fulfil aesthetic demands as works of art, but they are also a mirror of society and can carry symbolic meanings. A subject as explosive as the naked body provides a very precise indication of the aesthetic and moral standards of a society. Moreover, nude depictions always reflect the ideals of beauty of a epoch. The best example is the voluptuous female figures of Peter Paul Rubens. In his paintings, Rubens reproduced the image of women of the Renaissance. However, many artists also used nudes symbolically. They used them to symbolise purity and originality, expressing sensual pleasures or articulating a longing for freedom. In the history of art, the nude has often caused scandals. In many societies of the last centuries, the public display of naked people was already a provocation. Georg Baselitz, for example, caused a scandal in Germany in the 1960s when he presented nudes of men in an exhibition. However, the possibility of causing a scandal with nudes came in very handy for one artist or another and was therefore not infrequently used strategically to make a name for themselves in public.
Variants of Representation From Natural to Expressive
The modes of representation of nude painting changed alongside the styles of the respective epochs. Although the human body remained the focal point, the manner of depiction varied from natural to expressionistic to the limits of abstraction. Examples of naturalistic representation in nude art are the famous Renaissance works "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel and "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli. For a long time, artists remained attached to this style of painting, which was oriented toward natural body forms. This does not mean, however, that they painted real and contemporary types of women and men. The figures, which were often mythological or biblical, rather arose from the artists' imagination and were based on idealising guidelines. It was not until Impressionism and Expressionism that artists increasingly abandoned the models of reality. It was no longer a question of portraying the body itself but of capturing body language and expression. Edvard Munch, for example, created a milestone in art history with his famous "Madonna" in 1894, in which the first expressionist features were already recognisable. Pablo Picasso also abandoned the natural form of representation in 1907 with his key work "Demoiselles d`Avignon". In the middle of the 20th century, the artists of Pop Art then presented new interpretations of the subject, for example, Tom Wesselmann with his series of "Great American Nudes" and Mel Ramos with his "Commercial Pin-Ups". In photography, which became increasingly popular in the 20th century, nudes were also part of the portfolio of many artists, for example, Man Ray or Helmut Newton. Until today, the nude photo and the nude painting belong to the standard of many artists and exhibitions. You can discover a large selection and buy nudes in our online shop.