The nude is the representation of the human body in all artistic disciplines. Nudity in art (in painting, sculpture, and more recently in photography) has generally reflected, with some exceptions, the social levels of aesthetics and morality of the time.
History of nudity in Art
In fact, it is the only theme that has accompanied us from the beginning, from the dawn of civilization. The naked human body in figurative art has origins in prehistory, to then unfold over the centuries as one of the major themes of art.
Some authors consider Goya’s work as the first nude not inspired by literary or mythological narration. Already in the second half of the 1700s, Boucher and Fragonard, portraited nudes removed from the myth.
Emile Zola also finds that Manet’s painting is morally unpresentable as other critics believe Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil vulgar.
The roots lie, however, in Renaissance culture. They were hence brought to the modern, as modern is the pictorial technique adopted that laid the foundations for impressionism.
With the twentieth century, the artistic means of expression multiplied. Cinema, photography, web, photoshop, and the border between artistic nude, eroticism, and pornography is getting thinner. Many artists play on this very border, especially in photography.
Even today, in a third millennium that has broken down all aesthetic barriers and the concept of transgression, artists are confronted with the theme of the nude that from ancient times to the modern era has seen illustrious exponents in painting, sculpture, and photography.
In contemporary art, once photography appeared among the major arts, it is not difficult to trace the complex and fertile legacy of previous and modern painting. Especially if one consider the extraordinary use of light and chiaroscuro in the first planes of Mapplethorpe, for example.
The charm of the body, however, is decidedly omnipresent in contemporary art. A tour of any group of young talents is enough to notice that subjects of nudes swarm everywhere; it seems that the female or male body without veils that is, after centuries of specific iconography, always attracts.
Besides the languages of new technologies and the performance that today sees the contaminations between art, theater, and dance, contemporaries continue to experiment attracted by the irresistible magnetism of the body.
Breaking the taboo
Today, rather than arousing desire, contemporary nudes seem to want to break the taboos. Especially those surrounding the body, defying the traditional morals that still govern society.
Often tender, sensual, and completely uncensored, these representations are a tool. They serve for breaking social taboos for exploring the themes of life, death, and desire.
However, on the other hand, the Cubist or futurist nude is entirely different. It is made of schemes and composite surfaces, devoid of pathos and rich in concept, and therefore naturally classic; Picasso’s naked prostitutes are dummies in front of the terrible and disturbing gaze of Kirchner’s Marcella.
Furthermore, the development in the last thirty years of installations, montages, stylistic assemblages, and performances, has included an exuberant acting component in the context of art exhibitions.