The Naked and the Nude and the SEXY

Eternal Idol by Rodin

Art historians like to make a distinction between the ‘naked’ and the ‘nude’.  The naked is embarrassing and socially taboo; whereas the nude is beautiful, artistic, and morally acceptable.  Kenneth Clark argued:

The English language, with its elaborate generosity, distinguishes between the naked and the nude. To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word “nude,” on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous, and confident body: the body re-formed. In fact, the word was forced into our vocabulary by critics of the early eighteenth century to persuade the artless islanders [of the UK] that, in countries where painting and sculpture were practiced and valued as they should be, the naked human body was the central subject of art.

While the poet Robert Graves, mockingly wrote:

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman’s trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude!

It’s a fairly bogus distinction really, a way of justifying the fact that most museums and art galleries are AWASH with filthy images of naked men and naked women.  But are they naked or are they nude? Well, they’re both.  More interestingly, I would ask: are they sexy?  All too often nude paintings are far from sexy. Take this one for instance:

This ghastly nude of Cupid and Venus is a) immoral (Cupid is under-age) and b) gross (that’s milk spurting from Venus’s breast) and, in my view, c) utterly unsexy.  That’s not because the lady is larger than a size zero – it’s because she looks HORRIBLE.  And it’s hard to conceive of an age where an image like this was considered erotic. 

Because of course nudes were a form of erotica; rich collectors had special cabinets with sliding doors made in order to conceal their nude artworks.  And pornography and art have always been chummy bedfellows; some of the greatest artists of all time have dabbled in filthy pornography. Take this for instance:

Yikes! Don’t look at this when your mum is in the room. But no – it’s okay. This is not p***; it’s a masterly drawing by Picasso. 

This too is a masterpiece of art, dating from Greek times:


And here’s another Picasso:

Yes this is the site where you can have your mind improved, your opinons challenged, and where also you can look at FIVE FEET HIGH COCKS and still be asssured that it’s ‘artistic’.

It’s often argued that beauty is in the eye of the beholder…and that tastes in nude beauty have changed over the ages.  But it strikes me that – the ghastly example above notwithstanding – there is beauty to be found in the nudes of every era.  And nudes don’t have to be beautiful to be beautiful.  Here’s a selection of extraordinary images of male & female beauty; I’m selecting quite a few sculptures too because that’s the art form in which the nude gets REALLY sexy.

Angelica and the Hermit by Rubens

A creepy, almost pervy one; but there’s something pleasingly sensual about the image of this woman who clearly enjoys her nosh.

A Sleeping Faun, by Barbineri

Yup, this is the non-sexist, full-frontal nudity website.

Greek Marble Sculpture

This is an early example of the extraordinary sensuality of sculpture.

Donatello's David

And this is one of the most beautiful nudes ever created; it makes the Michelangelo sculpture of David look like a farmer’s son.

La Forinara by Raphael

This sweet nude is by the perfect Raphael, who allegedly died of too much sex.

Boreas Abducting Orithyea by Rubens

Paintings then were movies now; the drama in this story is intense. It’s a slasher movie on canvas. But it’s not as graphic as:

The Rabe of the Sabines by Giambologna

Venus and Cupid by Velazquez

A more subtly erotic image of a lady’s back.  Paintings of backs are virtually a subgenre, so here’s a few more:

Le Violon D'Ingres by Man Ray

Nude with Calla Lilies by Diego Rivera

Yoko & John; and yes I KNOW this isn't a painting...

Mercury/Priapus

Just a reminder for the ladies reading this blog; THOSE were the good old days.

I said nudes don’t have to be beautiful to be beautiful; so take a look at this:

Self Portrait with Patrick Preece by Stanley Spencer

And this:

Nude woman by Lucian Freud

A classic nude, perhaps the very definition of sexy, from Rodin:

This adorable image of sensuous woman is by Rembrandt:

Bathsheba at her Bath by Rembrandt

Girlfriends by Gustav Klimt

Something a little more modern from Klimt. 

And last, what I think may be the sexiest painting ever. It’s also by Rembrandt, and depicts the scene in which the beautiful Greek maiden Danaë – imprisoned by her lunatic father in a tower – is visited by Zeus who magically falls upon her body in a golden shower and impregnates her; the resulting child, Perseus, goes on to kill Danaë’s bonkers dad.

So let’s be clear of this; this is a painting of ACTUAL SEX.  And in my view, it is heartstoppingly lovely, even though it’s rather scary (did the poor girl WANT to have sex with a magic haze of gold?)

Danae by Rembrandt

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