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Art nudes in paintings have witnessed varying degrees of acceptability in different cultures throughout history. It is true that the acceptability of nude art is largely influenced by the morality and aesthetics of the prevalent society. Also, certain cultures are more open to fine art nude than nudity in real life.
Nude art has always been prevalent in our society, starting in prehistoric times. However, the major difference is that while earlier it served religious purposes, it is now more about aesthetics.
Fine art nude generally refers to the depiction of artistic elements of nudity, rather than its provocative form (naked). In Europe, art nudes between the medieval period to the late 1800s almost never had any sexual overtones. In the 19th century France, where nudity was quite prevalent, classical nudity was acceptable to the general public.
The earliest depiction of the nude male form in classical art dates back to the fifth century BC, and the female form to the late classical period in Greek art. Archaic Greek art represented deities and heroes in heroic nudity, which continued in the Roman and classical periods. Even the Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite artists depicted the beauty and sensuality of the human form.
However, the changing societal attitudes changed the perception of art nudes. For example, the famous Renaissance paintings of Michel Angelo were covered with fig leaves to protest against art nudes. Also, the Western society is perceived to be less open to accepting art nudes than other societies.
Since the early days, male and female nudes played different roles. While the male nude in Greek art symbolized ideal and real-life heroes, and the homoeroticism of the society, female nudes usually depicted the goddess of love, Aphrodite. This difference arose from the inappropriateness associated with the depiction of nude female forms. In fact, this double standard in fine art nude continues to this day.
However, in Italy, the respectability for nude art surged, starting the 13th century till the current times. The idealized nude was used for depicting heroism, virtue and for important religious and historical scenes. The depiction of female nudes became prominent in the British and French art as well, during the 19th century.
In the 20th century, male nude art obtained a new perspective with gay liberation, as depicted in Robert Mapplethorpe’s works. It is believed that the fine art nude helps us get an insight into ourselves and the humanity.
Fine art nudes have been depicted through different mediums in different styles. The most prominent nude art styles are figurative and abstract art. Irrespective of the style, the creativity and sensuality of the paintings is what make them aesthetic and appealing.