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The Nude in Art

Updated on March 20, 2012

From the beginning of time what is unacceptable in one generation is welcomed in the next and what one century welcomes with open arms is an abomination to the following century. The use of the nude human figure is no exception to this and for centuries views have changed and gone back and forth regarding it.

Ancient Egypt

What we view as art from the ancient Egyptian was in actuality a reflection of their daily life and what they believed the after life to hold. Because of this the characters in their art is depicted in clothing that people were actually wearing in the time period, men and women are in loose minimal clothing while children are often nude, this isn’t a reflection of artistic stye but of life.

Ancient Greece

Like the Egyptian art the Greeks depicted daily life but they also depicted the spiritual world. Not for art’s sake but to honor and worship the gods. The nude appears often in their art because of their fascination with aesthetics. The nudity did not stay within the drawings though. Men would often compete and train for sporting events in the nude because it added to the show.

Gothic Art

As the Christian religion spread and values such as celibacy and chastity became more prominent the use of nude figures faded from art. Art began to depict biblical scenes and saints, the human form became taboo and a picture of evil. Even the study of cadavers and live bodies was outlawed.

The Renaissance

The the rebirth of Greek and Roman ideals the Nude had a resurgence and famous works of art such as Michelangelo’s David was created as a nude figure. Artists turned grave diggers to get their hands on bodies so that they could study anatomy and improve their art.

The Baroque

The nude became unacceptable taboo during the Baroque and while men still painted and viewed the nude figures it was outlawed for women. If they wanted to paint and could find someone to teach them which was a difficult feat in itself she would not be allowed to learn to accurately draw the human body.

Le dejeuner sur l’herb
Le dejeuner sur l’herb


By the mid 1800’s the nude was growing more acceptable as long as the setting was appropriate. When a nude was carefully composed and reminiscent of the great masters is was a work of art but if it struck home with the viewers it was scandalous. In the Paris Edouard Manet was rejected from the Salon. Shocking the art world with a painting so graphic and far to realistic that it had the men in an uproar and women fainting daed away. In Le dejeuner sur l’herb to men sat eating their lunch in the out of doors as two women lounged around one staring out boldly and the viewer without a stitch of clothing on her.

Modern Art

As time has gone by and art has expanded into film and television the nude has slowly become more and more acceptable as evident by HBO and other cable networks. Perhaps eventually the pendulum of human taste and acceptance will swing the other way but only time will tell.


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