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Nudity in the history of art: How the attitude towards nudes from Venus of the Paleolithic to classical painting has changed

Thanks to Ivan Efremov and his “Thais of Athens” the general public became aware of the concepts of “hymnophiles” – that is, singing nudity – and “hymnophobia” – those who oppose the image of a naked human body. Since the topic of nudity in contemporary art is often quite provocative, does this suggest that the latter are currently setting the tone?

The first hymnophiles in art
Hesion, carefully massaging Thais’s head, timidly reprimanded her, reproaching the temptation of fate:
“And no matter how afraid you are, madam, to appear naked in front of such a gathering of soldiers.” They caught you like a dolphin! ..
“If there are a lot of truly brave and strong men around you, you can consider yourself completely safe,” the getter answered her with a laugh, “they are Hellenes, and especially Spartans.” Remember this, come in handy. Above all, remember that men are usually more shy than us. If we follow the customs, we find ourselves much bolder, and they are embarrassed.
– Why exactly the Spartans?
– Because the Spartans are hymnophiles who love nudity, like the Thessalians, as opposed to hymnophobes – you Boeotians, Macedonians.

Speaking of the very first works of art that perpetuated a naked human body, it is necessary to mention the so-called “Venus of the Paleolithic” – stone figurines of rather fat proportions, created tens and even hundreds of thousands of years ago. The sculptures emphasize the childbearing qualities of a woman, and therefore, perhaps, were created for ritual purposes for the worship of the Mother Goddess.

The culture of ancient Greece is traditionally associated with the idea of ​​admiring the human body. During the archaic period – VIII – V centuries. BC. – the sculptors depicted a naked athlete, kuros, taking on the experience of Egyptian sculptors, but embodying their own traditions in the statues: clothes were not used in sports. The female figure – the bark (in translation – “girl”) was depicted dressed in a traditional dress.

When creating female statues, sculptors of the classic period “dressed” their works in drapery, which, nevertheless, emphasized rather than hid the shape of the body.
The first naked female figures were embodied in the statues of the 5th century BC. One of the masterpieces of Ancient Greece was the statue of Aphrodite of the Praxiteles Book of Work, about which it was said that the goddess herself, having seen the sculptor’s work, exclaimed: “When did Praxiteles see me naked?” The statue has not been preserved to date, but its repetitions and copies exist.

The later era of Hellenism gave the world hundreds and thousands of marble sculptures created with impeccable knowledge of anatomy and attention to the beauty of the human body. And ancient Roman copies of Greek statues allowed to preserve the legacy of the Hellenes to the present day.

Those civilizations and states that developed under the influence of Hellas – Rome, and then Byzantium, were reserved to nudity – did not worship, but also did not experience rejection. But the times of Greek athletes, praising the strength, capabilities, beauty of the human body, with the decline of antiquity were fading ever farther into the past.

Chastity or hypocrisy?

On the ruins of the ancient world, nudity could not help but remind itself – in statues, manuscripts and other material traces of a bygone era, but according to the teachings of the Christian church, the body began to be perceived as a receptacle of sin and vice. Its beauty and value in general were denied, bodily pleasures were condemned, chastity, self-flagellation, various restrictions were welcomed. This era also found its embodiment in art, one of the symbols of the Middle Ages was a married couple, depicted in a painting by Jan Van Eyck of 1434, where a man and a woman are dressed in several layers of heavy clothing, completely hiding the body.

The return to the canons of ancient art, which began in the Renaissance, gave the world new works, whose harmony and beauty continued the interruption of human nature for a thousand years. Michelangelo created David by spending two years perfecting the workpiece from a huge block of Carrara marble – a work that several sculptors had previously tried unsuccessfully.

Nude appeared in painting. The main source of stories for hymnophile artists are ancient myths – about Venus, Mars, Apollo and other gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons, however, there are also works on which the characters from the Bible are shown naked, in particular, Adam and Eve.

The ideas of beauty and perfection were superimposed on ancient traditions by contemporary artists, due to which, for example, the famous “Rubens forms” appeared in art, singing the standards of a woman’s figure of the 17th century.

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