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The Nude

Scholarship Of "the Nude"

Kenneth Clark, who distinguished between naked and nude with relation to cultural, philosophic, and religious attitudes in the classic and Western Christian worlds, initiated the formal study of "The Nude." His masterful analysis of the postures, gestures, poses, and body formations of the undressed human figure defined the parameters of analyses on this topic. Whether consciously or not, all following studies on "The Nude," whether differentiating between the male and the female nude, or looking at both gendered figurations, are dependent upon Clark's fundamental definition either as a point of departure or argument. John Berger's investigation of the relationship between the spectator and "The Nude," particularly the female nude, and that between fine art and modern advertising, was a significant development in the study of "The Nude."

Since the late 1960s, the establishment of the new scholarship of "the marginalized," with its origins in the questions of race, gender, class, or ethnicity (Melody Davis, Julia Kristeva, Edward Lucie-Smith, Lynda Nead) has expanded the boundaries of examination. Feminist scholarship, for example, disproved the cultural concept of a "hermeneutics of aesthetic innocence" and thereby of "The Nude" as neutral. Feminists then proceeded to examine the political and societal minefield of domination and submission when "The Nude" was created by a male artist for a male patron. Further, the critique of le regard as the (male) gaze was crucial for feminist and gender scholars who advocated the existence of a female gaze in which women artists painted either male or female nudes to be admired and to stimulate the female viewer. The presumption here is that men and women see, and experience art regardless of the subject matter, the same way; however, the primary question of whether seeing is engendered remains a lacuna. Early-twenty-first-century categories of scholarly conversation, including the issues of the body, the reclining (female) nude, body language, and gesture (Kristeva, Peter Brown, Camille Paglia, Marcia Pointon, Alison Smith), are reframing the central questions of "who is 'The Nude?'" and "what is the character of nudity?"

The painting described is the motif of the reclining Venus:

You enter [the Uffizi] and proceed to that most-visited little gallery that exists in the world—the Tribune—and there, against the wall, without obstructing rag or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses—Titian's Venus.… There are pictures of nude women which suggest no impure thought—I am well aware of that. I am not railing at such. What I am trying to emphasize is the fact that Titian's Venus is very far from being one of that sort. (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad [1880], 578.)


Adler, Kathleen, and Marcia Pointon, eds. The Body Imaged: The Human Form and Visual Culture Since the Renaissance. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Beckwith, Sarah. Christ's Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Belting, Hans. Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Berger, John, et al. Ways of Seeing. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1972.

Bowie, Theodore, and Cornelia V. Christenson, eds. Studies in Erotic Art. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Clark, Kenneth. The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972. First published in 1956.

Cormack, Malcolm. The Nude in Western Art. Oxford: Phaidon, 1976.

Davis, Melody D. The Male Nude in Contemporary Photography. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

Goldstein, Laurence, ed. The Male Body: Features, Destinies, Exposures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Race, Sex, and Gender in Contemporary Art. New York: Abrams, 1994.

——. Sexuality in Western Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Miles, Margaret R. Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Christian West. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

Mullins, Edwin. The Painted Witch: How Western Artists Have Viewed the Sexuality of Women. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1985.

Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Nead, Lynda. The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Perchuk, Andrew and Helaine Posner, eds. The Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995.

Pointon, Marcia R. Naked Authority: The Body in Western Painting, 1830–1908. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Pollock, Griselda and Roszika Parker. Old Mistresses: Women, Art, and Ideology. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.

Rudofsky, Bernard. The Unfashionable Human Body. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1971.

Saunders, Gill. The Nude: A New Perspective. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

Smith, Alison. The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality, and Art. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1997.

——, ed. Exposed: The Victorian Nude. London: Tate Publications, 2001. Exhibition catalogue.

Steinberg, Leo. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. New York: Pantheon, 1983.

Suleiman, Susan Rubin, ed. The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Üster, Celâl, ed. Nude in Art. Special issue of P Art and Culture Magazine 9 (spring 2003): 1–132.

Walters, Margaret. The Nude Male. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1979.

We can now begin to see the difference between nakedness and nudity in the European tradition. In his book on The Nude Kenneth Clark maintains that to be naked is simply to be without clothes, whereas the nude is a form of art. According to him, a nude is not the starting point of a painting, but a way of seeing which the painting achieves.

To be naked is to be oneself.

To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.

To be naked is to be without disguise.

SOURCE: John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972), pp.53, 4.

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

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