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The Nude Revealed, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeA 'graphic' display

The unclothed human body has inspired many of the greatest works of art. Central to modern western art since the Renaissance, the nude is an idiom at once emotive and aesthetic but at the same time equally expressive of a wide range of ideas. Images of nudes can be beautiful, powerful, pathetic, erotic, amusing; and relate to us all. They contribute to an ongoing dialogue on the most desirous or expressive relative proportions of human anatomy; beauty very much in the eye of the beholder. However, up to the later 19th & early 20th centuries the classical canon largely held sway.

The Renaissance rediscovery of classical learning, and particularly of a literary tradition that put emphasis on Man, introduced a whole new subject matter to complement the biblical themes that had dominated in medieval art. The stories of gods and goddesses whose behaviour mirrored that of mortals, and tales of heroes who interacted with the gods, offered an intellectual raison d’être for eroticism. The examples of antique ideal form and systems of proportion were an inspiration to depicting the nude with a glorious plasticity. Venus, in representing the ideal of female beauty, has lent her name to many images of the female nude, as has Diana. The types of Apollo, the ideal of male beauty or Hercules, with his physical strength expressed through muscular beauty inspired many images of the male nude. Knowledge of classical mythology and philosophy were assumed in an educated audience and old master paintings and prints are full of narrative details and allegorical allusions both in their form and content. The nude has also conventionally served as a direct symbol to express abstract concepts of truth, virtue, hope, fame, youth, the transitoriness of life, etc.

Renaissance thinkers sort to find correspondences between the philosophy of classical antiquity and the Christian tradition. This was mirrored in artistic production. Saints such as Christopher and martyrs such as St Sebastian were portrayed nude in a Christian equivalent to the classical hero. Adam and Eve had biblical justification to be portrayed nude. Eve juxtaposed Venus as an umbrella title rendering acceptable the depiction, or even the enjoyment of the representation, of the female nude. The Old Testament, rather than the New, provided opportunities for the use of nude models, particularly the Apocryophal books which relate the stories of Susannah & the Elders, and David & Bathsheba. These examples of lecherous voyeurism, with their classical equivalents in the goddess of the hunt Diana and her nyumphs being ogled while bathing by satyrs, lent themselves as subjects for pictures where the viewer is similarly the voyeur.

Printmaking was developing as an art form just as the major discoveries of antique sculpture were being made. The ancient Greek Apollo 'Belvedere' was excavated in Rome about 1479 and would be hugely influential on future generations of artists, including Dürer who would have known it second-hand through drawings and prints. Adam in Dürer’s master print of "Adam & Eve" is ultimately based on the Apollo 'Belvedere'. Surviving to a much greater extent than examples of painting, items of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, frequently embellished with nudes or only minimally draped figures, supplied the models for artists of the Italian Renaissance. Whether classical or biblical in inspiration the formal language of the nude came to be based on the canons of antique sculpture.

With the establishment of art academies from the 16th century on, the study of the nude formed the basis of the curriculum. The student began by copying casts of classical sculptures and progressed to the life-class (and beyond to the ‘dead’ class to gain an understanding of the underlying skeletal frame and muscular structure of human anatomy). In History Painting, the acme of the hierarchy of artistic genre, the composition was worked out in preparatory studies with the figues nude, even if subsequently clothed in the finished picture.

The Nude Revealed, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeEven in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, with Academicism outmoded, overtaken by 'art for art’s sake', the life-class remained central to art school education; though in general female models began to outnumber their male counterparts. In the popular imagination artists’ models developed notoriety; the model in the studio became a popular subject. The classical conventions of bathing nymphs and goddesses transmuted into straightforward bathers in their natural environment. However, artists have continued to revisit the classical and biblical themes initiated by the Renaissance. Picasso peopled his lithographs with satyrs; Chagall illustrated the Old Testament in etching and colour lithography; Eric Gill gave a visual reality through wood engraving to "The Song of Songs", a biblical erotic theme not commonly broached by earlier artists.

Even in the modern stylistic divergence from the academic, under the influences of African and primitive art which have altered our conceptions of beauty and proportion, and in the move towards abstraction, the nude has held its place as a recurring genre. Hans Bellmer, the surrealist opined
[the body] is like a sentence which incites us to disarticulate it, so that through an endless series of anagrams, its true contents may be combined.
Distortion and abstraction of the human nude figure have been exploited by artists both for formal and expressive ends.

In modern art the nude has remained a principal theme. It dominates the work of the greatest figures of the French school, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall; all major printmakers. It was important to the German Expressionists group Die Brücke, for whom equally printmaking itself was an important aspect of their work. It has informed some of the best of modern British etching, from Sickert to Lucien Freud, and inspired one of the icons of Modern British etching, Brockhurst’s "Adolescence".

The practice of engraving, in directly cutting into either a sheet of copper or especially into a block of wood, has a technical correlation with sculpture. Sculptors have always been particularly concerned with modelling the nude human figure and when they are printmakers too, the nude is equally their subject. Though printmaking was the only artistic medium which Michelangelo did not practice, his drawings inspired many Renaissance engravers. In the modern era sculptors have taken to engraving in significant numbers. Represented in this catalogue are prints by the sculptors Rodin, Coubine, Hettner, Lehmbruck, Vieillard, Zadkine, Arnold Auerbach, and Eric Gill and by sometime sculptors Klinger, Degas, Tissot, Picasso and Robert Gibbings.

Just as the human body, though consistent in its constituent features and overall proportion of its parts, shows great diversity between individuals, an equally rich variety of prints graphically reveals the nude over the last five hundred years. I hope you will enjoy the small selection offered here in all its different aspects.

Published 2005
80 pages, 180 items described and illustrated in black and white, with seven in colour on the back cover.

(UK Price: £10, International orders: £15)

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Aldegrever H
  • Amato F
  • Audenard R van
  • Auerbach A
  • Austin R
  • Bartolozzi F
  • Baudouin P A
  • Béatrizet N
  • Beham B
  • Beham S
  • Belleroche A
  • Binck J
  • Bonasone G
  • Bouverie Hoyton E
  • Bracquemond F
  • Brockhurst G L
  • Buckland-Wright J
  • Cantarini S
  • Carlone C
  • Carracci A
  • Chagall M
  • Charlier J
  • Cipriani
  • Collaert A
  • Collaert J
  • Coornhert D V
  • Corinth L
  • Cort C
  • Coubine O
  • Craig E G
  • Crépin S
  • Daglish E
  • Daumier H
  • Davis W
  • Degner A
  • Dillon H P
  • Dolendo Z
  • Domenichino
  • Duez E A
  • Dumont M
  • Dunstan B
  • Dürer A
  • Dyck A van
  • Fairclough M
  • Fairclough W
  • Fantin-Latour H
  • Floris F
  • Foujita T
  • Galle C
  • Ghisi G
  • Gibbings R
  • Gill E
  • Goltzius H
  • Greiner O
  • Gromaire M
  • Groome E
  • Haarlem C C van
  • Heckel E
  • Heemskerk M van
  • Heise W
  • Hermes G
  • Hettner O
  • Hill F
  • Hill V
  • Hofmann L von
  • Holroyd C
  • Hudson E E
  • Hughes-Stanton B
  • Ingres J A D
  • Jacquard A
  • Janinet J F
  • John A
  • Jou L
  • Kapp H
  • Kennington E
  • Klinger M
  • Knight L
  • Laboureur J E
  • Larson C
  • Laurent E
  • Lawson R
  • Legrand L
  • Lehmbruck W
  • Lepère A
  • Lippy
  • Lucas van Leyden
  • Lurçat J
  • Lyubavin A
  • Maillol A
  • Mander K van
  • Marchand J
  • Maratta C
  • Master of the Die
  • Maetzel-Johannsen D
  • Mellan C
  • Michelangelo
  • Michl F
  • Moore T Sturge
  • Mueller O
  • Nash J
  • Neuschul E
  • Nevinson C R W
  • Palma J
  • Peruzzi B
  • Paerels W
  • Pechstein M
  • Perret P
  • Philipp M E
  • Philippi R
  • Philips
  • Picasso P
  • Raimondi M
  • Raphael
  • Reeve R
  • Regnault N F
  • Rembrandt
  • Rodin A
  • Rowlandson T
  • Rubens
  • Saenredam J
  • Shannon C H
  • Sims C
  • Sloan J
  • Sompel P van
  • Strang W
  • Strohmeyer H
  • Tissot J J
  • Vaga P del
  • Valadon S
  • Veneziano A
  • Verkolja N
  • Vieillard R
  • Vos M de
  • Whistler J M
  • Wierix J
  • Williams G
  • Zadkine O
  • Zorn A

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