LA CIVETTA April 2019 - Page 32

which is decisively different to the West’s inherited Judeo-Christian approach. In Greek times the male nude was the focus, with women’s bodies usually being clothed. It is not that the Greeks or Renaissance artists were more “advanced” rather, their taboos had a different focus. Fifth-century Greece only really had time athletic male bodies.

In the Renaissance there were two main ways of viewing the naked body. First was Leonardo da Vinci’s fascination with anatomy that mixed art and science during the early Renaissance. As dissection was developing, Leonardo’s work developed an icy detachment from the body. His series of anatomical drawings led to a new view of the body as a mechanical machine. It created the idea that there could be a mathematical ideal for beauty.

Second, Michelangelo passionately celebrates masculinity and the male form. He persists with this to the point that his female nudes appear androgynous. His work in the Sistine Chapel, the Medici Chapel and his famous statue of David reflect this obsession. We forget that Michelangelo’s David was viewed far less for his beauty in 1504 but was considered a political symbol of Florence’s Republican independence. When placed in the Piazza della Signoria the statue was stoned at night by political enemies. The masculinity, however, of the statue is undoubtedly a key feature of the work and why it was chosen to represent the powerful city of Florence.

Underlying this appreciation of the male form in the Renaissance is the fact that the Renaissance was also a renaissance of homosexuality. It is estimated that around 17 000 men in Florence were accused of sodomy out of a total population of roughly 40 000-50 000. That means the majority of men in Florence were suspected of having homosexual relations. The images below are all examples of the androgynous depiction of the female nude in the Renaissance.


It takes the works of Raphael and Titian to bring the female nude to greater prominence within the context of the Renaissance. Below is Emily Ratajkowski’s Instagram post, which in her pose and caption makes a reference to Boticelli’s famous Renaissance painting The Birth of Venus, painted circa 1484-86. It is interesting that modern mainstream culture and the way in which models use their bodies on social media has (in this case) picked up on the female nude. However, the male focus has less reference in mainstream culture.