Pretexts for prurience in art  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Due to the limits of censorship and patronage, artists past and present, have had to resort to pretexts for displaying the naked human form and glorified violence.

With painters of the past, the depiction of historical, mythological, and religious subjects often provided such pretexts in such themes as the temptation of saint Anthony (Félicien Rops and Hieronymus Bosch, more recently, Salvador Dalí), the massacre of the innocents, the battle of the Lapiths and the centaurs), Leda and the Swan, the three graces, and Venus, who has become a byword for the female nude, tout court.

Over time, secular excuses for showing the undraped human form complemented and, later, supplanted these historical, mythological, and religious pretexts, athleticism being one such excuse, as in Edouard Manet’s Olympia. In the traditional arts, nudity has long since become accepted, but the same is not yet true with regard to more recent artistic media, such as film.

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