From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Olympia (detail) by Édouard Manet
Olympia (detail) by Édouard Manet

"Look at that woman! Beneath her dress she's stark naked!"

"Very few active, strong, psychologically engaging, heroic female nudes and I know of no female counterparts to The Thinker, the Pollaiuolo engraving, or David. To make this point vivid, try the thought experiment of imagining a work like Ingres’s Turkish Bath with men rather than women, or Pollaiuolo’s Battle with women rather than men. The results, I think you’ll find, will seem so foreign as to border on the absurd."--"What's Wrong with the Female Nude?" (2012) Anne W. Eaton

"The English language ... distinguishes between nakedness and nudity."--Kenneth Clark

The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Related e



Nudity is the state of wearing no clothing. It is sometimes used to refer to wearing significantly less clothing than expected by the conventions of a particular culture and situation, and in particular exposing the bare skin of intimate parts and has analogous uses.


Depictions of nudity

Depictions of nudity

Depictions of nudity refers to nudity in all the artistic disciplines including vernacular and historical depictions. Nudity in art has generally reflected — with some exceptions — social standards of aesthetics and modesty/morality of their time in painting, sculpture and more recently in photography.

Nudity is different from nakedness; Kenneth Clark declares in The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form that " the word [nudity] was forced into our vocabulary by critics of the early eighteenth century to persuade the artless islanders [of the UK] that, in countries where painting and sculpture were practiced and valued as they should be, the naked human body was the central subject of art."

Sixteen years later, in 1972, John Berger in Ways of Seeing says that "a naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude," introducing the concept of sexual objectification.

At all times in human history, the human body has been one of the principal subjects for artists. It has been represented on prehistoric paintings and statutes and in all eras since. The male nude was more common in antiquity, especially in ancient Greece, but today the tendency is for the female nude body to be more highly regarded and represented.

Since the first days of photography, the nude was a source of inspiration for those that adopted the new medium. Most of the early images have been closely guarded or surreptitiously circulated, on account of social norms of the time. At that time, prostitutes tended to model for these photographs. Today, the images of the human body are often, especially in advertising for the wide variety of products and services, those of the female body.

Many cultures accept nudity in art even when they shun actual nudity. For example, even an art gallery which exhibits nude paintings will typically not accept nudity of a visitor. On the other hand, child pornography laws often restrict depictions even more than the depicted acts (photographs of legal acts and even simple nudity may be illegal).

Sometimes, live nudity is more acceptable if the model does not move; see Windmill Theatre. In other cultures, like Japan, where nudity carried no negative connotation, erotic shunga art tended to feature partially clothed participants.

Historical overview

History of nudity

It is not clear when humans started wearing clothes. Anthropologists postulate the adaptation of animal skins and vegetation into coverings to protect the wearer from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates; alternatively, covering may have been invented first for other purposes, such as magic, decoration, cult, or prestige, and later found to be practical as well. For men and women, public nudity was at least permissible in ancient Sparta, and customary at festivals.

In some hunter-gatherer cultures in warm climates, near-complete nudity has been, until the introduction of Western culture, or still is, standard practice for both men and women. In some African and Melanesian cultures, men going completely naked except for a string tied about the waist are considered properly dressed for hunting and other traditional group activities. In a number of tribes in the South Pacific island of New Guinea, the men use hard gourdlike pods as penis sheaths. Yet a man without this "covering" could be considered to be in an embarrassing state of nakedness. Among the Chumash peoples of southern California, men were usually naked, and women were often topless. Native Americans of the Amazon Basin usually went nude or nearly nude; in many native tribes, the only clothing worn was some device worn by men to clamp the foreskin shut. However, other similar cultures have had different standards. For example, other native North Americans avoided total nudity, and the Native Americans of the mountains and west of South America, such as the Quechuas, kept quite covered.

In 1498, at Trinity Island, Trinidad, Christopher Columbus found the women entirely naked, whereas the men wore a light girdle called guayaco. At the same epoch, on the Para Coast of Brazil, the girls were distinguished from the married women by their absolute nudity. The same absence of costume was observed among the Chaymas of Cumaná, Venezuela, and Du Chaillu noticed the same among the Achiras in Gabon.

Means of attracting attention

nudity and protest

Nudity is sometimes used as a tactic during a protest to attract public attention to a cause. The use of the tactic goes back to the Doukhobor social movement in 1914. The tactic has been used by other groups later in the century, especially after the 1960s. Like public nudity in general, cultural and legal acceptance of nudity as a tactic in protest also varies around the world. Some opponents of any public nudity claim that it is indecent especially when it can be viewed by children; while others argue that it is a legitimate form of expression covered by the right to free speech.

Forced nudity

During witch-hunts, the alleged witches were stripped to discover the so-called witches' marks. The discovery of witches' marks was then used as evidence in trials.

Nudity (full or partial) can be part of a corporal punishment or as an imposed humiliation, especially when administered in public. In fact, torture manuals have distinguished between the male and female psychological aversion to self-exposure versus being disrobed.

Nazis used forced nudity to attempt to humiliate inmates in concentration camps. This was depicted in the film Schindler's List.

In 2003, Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad gained international notoriety for accounts of torture and abuses by members of the United States Army Reserve during the post-invasion period. Photographic images were circulated that exposed the posing of prisoners naked, sometimes bound, and being intimidated and otherwise humiliated, resulting in widespread condemnation of the abuse.

In Christianity

In the early Christian Church, nudity was considered acceptable in some contexts such as working outdoors. For example, the Gospel of John describes Simon Peter being naked ("for he was naked") while fishing from a boat, but then dresses in order to meet Christ.

The first recorded liturgy of baptism, written down by St. Hippolytus of Rome in his 'Apostolic Tradition', required the removal of all clothing for both men and women, including all foreign objects such as jewellery and hair fastenings. This practice is reflected in early Christian art depicting baptism.

When artistic endeavors revived following the Renaissance, the Catholic Church was a major sponsor of art bearing a religious theme, many of which included subjects in various states of dress and including full nudity. Painters sponsored by the Church included Raphael, Caravaggio and Michelangelo, but there were many others. Many of these paintings and statues were and continue to be displayed in churches, some of which were painted as murals, the most famous of which are at the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Nudity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools