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Nude Sculpture

In a similar way to animal or abstract sculpture, nude sculpture is a distinct art genre that depicts humans figures unclothed. Nonetheless, traditional nude figures were often partially clothed with cleverly placed drapery with their genitals covered. Nude art does not necessarily translate as a representation of sheer nakedness and a complete absence of clothing but it does need to have a marked interested in portraying the human body.

Although nude art was only recognized by art critics as a genre of its own in the 20th century, it is one of the oldest forms of art known to date. Made in 24000 BCE, the Venus of Willendorf is an early example of nude sculpture. The fact that it is not a realistic representation of the female figure is irrelevant. The exaggerated chest and stomach may allude to a certain feminine beauty ideal or may be interpreted as symbols of fertility.

In Europe and the Middle East, a nude artistic tradition started to develop. Egyptian and Greco-Roman sculptures are certainly some of the most memorable works from this period of art history, many of which can be seen today at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Greek nudes first started to emerge during the 6th century BCE and focused essentially on portraying a certain ideal standard of beauty. Gods, heroes and athletes were all favorite subject choices for sculptors who sometimes depicted them on a monumental scale.

Throughout art history, the nude has been used to symbolize the canons of beauty of a particular period. In contrast to the Venus of Willendorf, the figures represented in Greek marble sculptures are a much more realistic representation of the proportions of the human body. However, they still adhere to rather strict artistic codes about human representation and the notion of the ideal body. The sculptures continued to depict an ideal standard of beauty, albeit one based more closely on true human nature.

The Roman Empire soon developed a taste for nude sculpture and began a long tradition of copying Greek sculptures for mainly decorative purposes. For quite some time after, the rising influence of Christianity brought the development of nude sculpture to a standstill. It wasn't until the Italian Renaissance that nude sculpture became a prestigious art form once again. Artists began to rediscover a form of artistic expression that allowed them to interpret beauty and glorify mankind.

Famous artists such as Bernini, Benvenuto Cellini or Michelangelo often chose mythological or biblical subjects as a pretext to study and explore human anatomy, creating as a result some of the most important masterpieces of Western art.

Their works contributed to the creation of a canon that dominated the artistic scene until the end of the 19th century when a new wave of sculptors announced the advent of modern art, a movement that was no longer interested in representing the model realistically but was more concerned about the expressive meaning of the work. The work of Auguste Rodin and of Alberto Giacometti are notable examples of the break away from realistic neoclassical nude sculpture.

To get a better idea of current trends in nude sculpture, have a look at the works of contemporary artists such as Sylvie Berry, Jean-François Lemaire and Cade.

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