The reclining nude has been a favorite of painters since 1510. Google has hundreds of them, in all imaginable styles. Here I've picked out representative ones: ones I like and think are important to the history of art and of humanity.
This is the earliest in the long line of reclining nudes in Western art. It was painted in 1510 by Georgione. It is of Venus, a safe subject in the Renaissance.
I noticed Venus' right hand, and you will too. Is it placed in her crotch so as to protect that sacred spot from our prying eyes, or is the placement salacious? Remember, I'm finally reached "dirty old man" status and maybe I'll not see the world a you see it.
This is another Venus, playing with a girl cupid. Venus is wearing underwear fastened by a jewel, pointing, without much subtlety, to the sacred spot. This Venus is by Guide Remi, whom I don't otherwise know.
This Titian painting shows Dinae receiving a shower of gold, part of a seduction routine by Zeus. You can't tell me that there was no intent by the painter to appeal to the viewer's prurient interest, in our Supreme Court's quaint phrase. "Something that makes you wet, or gets you hard -- or would if you were the 'common man'" fantasized to exist by the Common Law and by the old men on the Supreme Court.
Dinae isn't thrilled at the thought of being embraced by Zeus and you wouldn't be either: Zeus often appeared as a bull or an eagle to engage in congress.
Here is a Titian Venus, playing with herself and looking amorous, while a nanny forces a girl to prey. Professional art historians would talk to you of technique and never once mention what Venus' right hand is doing.
If you would like to know why Venus is lounging around with nothing on at all, playing with herself and kissing a boy cupid, in Vulcan's Forge, click here.
You'll meet the guys who work in Vulcan's Forge later on.
My favorites of all the reclining nudes are Goya's Clothed Maja, for the conservative Spanish Royal Court . . .
. . . and the Naked Maja, for everybody else. Two identical poses, identical except for the clothing, the Majas peer back at you with an open, friendly gaze of challenge, welcome, and understanding.
Velasquez -- the incomparable Velasquez -- with his nude facing away, looking at you through a mirror, is about as intimate a painting of a woman as a painting can be.
Ingres, a French neoclassical painter at the end of the 19th Century, brought the reclining nude to perfection . . .
. . . and the Grand Odalisque is his perfect work.
Where could a painter go, who wanted to be greater than Ingres? One can't keep on doing the same old thing . . .
Well, Mant bought it home. Olympia is a naked -- not nude -- woman staring you directly in the face, with frank dignity and no pretense to be other than what she is. Olympia caused a stir when it was first exhibited. All previous reclining nudes had something foreign, exotic, something not like the lady next door. Olympia shocked delicate sensibilities -- of which there were many in those days, - see The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, for example - and brought an end , or at least caused a pause, to the long line of reclining nudes.
I have shown you a mere smattering of the reclining nudes on line. Check it out. You'll see why Olympia was so shocking, or, to me, so refreshing.
After Olympia the centuries-long tradition of "realistic" ore "representational" painting came to a crashing halt.
I will use Velasquez' Vulcan's Forge to make my weak point, but only because I like the painting so much and want to share it with you.
Here is Vulcan's Forge, as Velasquez painted it:
You'll see Christ lecturing the hard-working guys in the forge. I don't like the Little Popinjay (as Velasquez pictured him) lecturing these grown men. Whatever can he be saying , callow youth, that would be of any interest to these hard working men? "Believe in me?" And I guess these guys are Jews, certainly not Christian at this early date. Go on, gitoutahere.
So, thanks to photoshop, I banish Christ the Popinjay from what is now "my" painting: I photoshop quite a few paintings. Eyes won't do small details, and sometimes the details aee the most interesting. Try it; you'll like it; and Velasquez doesn't mind in the least.
[One art historian, commenting on this painting, found nothing but the white jug on the mantle to praise. We live in such different worlds! I notice that the guy with the great legs stands as an El Greco figure might stand.]
Ah! Much better.
Vulcan's Forge is said to be realistic, and I can peer for hours at it, and no character will move so much as a muscle or a twitch an heir. What's realistic about that? Are movies more "realistic"? It matters not how many times I see Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot always solves the crime, always in the same way. The Micado, performed on stage, is realistic: there is always a chance that a performer will trip and fall into the orchestra pit.
In 1907, Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and painting changed forever.
Picasso was influenced by El Greco's The Opening of the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse. . .
. . . and Carlos notes that the El Greco has echos of Botticelli's Primavera. Botticelli was more or less a contemporary of Georgione, who started this series.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is a huge, wonderful painting that still exerts an influence on all visual art.
I saw Les Demoiselles in all its glory. The small computer screen can't do it justice. Go to New York. See it. It alone is worth the trip. I fell in love with it and am still in love with it.
I'm not in love with its progeny.
Here are a Matisse and two Picassos:
(A straight friend of mine said of the Matisse, "Nice tits." You can see why I refer to my own sensibilities and avoid global statements.)
This is a woman lying down and another washing her foot. There is no baboon in the painting.
After two World Wars, the Bomb, and greater destruction of life, in more ways that theretofore had been imagined, and a Great Depression, the human form dissolved
and by mid-century was replaced replacedbyby this:
Let this image stand for the experience most of the people s of the world had in the 20th Century. Or take 9/11 and multiply it by a million. It then becomes understandable why the visual arts would seek out morally neutral images: focus on the paint itself, or with Poe, on the poem, and abjure anything that might be taken as "content." For an ok discussion of L'art pour l'art click here.
I know painters and others who love non-representational art. There is, in me, a faint spark of that aesthetic quality that can like it, but I have to work too hard for it to blaze up. Meaning and emotion, on the other hand, blaze brightly, and brighter still the older I get. [I am nothing if not inconsistent: I do not know the meaning of some portions of Dylan Thomas' poems, and like them as well as I like Bach, from whom I require no meaning and little emotion.]
There were no images of unclothed persons of any persuasion, apart for some poor-quality underground stuff, when I came of age.
Though we were as a desert for visual images of nudes, our poets grew ever stronger: Check out Lawrence Ferlingeetthi, They were putting up the statue, and Ginsberg's Howl. Ginsberg is long, and well worth reading aloud with a friend and a glass or two.
Maarky Mark did not stand, at mid-century, 80 feet tall, in Times Square, a happy grin on his face, wearing only his white Calvins.
Markey wasn't even a gleam is his father's eye in 1956, when Sir Kenneth Clark -- one of the three most prominent art historians at mid-cntury -- published The Nude, a Study in Ideal Form. Clark gathered in one book many of the unclothed figures from antiquity, declared them to be nude, not naked, and therefore safe to look at. He was wrong -- there is no difference between naked and nude -- but he was brave, and earned my undying gratitude. His prose is graceful, too, and well worth a read.
Clark in England, Andre Malraux in France, and Bernard Berenson writing of Renaissance art from Italy began, from the rather stuffy, formal world of art history, to loosen the flood of images that we now see in the web.
The self-righteous old men on the Supreme Court and the hoard of prosecutors and guardians of public morals have lost conclusively on the image front: nothing except sex by or with children, is outside contemporary community standards; nothing can be stopped; nothing is forbidden on the web. Any 5-year-old can see, any day of the week, images that'll curl your toes, unless properly inoculated by repeated exposure. I don't know what that does to kids. We'll find out. Or rather you will.
But later for that. Now it is a time for celebration~
NOW, I AM DELIGHTED TO REPORT, the 21st Century has ushered in new images of the reclining nude. She, first, is revived by photography and is as fine as she ever was, though the allegory is missing. Here's one for some of you. . .
[This is taken from a fine blog by Jen Graves]
. . . and for the first time in the history of Western art, one for others of us
Damn! but he's pretty. And there's lots more on the web.