Art: The Renaissance Nude

Happy Bank Holiday everyone! Did you all have a wonderful weekend so far?  I have switched up my usual long read on the weekend to cover the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (“RA”) – The Renaissance Nude which is due to finish on 2 June 2019. I want to ensure that for any of my readers who may be interested can still have time to do so after reading my review 🙂 Without further ado, let’s get straight to it!

Exhibition

Located on the top floor in The Jillian and Arthur M. Sackler Wing of Galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts, the exhibition explores the development of nudity in 15th and 16th-century art. It was a pivotal time for nude in Western art because of the renewed interest in the human body, both from a scientific and artistic perspective. In particular, nudity was transforming Christian Art, where the stories of the Bible from Adam and Eve to crucifixion were retold with exquisite works.  

For a Y generation like myself, nudity in art is not something that I have considered given its proliferation in contemporary art and just everyday life of having access to the internet. Scantily clad influencers and models in magazines do not even get a raised eyebrow in our modern age. Having said that, my workplace still feels that we need to be protected from such images. The firewall has blocked my blog because it contains “Adult Material” but it really is no surprise given it is an art and happiness blog after all! Yet this warning message clearly summarises the controversies of nudity, though it has become more widely accepted, there is a very fine line between acceptable, erotic or profane. I believe that the general consensus is the more covered up it is, the better!

Adult Material
The RA has intimately navigated nudity through the ages by displaying a wide range of mediums, from painting and prints to sculptures. Nudity is not discriminatory, from the beautiful to the shockingly horrible or cringe-worthy, “varied” summarises this exhibition. I found the flow of the exhibition difficult to follow but I would recommend the accompanying audio guide. It is worth the additional cost as it brings key paintings of the exhibition to life. Some of the excerpts were narrated by Stephen Fry, who was a pleasure to listen to as he elaborated the tales/history behind a piece. I recognise that this exhibition may upset some people’s sensibilities and nudity is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is well executed and thought out, as a result, I give it 3.5 out of 5 pineapples! 

Key Highlights

The Good: Titian, Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’) (c. 1520)

One of the most beautiful pieces of artwork in the exhibition is Titian’s Venus. A private moment when she is born from the sea. It is a serene and quiet painting capturing a “candid” moment, wringing water from her hair. A small scallop shell to the left is the only tribute to the more famous Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It is an exemplary example of the beautiful Renaissance woman form.

Titian, Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’) (c. 1520)

The Bad: Dieric Bouts, The Way to Paradise, The Fall of the Damned, 1468 – 1469

It goes without saying that Renaissance art transformed religious art during the 15th to 16th-century. From the depiction of Adam & Eve, Heaven & Hell through to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, nudity was used as a method to persuade devotion. Bouts’ panels made up a triptych devoted to the Last Judgement. The Way to Paradise, the individuals are beautifully and discretely covered up in white cloth. On the other hand, The Fall of the Damned, individuals are seen tumbling and tortured whilst entirely naked. The shame for the naked body, according to the curators, can be traced to the Fall of Man, when God forbade Adam & Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The Fall of the Damned will convince anyone not to be bad.

The Ugly: Hans Baldung Grien, Aristotle and Phyllis, 1513

This woodcut created by Hans Baldung Grien is shocking and cringe-worthy. It is not something I would have expected from this period of history as it is easy to remember the beauty of the Renaissance period and associate it with all things ethereal and graceful. Yet it is easy to forget that all humans have an ugly side. The tale of this painting is about the great teacher Aristotle warning his student, Alexander the Great, to stop having intimate affairs with his wife, Phyllis, but instead to concentrate on his studies. Understandably Phyllis was upset when her own husband shunned her sexual advances. To make a point and exact revenge, Phyllis seduces the old philosopher and humiliates him by riding him like a horse while Alexander hid and watched. Weird – is all I can say.

https://images.app.goo.gl/7ncLixFbHFGmgJUm7
Hans Baldung Grien, Aristotle and Phyllis, 1513

Other must-see pieces

  • Leonardo da Vinci, The Anatomy of the Shoulder and Neck (recto), 1510-11. No Renaissance exhibition can exclude the master of Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci. This understated piece of art is as if ripped from his personal notepad, but it showcases his amazing eye for detail and his extraordinary mirrored handwriting. Displayed in the middle of the exhibition, it is easy to walk past, but this double-sided drawing is worth spending a few minutes to admire.
  • Pisanello, Luxuria, 1426. This small and understated pen and brown ink painting is of a reclining female. She is sensual and powerful with self-confidence. It is in contrast to the usual demure female form in Renaissance Art. What a wonderful piece.

I would love to hear what you think of the pieces I have reviewed here, do you have a favourite? Have you been to the exhibition, I would love to hear what you thought about it as well!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x