Adamo e Eva, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Cappella Sistina
Human being born naked and it is a fact as the natural situation that he originally lived without clothes. Throughout human history, garments come later and had, in the beginning at least, a symbolic and decorative function eventually, becoming necessary to protect from the cold.
Nudity itself wasn’t the original sin because Adam and Eve were naked before it, but some people correlated it to the original sin, perhaps to explain the ban, and from that moment on the sexual organs started to be demonized and execrated progressively, bringing the future generations to consider them as parts to hide, getting more and more discomfort and shame in showing genitals. Hence, as a general rule, the nudity today is not accepted in most modern society, except some circumstance in which nudity – with the usual inconsistencies that drive the civilized human being – is somewhat tolerated and accepted (locker-rooms, steam-rooms, operating rooms, nudists areas, etc.)
Some narrow interpretations of Islamism require that women cover the whole body
including the face, while some tribes of Togo and Ethiopia (e.g., Suri) commonly live without clothes. Covering sex organs by thong, leather or cases, in the few cases of primitive people still living in the world, is a way to underline their sexuality and not
to hide it. Lots of tribes, from long, are used to cover their nudity as result of the continuous interference by the church’s missionaries that from age to age have handed down their own shame of the western world.
We-all, who are civilized and advanced, lay down the law even if anthropological evidences show the absence of so-called “sexual deviations” afflicting modern society, just among those populations we consider primitive.
Long ago, in New Zealand the photographs of naked children (once considered as asexual creatures) were socially accepted, but now they would induce outrage and disgust if published, as well as a parent will be accused of pedo-pornography if showed a nude portrait of his child.
Anyway, the human body always had a great significance in Arts, specially in ancient times, and it
cannot be considered an aesthetic phenomenon only but, represents custom, concepts, practices, rituals, life and mentality of people who made use of it.
We could do a short excursion through the most important civilizations starting
from the ancient Egyptians who, because some religious prejudice, put the nudity in the background, though even they knew the structure of body through the art of mummification.
In fact, in funerary depictions they considered more important the features of the face so that, after the death, the souls easily could recognize their own
bodies. For this reason, the depictions of nudes are rare in the Egyptian art also if, because of the hot climate, their clothing was quite scanty so, it should not be so unusual or abnormal to glimpse genitals.
For Sumerians and Babylonians the female nude was more accepted as sign of fertility, and the representations of the Mother Goddess demonstrate it. The nudity was generally considered a condition of submission and shame and for this reason, prisoners and killed enemies ritually were exposed naked in public.
Not even Minoans came to the complete representation of nudity, though they made use of more succinct clothing than Egyptians, with men wearing only a narrow inguinal band and women with a corset that left their breast free. However, women usually showed themselves completely nude during acrobatics games.
In Crete, women role sometimes gained in importance and nudity wasn’t aimed at enhance athletic aspect of the figure as for Grecians. During Greek time, the full nudity appeared for both warriors and other characters. Greek art sought in the man the ideal type of the divine beauty, transferring the nakedness from the reality to a heroic and universal level.
For Grecians the concept of beauty was central according to the equation beautiful=good. The naked statues considered as a glorification of life, beauty and perfection where nudity was the rule, as for the athletes that, engaged in the Olympic Games, got rid of the clothing hindrance. The Greek word gymnasium just meant “place to stay unclothed”.
The female nude is found mainly in the Archaic period by Corinthians painting with erotic content. On the other hand, just the study of the male body led Greeks to be the first creating three-dimensional pictorial representations, with perspective and depth. During the Hellenistic period, the nude portrait, from juvenile to decadent old age one, acquired delicate fleshy softness, representing it by a realistic virtuosity.
The complete female nudity was, instead, considered only in relation to the ethereal sphere and feast, thence with a material and sensual value. It is said that the Spartans were the first to show themselves naked, to appear publicly without clothes and rub oil onto their skin for the competitions, because the conception of the athletic nudity was more suitable to their customs and austere mentality as warlike people.
In Sparta, the ritual nudity was common for men and women during some celebration, as well as to see the soldier with armour but showing their crotch in the depictions.
While trying to imitate the Greek motifs, Etruscans revealed their barbaric dislike towards nudity and required the use of the loincloth to their athletes.
As the Etruscans, Romans also come to be portrayed by borrowing naked bodies models of the great Greek art, but the classic Roman portrait remains the one with the toga.
Anyway, we have to point out that these populations, from which most of our knowledge and culture comes – even barbarians unwilling to accept public nudity – did not condemn or demonize it, as
at the present time. In particular, the genitals were considered a normal part of the body and not an evil or sinful organs and showing them could be a sign of inferiority or poverty, for lack of rank or
In the next decadent era of the late empire, the increasingly strong and authoritative voice of the Church, in the name of the new religion, condemned with no concessions the nakedness of the human body, even ordering to cover any naked artworks concerning the Old and New Testament.
In Imperial Rome, in fact, prisoners were often stripped of their clothes as a form of humiliation.
In Western Europe, until the early eighth century the Christians were baptized naked, emerging from the water like Adam and Eve but, during the Carolingian era the nudity acquired a connotation too
sexual and such a practice was abolished, as well as the representation of any naked Christ on the cross. During the long and dark years of the Middle Ages, most statues of nudes (considered blasphemous) were destroyed or damaged and female images underwent such iconoclastic fury mainly. Only later, the artists exceptionally could portray female nude in the case of biblical representations. Well-known is the “campagna della foglia di fico” (fig-leaf campaign) that Roman Catholic Church organized to cover the nudity in art, starting from Michelangelo works. Up to nineteenth century, public nudity was considered obscene and it was necessary wait until Renaissance for the studio of the nude to restart and revive a sensuality so long repressed.
Today, in a world that defines itself advanced, democratic and free, nudity in art
(we call artistic nudes) – even in public – is accepted luckily, but it is always forbidden to show ourselves undressed, generally punishable by law.
The thing that let me puzzled is why many people easily accept
the vision of an “artistic nude” (any statue, painting or photo), in a public place, while can’t stand an actual naked person.
Evidently, the art that becomes here a screen for bias and hypocrisy.
Given that silence becomes acceptance, we could say that everyone deserves the society which he is living in.