Term Paper: Body and Nudity in the Nineteenth Century Art

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¶ … Body in 19th Century Art

Throughout the course of the 19th century, representations of the body - particularly the nude body - shifted considerably. As we will see in this paper through an examination of three paintings from different periods, the 19th century witnessed a remarkably fast transition, from the neoclassicism of Ingres to the realism of Courbet, and on to the modernism of Picasso. Through tracing the evolution of the way in which the nude female body was portrayed during this key period in the history of art, we will show how each artist under scrutiny responded to the innovations of earlier eras in rendering their own signature innovations.

We will begin with an examination of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres's La Grande Odalisque. Painted in 1814, this work exemplifies Ingres's neoclassical tendencies - his desire to conserve traditional values of the nude in art. At the same time, it represents a shift towards the Romantic values that would come to signify a new tendency in Western art. It also represents the influence of the Mannerists, such as Parmigianino, in its distortion of the figure's anatomical form; for this reason, it could also be said to predict future experimentations with form in the work of modern painters such as Pablo Picasso. The painting depicts an odalisque, or a concubine. Unlike traditional nudes, Ingres's Grande Odalisque depicts the concubine with extra vertebrae, making her back look abnormally long. For a long time, this was believed to be an error, but it was later discovered in studies that Ingres drew in preparation that he had intended this all along. As her back is to us, it forms the foreground of the picture. Thus, what we find in La Grande Odalisque is an exoticization of the woman's nude body, rather than a realistic depiction. This makes sense, as the concubine's vocation is purely sexual. This fact is emphasized by the blank facial expression on the concubine's face as she stares out at the viewer.

Gustave Courbet's the Sleepers was completed in 1866. By this point, painting had largely moved on from the neo-classical and romantic efforts of painters like Ingres, in favor of realism, a form of art that was meant to be faithful to everyday experience. The subject of the painting, two nude women holding each other in a post-coital embrace, shocked the French public when it was first completed, and was banned from public display for a number of years. The realist school was opposed to the formal posing of nudes that the neo-classical and romantic artists employed. Instead, they wanted their scenes to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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