'Introduction: the Renaissance Nude 1400-1530' and 'The Body in Artistic Theory and Practice'

Jill Burke, Jill Burke (Editor), Thomas Kren (Editor), Stephen J. Campbell (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Reflecting an era when Europe looked to both the classical past and a global future, this volume explores the emergence and acceptance of the nude as an artistic subject. It engages with the numerous and complex connotations of the human body in more than 250 artworks by the greatest masters of the Renaissance. Paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, and book illustrations reveal private, sometimes shocking preoccupations as well as surprising public beliefs—the Age of Humanism from an entirely new perspective.

This book presents works by Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, and Martin Schongauer in the north and Donatello, Raphael, and Giorgione in the south; it also introduces names that deserve to be known better. A publication this rich in scholarship could only be produced by a variety of expert scholars; the sixteen contributors are preeminent in their fields and wide-ranging in their knowledge and curiosity. The structure of the volume—essays alternating with shorter texts on individual artworks— permits studies both broad and granular. From the religious to the magical and the poetic to the erotic, encompassing male and female, infancy, youth, and old age, The Renaissance Nude examines in a profound way what it is to be human.

This volume was published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center October 30, 2018, to January 27, 2019, and at the Royal Academy of Arts London in the United Kingdom February 26 to June 2, 2019.

Giorgio Vasari claimed that the aim of any good ‘modern’ artist is to depict the nude. Ideally, he says, ‘by help of the imagination without ... having the living forms in view’. This chapter will consider how the imaginations of renaissance artists were able to form the perfect nude body - and to consider how and why the depiction of the naked body became a central part of artistic practice.
The next section will start with a focus on drawing after a naked model, a practice that started to become widespread from the later fifteenth century. Using primary source material alongside existing drawings, I will consider who these models were and how they were posed; we will also investigate varying attitudes to male and female life models in terms of wider understandings of gender difference. Some artists used not living models but mannequins – I will consider the evidence for this, looking both at extant mannequins and drawings that suggest their use. Some artists went one step further in their observation of the body, literally delving below the skin to carry out their own dissections, and we will consider early evidence for artists’ anatomical investigations.
Renaissance anatomy, like life drawing, sought to find the norm - a body that somehow represented all humans and was not subject to individual idiosyncrasies. Life models, though generally chosen for their beauty, could never represent perfection, with bodies that were tainted by original sin, and prone to aging. In order to represent the perfect body, some artists such as Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci, turned to mathematics and proportion, typically measuring a wide range of bodies to arrive at a figure that the understood to represent the ‘essence’ of humanity. I will consider a selection of these proportion drawings and consider their relationship to Vitruvius’s On Architecture.
Finally, we will consider how renaissance artists used the nude figure in motion as a test of their excellence. With twisted torsos, intertwined limbs and elegant gestures, the naked body became a means for artists to create ‘stupendous variety’, to quote Paolo Giovio, allowing Renaissance artists to claim that they had finally equalled – and even surpassed – their antique forebears.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Renaissance Nude
EditorsJill Burke, Stephen J. Campbell, Thomas Kren
Place of PublicationLos Angeles
PublisherThe Getty Research Institute
ISBN (Print)9781606065846
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2018


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