Nakedness and Other Peoples: Rethinking the Italian Renaissance Nude

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Abstract

The development of the Italian Renaissance nude is fundamental to the western art tradition, yet little attention has been paid to how Renaissance audiences understood images of naked people. This article uses previously unconsidered documents to argue that there was a shift in the understanding of nakedness over the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries which was related to the voyages of discovery, particularly to Sub-Saharan Africa. The article considers contemporaries’ perceptions of nakedness as related to human potential and the development of a “Renaissance anthropology”, looking first at images of Adam and Eve, and then considering the impact of fifteenth-century travellers’s tales of naked natives on the perception of nakedness. The focus then shifts to two renowned images: Pisanello’s drawing of a naked woman commonly called Luxuria, and Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s engraving, The Battle of Naked Men. These previously puzzling works can be understood as commenting on the ‘uncivilized’ and ‘animalistic’ qualities of the naked non-European natives who were ripe for Christianisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)714-739
Number of pages26
JournalArt History
Volume36
Issue number4
Early online date10 Jul 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • renaissance art
  • nude
  • nakedness
  • Africa
  • Italy
  • Polliauolo
  • Voyages of exploration
  • race
  • BODY

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