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Published on January 28th, 2017 | by Magda Michalska

Are You A Conoisseur Of Male Beauty? A Nude Invasion!

As I wrote once in my post about naked bodies in Academicism, art history had for centuries glorified male beauty and had somehow neglected or underestimated the female one.

Everything changed in the 19th century, when the prudish conventions of the ‘restrained’ and civilized Western societies did not accept the male nude to be present in public space. Why? It probably had a lot to do with the ideas of male supremacy and power, as well as religious interpretations of nudity as something dirty and immodest. The male nude became constraint to anatomy studies or sketches for private leisure and the female nude lived its glory in the representations of odalisques, harems, mythical nymphs and other seductive creatures…

But, let’s get back to the old good times when the male beauty was in the spotlight, shan’t we?

The Greeks knew best…

Fauno Barberini, 220 a.C., Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen

Fauno Barberini, 220 a.C., Munich, Glypthotek

Fauno Barberini or Drunken Satyr ( faun was a Roman equivalent to a Greek satyr, creature which attended Dionysus) is one of the gems of the Glypthotek. His sensual pose and his facial expression just speak for themselves. No wonder why Ludwig I of Bavaria wanted him for his new museum of sculpture in Munich.

Prince Charming Italian Style

Michelangelo, Ignudo, 1509, Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Michelangelo, Ignudo, 1509, Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Is Renaissance art so popular because it strips again all those fantastic bodies?! I leave you to meditate over this question and this time I’m not showing you my favourite man on this planet, as he had his own post (if you need more male nudes, have a look there).  This time is the 5 minutes of fame for the fabulously seductive ignudo (e.i. nude man) from the Sistine Chapel. There are 20 of them out there and I feel like I’m going to dedicate them a whole post very soon…

Wanna play?

Caravaggio, John The Baptist, 1602, Capitoline Museums, Rome

Caravaggio, John The Baptist, 1602, Capitoline Museums, Rome

Aaaaah, Caravaggio and his genius brush! But where did he take all these young boys to model for him from?! (I’m not implying anything, especially the alleged homosexuality of our master…). I picked this young John the Baptist because I didn’t want to be so explicit with Amor Vincit Omnia (google for yourselves), and this playful smile just always wins me over.

Come and party with me, will ya?

Peter Paul Rubens, The Drunken Hercules, c. 1611, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany

Peter Paul Rubens, The Drunken Hercules, c. 1611, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany

Time for something more sturdy for the fans of Rubens and heavy lifting. Rubens mastered the depiction of anatomy and muscles and he would search to demonstrate it on any occasion. His direct inspiration was Michelangelo, which we can see in the similar treatment of the male body which is always extremely muscular and perfectly formed, whereas the poses of the figures are planned in a way to highlight their beauty.

The Lying Beauty

Jacques-Louis David, Male Nude Known As Hector, 1778, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France

Jacques-Louis David, Male Nude Known As Hector, 1778, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France

With David we leave the Baroque abundance and dive into the Neoclassical return to tranquility. David did not need extra sets to arrange a captivating scene: dark background which emphasizes the whiteness of the body, the red cloth which attracts the gaze to the focal elements of the composition (oh, yeah), and finally a diagonal pose which runs across the entire canvas and makes us swoon. No wonder why David had so many pupils!

Oh, those sportsmen…

Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers, 1852-1853, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary

Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers, 1852-1853, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary

Courbet, the man who liked to bring chaos into the ordered world of the prudent French, painted many controversial paintings (google The origin of the world and you’ll know what I mean) which however revolved around female bodies. This painting is rather unusual for him as it does not allude to any social issues which Courbet referred to usually in his works. I guess he must have been under a strong impression of these wrestlers, and so am I.

Never swim alone

Thomas Eakins, Swimming, 1885, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX, US

Thomas Eakins, Swimming, 1885, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX, US

Although, funnily enough, Victorian culture approved of men bathing naked, Eakins was the first to include nudity in American painting so explicitly. He exploited this to study male nudes, he was especially into buttocks, which would amount to one of his masterpieces, in which he depicted his own art students and himself (right bottom corner) bathing together. After this painting had been published, Eakins was forbidden to use his students as models by the directors of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he worked. Not much later, he was forced to resign on the grounds of sexual scandals which involved him and his students. Well, no more baths I guess.


About the Author

Magda, an art historian-to-be, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Wei Wei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.



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