Amedeo Modigliani - Red Nude (1917).
Nudity has always been very appreciated in Art. It's probably due to its sexual side, a distant echo of our animal nature, rather than due to aesthetic reasons - beauty, that is. However, it's undeniable that the representation of nudes has always been prolific in Painting, Sculpture and Photography. Is it because the human body is innately beautiful, or are we all - artists included - compulsive voyeurs?
The issue is complex and has already been discussed here. The line that separates erotic art from pornography is fine and our genetic predisposition to find something that sexually attracts us beautiful - men or women - ends up clouding our judgement and reasoning even further. We don't know if what we like is the composition, the shape, the colour, the rythm, the contrast or the models themselves. Our own reactions are curious and revealing, at the same time.
Almost in every case, common sense has one of the following reactions towards the representation of the naked body: it either condemns it, accusing it of being indecent, or holds it high as Art. This second reaction is the one that interests us the most; it is more cultured in appearence only and frequently hides behind it the ignorance and fear of showing it to others.
Praxiteles - Knidian Aphrodite (séc. IV a. C.); Policleto - Il Doriforo (séc. V a. C.)
The first representations of the naked body with aesthetic purposes appeared in Ancient Greece. You have to remember the great proximity, not to mention coincidence, between what was called Art and Religion. Greek mythology was filled with anthropomorphic creatures, perfect beings, that humankind tried to match. This search for perfection led to the establishment of a true worship of the body and of the ideal proportions, which artists like Fídias and Praxíteles moulded in marble and bronze. Since then, never has the representation of a naked body had such a "pure" goal - true Art.
Nevertheless, the nude continued to fill a large quota of the themes used by painters, sculptors and, more recently, photographers, with every implication brought on by the realism of photography. Some are interested in the formal game in the curvy lines of the human body; some by its meaning.
Giorgione - Sleeping Venus (1510)
Nan Goldin - Joana Topless at the Chateau le Bastion (2000)
However, there's a dimension in the work of art that is filled with a sensuous character, in the true sense of the word, that is, the perception and stimulation of the senses. There isn't a worthy artist who doesn't wish to shake up the audience. And what better way is there to achieve such a goal than through the use of the naked body? The artists know it well, as well as they know that Art should have sex... and sense.