The male nude in art

Hanging in there
From Greek art, to Dolce & Gabbana advertising, the male nude has always been about sex. It’s just that these days we don’t try to hide it, writes Jonathan Jones

Today, probably nothing so alienates us from the high art of the European past as its most prestigious subject – the male nude. Visit any old European museum, from Naples to Bloomsbury, and they have more marble statues of disrobed gods and heroes than they can reasonably display. Once these nudes were considered the apex of European culture. Today we don’t really know what to do with them, and the reason for this was anticipated when parliament presented Canova’s Napoleon to the Duke of Wellington as a ludicrous example of imperial art. Let’s face it: the male nude is embarrassing.

Centuries of European artists and art lovers depicted and looked at naked men in what was supposedly a disinterested and entirely cerebral way, as the embodiment of an athletic, spiritual and even political ideal. This purportedly had nothing to do with sex. But it is impossible for us to accept that nude images can be asexual, so it is impossible for us to take seriously this lost aesthetic.

And yet we’re more neoclassical than we think we are. To see this, you have only to open a fashion magazine. In fashion in the past few years, the male nude has been re-exposed. Think Calvin Klein underwear or Gucci and, most of all, consider a current advertising campaign for Dolce & Gabbana, in which young men stand around in a straw-spattered photographer’s studio while an older man – the artist figure – directs the scene: in each image, nudity is at the tense heart of a visual drama involving a body splayed naked on the ground, or posed with legs cocked as if astride someone.

Full article here.

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