University of Leicester
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The nude in central Italian painting and sculpture (1500-1600) : definition, perception and representation

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:39 authored by Elena Lazzarini
This interdisciplinary study of the male and female nude explores the cultural, social and political context in sixteenth-century Italy in order to discover new connections between images of the nude and everyday life. Many of the sources concerning behaviour, undressing and sexual activities in diverse settings, which are believed to reflect actual behaviour (Rudolf Bell, 1999), were written in Italian at a time when the printing industry began to flourish. This new literature, which has received scant attention from art historians, reached a wider audience and directly completed with prescriptive writings, thus challenging social and religious conventions. My investigation has brought to light important connections between the focus on beauty in daily life and images of the male and female nude in art works, such as the muscular and virile male nude in Florence and the beautiful, seductive female nude in Venice. As symbols of beauty, courtesans participated in Venetian civic spectacles, while Florentine youths engaging in competitive sports in the public arena were widely admired for their physique. Sources pertaining to artistic practices regarding the observation of the live model reveal that artists sought the same physical qualities as those appreciated by society at large. The investigation of Giorgio Vasari's Lives (Florence, 1550 and 1568) not only underscores the central importance of the nude in both editions but also revises the conclusions drawn by Svetlana Alpers (1969), demonstrating that the different notions of perfection can be pre-dated to the first edition. Writings produced after the Lives point to a continued interest in the nude as the most difficult and beautiful form in art while constraining its representation in both erotic and non-erotic works available to a wider audience. The new guidelines are consistent with prescriptive behaviour books that underscore social and gender distinctions. The nude remains acceptable for the elite and for propaganda purposes. By contrast, Vincenzo Danti and Benvenuto Celini continue to promote the nude as a autonomously created form suited to a range of settings..


Date of award


Author affiliation

History of Art

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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