Nude paintings are an interesting subject because they can convey so much. The theme of nude women art can range anywhere from the erotic to the innocent. The subject matter can even be used to show off an artist’s anatomical and technical skill. Whether they’re conveying a story or a technique, these are some truly beautiful pieces of art.
Lady Godiva, John Maler Collier
Lady Godiva is a popular legend to use in paintings of this nature but John Maler Collier’s version stands out as one of the most popular. The story follows a woman who rode through the town on horseback. She was nude and covered only with her flowing hair.
While the specific story itself is questioned, Lady Godiva was a noblewoman alive in the 11th century. Her husband, Leofric, was both the Earl of Mercia and the Lord of Coventry. According to the legend, Leofric doled out harsh taxes to the citizens living in Coventry and Lady Godiva began her nude ride to protest the taxes.
Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli
There’s no figure quite as famous as Venus, the Romanized version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. As the goddess of beauty, it makes sense that she’s was painted in her natural state. In addition, the painting shows her birth from the sea. While stunning, the viewer can still see the newly risen goddess covering herself as she’s brought robes to don. However, Venus’ pose suggests confidence rather than humility.
Water Serpents II, Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt was well-known for using women as the subjects of his paintings. He was also fairly widely known for his tendency to paint them without clothes. Unfortunately, this didn’t sit right with everyone in the social climate of the time. As such, the nude women in the photos were deemed overly erotic and inappropriate. By today’s standards, the paintings aren’t terribly shocking and are often admired for their beauty.
Lilith, 1887, John Maler Collier
Lilith is a biblical character that’s often cast in a bad light but more often entirely ignored. As the story goes, Lilith was actually the first wife of the first man Adam, rather than his long-term bride Eve. Yet, when God made Lilith, it quickly became clear that the first woman was smarter than Adam and refused to be obedient to him. As this went against the then-concept of subservient wives, Lilith was banished by God and Eve was introduced in her place.
In the John Maler Collier painting, Lilith is depicted with a snake wrapped around her body. This is likely a reference to her ties to sin, represented by a snake like the one that tempted Eve’s downfall in the Garden of Eden.
Mary Magdalene In the Cave, Jules Joseph Lefebvre
Mary Magdalene is another controversial biblical figure although she’s much more well-known than Lilith. She’s been canonized as a saint and many Christians see her as a prostitute, repentant and reborn through the guidance of Jesus Christ. As a prostitute, though, many see her as the epitome of sin.
Lefebvre chose to paint Mary Magdalene with her body stretched out and her head thrown back. This gave him plenty of room to demonstrate his accuracy in anatomical painting.
Pygmalion and Galatea, Jean-Leon Gerome
Stepping out of Christianity and into Greek mythology, the painting Pygmalion and Galatea draws on an interesting and popular myth. In the story, Pygmalion is the sculpture while Galatea is an ivory statue of his creation.
In his everyday life, it was noted that Pygmalion avoided women and generally wasn’t interested in them. Yet, upon carving Galatea, he falls in love with his feminine creation. In turn, he starts to treat the statue with the care of a suitor. He dresses her in the finest robes, brings her gifts,and spend time with her everyday. Eventually, Aphrodite was so moved by his devotion that she brought the statue to life. Interestingly, this myth doesn’t follow the tragedy formula often associated with mythology and, as the painting shows, the subject were described to be deeply in love from that moment on.
Le Sommeil, 1866, Gustave Courbet
In his time, Gustave Courbet was known for pushing boundaries. Like Klimt, he was often labelled as an erotic artist. In 1866, he pushed the taboo envelope even further with Le Sommeil or, translated, The Sleepers.
The most eye-catching thing about this painting is that the two intertwined figures are both female. Between the erotic theme and the fairly blatant display of lesbianism which was frowned on at the time, the painter and later owners were prohibited from publicly exhibiting the artwork until 1988.
The human form has always been a fascinating subject to put on canvas. For one, it shows off a lot of technical skills and creativity. From the way a woman is standing to the look on her face and her body language can portray a lot of emotion in art. Additionally, paintings of nude women often explore the social taboos of nudity and how the artist depicts them is interesting. Does the subject bashfully hide herself or lay in repose, confidently and naturally? Each of these paintings and their contemporaries have a lot to offer and are open to interpretation.