What is the role of the figure in art, as it is expressed in the nude?
The human figure has been portrayed as nude throughout the history of art. When Michelangelo painted “The Last Judgment” behind the altar in the Sistine chapel, most of the figures there painted as nudes. In the 16th to 18th centuries, this troubled the sensibilities of the religious and political leadership, so painters were commissioned to add 38 different “modesty breeches” over some of the figures.
The nude figure strips away much of the context of role, economic and social standing, leaving us with the reality of the human condition in which we find ourselves.
Shame has always affected the way we see ourselves, going back to Adam and Eve in the garden, covering themselves with fig leaves when they realized they were naked. We use clothing to hide, or enhance, how we feel about ourselves and our bodies. We hide our defects, our weight, or our lack of muscle tone. We compare ourselves with images thrown at us through the media.
The nude figure cuts away this facade to reveal the person underneath.