The Sacred Nude in the Middle Ages and the Pre-Renaissance
When it came to man’s nudity throughout the Middle Ages, the ChurchChurch recognized the value of images in teaching religion to the ignorant, and thus the ChurchChurch employed them to demonstrate man’s vulnerability. To adorn their cathedrals and holy documents, the ChurchChurch commissioned artists to make frescoes, sculptures, and paintings, among other mediums. Art was mostly used for religious purposes, and the naked body was deemed immoral by many. It alluded to man’s mortal and imperfect state in writing. As a result, naked paintings were included in the exhibition for iconographic reasons. For example, nude figures can be found on the tympanums of churches, implying that the building is dedicated to the Underworld. Adam and Eve are biblical figures associated with both nudity and sinfulness. They are frequently shown in their most basic form, with snakes or foliage covering their genitals, like the illustration above. Even though they appear to be in the same category as profane nudes, these naked figures are, in reality, serving the sacred.
For the cathedral of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, the Italian painter Masaccio produced the painting depicting Adam and Eve being driven out of Eden, which was completed in 1425. The nakedness of Eve is concealed by her eyes swirling and her mouth wide as if she were screaming while Adam lowers his eyes and covers his face. Above them, we can see an angel clad in redpointing in the direction of the door. The two protagonists are hunched down, embarrassed, and scared to leave Eden’s confines.
The painting by the painter Masolino is located just opposite this figure in the same ChurchChurch. The fresco, known as The Original Sin, was painted around 1424. Adam and Eve stand tall and powerful, gazing at one other with a serene expressions on their faces. The figures are illuminated by a ray of light, reflecting the black backdrop, emphasizing their bodies and old size.
The comparison between these two frescoes is intriguing. As shown by Masolino, Eden is lovely, and Adam and Eve are gorgeous and brilliant. In Masaccio’s painting, on the other hand, Adam and Eve are terrified. The contrast between the idealized and realistic representations of the nude in one image and the realistic graphics in the other shows the state of man before and after committing the first sin.
The Renaissance: revealing the human form
Nude paintings began to lose their iconographic significance during the Renaissance and were prized purely for their aesthetic and sensual characteristics from that point onward. This time saw the rediscovery of Antiquity and a fascination with plastic beauty, which drove painters to place a high value on the naked body, which became a major source of inspiration. The artists painted the human figure using live models while maintaining proper proportions. They used the Greeks’ ideal figure as a starting point, adding more realistic masculine musculature to the mix.