Masterpieces of The Renaissance Nude at the RA

January 4, 2019

A groundbreaking movement which reformed the cultural, social, religious and political currents in global terms was undoubtedly the Renaissance. After the dark ages saturated with wars, great fatigues, and plague came the age of reason, when wondrous minds appeared and revolutionized practically every aspect of human activity. It had to do with the rise of secular society and fascination with the Classical antiquity. In regards to that, the very perception of love, sensuality, and corporeality changed, and this naturally reflected in the field of visual arts.

That is how the display of the nude body became an omnipresent motif adored by the painters and sculptors. In order to show how this trend developed, during the upcoming year, the Royal Academy of Arts will present an exhibition called The Renaissance Nude.

Left Albrecht Durer - Adam and Eve Right Lucas Cranach the Elder - A Faun and His Family with a Slain Lion
Left: Albrecht Dürer - Adam and Eve, 1504. Engraving, 25.1 x 19.4 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Museum Council Fund. Image: / Right: Lucas Cranach the Elder - A Faun and His Family with a Slain Lion, c. 1526. Oil on panel, 82.9 x 56.2 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

The Renaissance Nude

The nude flourished in Renaissance Europe between 1400 and 1530, and it changed the visual paradigm so much that it even became an integral part of artistic training. Interestingly so, this particular genre appeared in both sacred and secular contexts - from small, intimate objects to elaborate and grandiose decorative church and palazzo compositions.

In 1541, Michelangelo finished his iconic large-scale composition Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The mural was oozing with nude representations and although it was initially considered a huge success, shortly after the artist’s death in 1564 Pope Pius IV ordered concealing draperies to be painted over some of the figures since the decorum changed.

Dosso Dossi - Allegory of Fortune
Dosso Dossi - Allegory of Fortune, c. 1530. Oil on canvas, 179.1 x 217.2 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

The Installment

Around ninety works by masters such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Jan Gossaert, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci in a variety of media and from different regions of Europe will be arranged thematically so that it can show how a dynamic visual tradition emerged.

Through fine themes, the audience will be able to follow the development of the genre within the given time frame. The first one The Nude and Christian Art will focus the Old and New Testament sequences which enabled the artists to depict the nude figure. The following one, titled Humanism and the Expansion of Secular Themes, will explore the appropriation of the Antique, while Artistic Theory and Practice will show the early explorations of life human anatomy and proportion.

The fourth theme Beyond the Ideal Nude will examine the vulnerability of the human condition, and the final section, Personalising the Nude, will underline the significance of Renaissance patrons such as Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, one of the few female patrons of the time.

Left Agnolo Bronzino - Saint Sebastian Right Right Titian - Venus Rising from the Sea
Left: Agnolo Bronzino - Saint Sebastian, c. 1533. Oil on panel, 87 x 76.5 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid / Right: Titian - Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’), c. 1520. Oil on canvas, 75.8 x 57.6 cm. National Galleries of Scotland. Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government (hybrid arrangement) and allocated to the Scottish National Gallery, with additional funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), and the Scottish Executive, 2003

The Renaissance Masters at The RA

The upcoming exhibition will reveal the impact the nude made on visual arts of the time, and will as well accentuate that Renaissance was the first truly modern phenomenon, imposing the humanist culture, new artistic attitudes, and spiritual beliefs.

The exhibition is curated by Thomas Kren, Senior Curator Emeritus at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in collaboration with Per Rumberg, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, and will be accompanied by an extensive catalog published by Getty Publications.

The Renaissance Nude will be on display at the Royal Academy of Arts from 3 March until 2 June 2019.

Featured images: Antonio Pollaiuolo - Battle of the Nudes, 1470s. Engraving, 42 x 60.9 cm. The Albertina Museum, Vienna; Raphael - The Three Graces, c. 1517-18. Red chalk on paper, 20.3 x 25.8 cm. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019. All images courtesy the Royal Academy.