Disclaimer: This series is a serious consideration of nudity in art as it relates to spirituality. As such it does contain artistic images of nudity in the form of paintings, drawing and sculptures. The reader is advised that if these kinds of works of art offend you not to proceed further. Thank You.
This is more in the vein of looking at artists who are known for their portrayal of the human form and William Etty is a classic artist who does both men and women in that way. He is probably known for his combination historical or literary events and nudity. In fact he became quite notorious for it and on a couple of occasions scrapped what he was working on and redid it so it actually showed more skin. This was what became controversial about him and from a certain standpoint his paintings attempt to confront his generations stereotypical notions of both nudity and how the human body actually was. There is nothing erotic about most of his work but there is definitively some playful elements given his time. Like this one:
This is the painting that actually got my initial notice because it is a woman trying to get in a outdoor bath of sorts or a skinny dipping session. The thing is this was done in near the end of Etty’s life in 1846 when proper conduct for a woman would not have included either. He also does the painting from the perspective of someone watching her do this and this is because of the painting’s story. It tell the story of a woman who is about to meet a suitor and so she seeks some release from this by heading into the woods to get in a dip, what she does not know is that her suitor is in the bushes and secretly watches her do this. She looks around but she cannot see this but perhaps senses something is up. You can see Etty here in the maturity of his art. That said he is one of the better figure painters of both sexes of his time. Four examples follow. Male backside:
and this one from the front.
He did a lot of these and in those times seems to have perfected what he wanted to present and most often it was not an idealized figure but more a realistic one. He was trying to capture what the models he used actually looked like but in many senses this is not what made him revolutionary at least to me. It is the use of nudity in the context historical and literary literature that really got him noticed. Like his 1828 The World Before the Flood.
It was one thing at the time to talk about how decadent that time was but to actually portray it on canvas with nude figures was another. The Sirens and Ulysses in 1832 was the first to point out that part of the sirens call might have been their bodies as much as their voices;
If there does seem to be a edge he does not push past it is that he seems to guard his portrayal of female genitalia. Perhaps he knew it at the time there was a fine line between pushing the edge and being controversial and being completely ostracized.
Spiritually speaking though his use of nudity often is portrayed as one of two things. 1) As completely normal and nothing to have a fit about or 2) he portrays the person nude in such a way that they reflect the ‘God don’t let me get caught like this’ attitude which at the time he would have almost been making light of. Next week I want to look at one of his paintings in particular and see what spiritual reflection it actually has.
Blessings and Cheers!!!