The Getty Explores Rise of ‘Renaissance Nude’

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Renaissance artists drew inspiration from classical sculpture and observation to craft artworks depicting the human body. The J. Paul Getty Museum explores the rise and influence of the nude in “The Renaissance Nude,” now on view through January 27, 2019. The exhibit traces the rise of the nude in artworks made in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands for 100 years starting in the early 15th century.

For many, the big draw to the Getty show will be the inclusion of pieces by a Who’s Who of Renaissance art. They include Italian virtuosos Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Raphael (1483-1520) and Titian (1487-1576); Germans Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553); and other well known European masters from the period. However, there are many eye-catching pieces among the more than 100 works in the exhibition, which includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, illuminated manuscripts and prints. Some of the pieces have never been lent to a U.S. museum before.

Noting that the nude has been a preoccupation in European art since the Renaissance, Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, expressed delight that the Getty is bringing the subject to the forefront. This exhibition has very important story to tell that have never been told, according to Potts. “Until now, no museum has undertaken a comprehensive examination of where and how the nude obtained its pre-eminent place in art practice and history,” Potts said. In bringing together examples of Renaissance art from major collections, the exhibition offers visitors “an unprecedented opportunity to immerse themselves in one of Western art’s richest and most innovative traditions.”Getty

Idealized images of the human body were a goal for many of the artists. According to the Getty experts, nudes were a way artist demonstrated their talent.

Within ‘Renaissance Nude’ Exhibition

“The Renaissance Nude” is arranged by five major themes. They are Christian Culture, Humanist Culture, Artistic Theory and Practice, the Abject Body, and the Nude in Personal Iconography. Here are noteworthy observations:

  • The first gallery deals with Christianity because largest number of art in the period was produced for the church or private religious use. The depictions of the body of Christ and St. Sebastian here show how the images of the body changed in the Middle Ages. Artists started looking at classical art, and the religious imagery morphed from realistic into heroic or graceful physical types.
  • Under the rise of humanism, some artist developed pastoral images of nudes painted in nature scenes from myths and folklore. These include the “ Myth of Pan, 1524” by Dosso Dossi (Giovanni di Niccolo de Lutero) from Italy and “A Faun and His Family with a Slain Lion, 1526” by Lucas Cranach, the elder, German.
  • Two pieces in different parts of the exhibit are surprisingly similar, far beyond the subject matter. Dürer’s “Adam and Eve, 1504” is an engraving of the couple. Cranach’s “Adam and Eve, 1510” a painting of the duo, is one of many he did, but noticeably resembles the earlier work by Dürer, a contemporary who reportedly influenced Cranach.
  • Many 15th to 16th century nudes are factual or stylized representations. Some, however, explore eroticism or sensuality. Major artists throughout the continent were trying to represent Venus, the goddess of love. The exhibition includes two very different masterpieces on oil from the same time period by Titian and Jan Gossaert (Netherlandish, about 1478-1532) that demonstrate their talent. Titian’s “Venus Rising From the Sea, 1520, ” features hair so lifelike woman, wringing water out of realistic hair. Gossaert’s “Venus, 1521,” resembles a classical sculpture.Getty
  • “Artistic Theory and Practice” includes pieces by artists in the Tuscany region that look at the body in three dimensions. It includes sketches by Da Vinci, Raphael and Michaelangelo of bodies or body parts. There is also a stunning small sculpture of “Hercules and Antaeus, 1470s” by Antonio Pollaiuolo that is a detailed three-dimensional piece from all perspectives.
  • The most eye-catching piece in the Getty’s exploration of “The Renaissance Nude” is by French artist Jean Fouquet (born about 1415-1420, died before 1481). His vibrant “Madonna and Child Surrounded by Angels, 1454-1456” is believed to be an idealized portrait of Agnès Sorel, who was the mistress of King Charles VII, and is shown with a child surrounded by blue and red cherubim. Like other pieces in the exhibition, it asks viewers to bask in the images presented by the old masters and look again at how European art evolved over time.

By Dyanne Weiss

Exhibition preview October 29, 2018
J. Paul Getty Trust: The Getty Museum Presents “The Renaissance Nude”
Encyclopedia Of Old Master Painters: Lucas Cranach the Elder

Photos by Dyanne Weiss of:

  • Jean Fouqet’s “Madonna and Child Surrounds by Angels,” oil on panel, courtesy of Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Superficial Anatomy of the Shoulder and Neck,” pen and ink with wash over black chalk, courtesy the Royal Collection Trust/HM Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Titian’s “Venus Rising from the Sea,” oil on canvas, courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.