Rediscovery of the body in Renaissance Art

by John Wijngaards

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Phase 3. Christians rediscover the beauty of naked human bodies.

The Renaissance, with its appreciation of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, helped Christian artists to reflect on the beauty of the human body. They saw that this beauty was reflected in the unclothed body, the nude, whether of women or men. As Christians they understood that a naked woman or man is beautiful, because God the Creator was the first artist, and God created us in his own image.

gossaert_eveJan Gossaert

Flemish painter (1478-1532)

This is a revolutionary representation of Adam and Eve. They are now seen as real human beings. Their bodies display amazing detail. There is no attempt to hide any part as being embarassing or offensive.

Some of the traditional themes can still be seen. The man’s body is powerful and strong. Adam towers over Eve. The woman’s body is more fragile and needing the man’s protecting arm.

No longer has the serpent the figure of a seductive woman. He is depicted as the horrible evil-breathing monster he is.

 

 

 

michelangelo_eveMichelangelo

Italian sculptor and painter (1475 – 1564)

Adam and Eve are depicted as true human beings. The serpent still has the traditional form of a woman, but the tortuousness and menace of its body are now stressed.

Michelangelo loved to paint and sculpt naked bodies. It is as if he is throwing off all the centuries of suppressing the recognition of our embodied humanness. Originally, most figures Michelangelo painted on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were totally nude.

 

Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545)

No one expresses the revolutionary new attitude to the body better than the German painter Hans Baldung Grien. In these details of three separate paintings, we see a consistent portrayal of Eve as an ever so sensitive and beautiful person. At the tempation (left image), the contrast between her vulnerable flesh and the violence of the devil could not be greater. When Eve seduces Adam (middle image), we are struck by the intimacy between the two, in spite of their eating the forbidden fruit. Baldung also depicts God’s promise that Eve will eventually crush the serpent’s head under her heel (right image). Now she is seen celebrating her ultimate victory, not dressed in some gown, but displaying all her feminine glorious beauty.

Hans Baldung obviously used real models for his paintings. He appreciated the naked human body. Look at the details of, for instance, the knees, the feet, the nipples and the hair.