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RA: The Renaissance Nude… nude

22 May 2019

The Royal Academy of Arts presented its ‘The Renaissance Nude‘ exhibition from 3 March to 2 June 2019. It offered visitors a chance to: “Trace the development of the nude through some of the great masters of the Renaissance. Bringing together works by artists such as Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Dürer and Cranach, we shed light on a visual tradition at its most vital moment.

Discreetly, on Saturday 4 May a private view had been arranged after-hours for guests who wished to peruse the Renaissance nude whilst nude themselves – to see it in the flesh, as it were. The event had been organised in tandem with British Naturism, and although I don’t consider myself anything so formally-defined as a naturist (I’m merely a naked person when I feel like it), all credit is due to them for this opportunity.

Esther and I, being a little late arriving, found our friend Rodger already stripped to his sandals in the foyer. We did likewise and proceeded to ascend the main staircase but our path was blocked by lines of naked people all posing for a group photo. We joined them in the front row without really knowing what was going on, but thought it likely to be an official record for the Royal Academy archives.

One thing that the group photo highlighted is the on-going tendency for these types of gathering to be populated overwhelmingly by middle-aged white men. I can’t complain because that’s precisely what I am myself, but it’s sad the UK still trails behind much of Europe in creating spaces and occasions where all genders can feel comfortable in their nakedness. Huge respect to Esther and other women who try to shift attitudes.

And so to the exhibition. The two big positives were: (i) some exceptional works were on display, for which the Royal Academy had clearly gone to great lengths in bringing them together, and (ii) fewer attendees at such a niche event meant no crowds and a much clearer view of the art. The negatives: (i) I didn’t find the overall arrangement as coherent as it might have been, and (ii) it was bloody freezing in there!

Dosso Dossi – Mythological Scene, c.1524

Titian – Venus Rising from the Sea, 1520

There was discussion amongst shivering naturists whether the lack of any discernible warmth was necessary to preserve the paintings. My personal view, largely motivated by a desire for self-preservation, was that most of these works had survived hundreds of years in a Mediterranean climate so another two hours couldn’t hurt. As it was, the excessive cold eventually cut short our visit and we fled to the complimentary teas.

This had been my first time attending an art exhibition while nude since the legendary Guerilla Galleries happenings of 2013 (1,2,3) and 2015 (1). One or two of those had been pretty chilly too as I recall, yet in the company of friends it’s surprising what can be weathered. Such conditions are perhaps not the most conducive circumstances in which to appreciate great art, but it’s the curious human experience that drives us.

From → Art

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