see also: 'the ecstasies of eros'
Pictures of nudity can be seen on the following pages.
In photography, the same effect can be achieved through the choice of
the right grain or through digital correction.
On the photo below, Luc Selen further enhances the effect through adding little drops of water and opposing drops and knobs to the even parts of the skin that submerge in dark shadowy areas:
Formerly, the soft female skin used to be opposed to the sweaty or oiled skin of the male (Greeks, Nuba). Since the use of sun oil and the culture of bathing, an oily sheen is also appreciated on the female body. It homogenises the skin and creates the illusion that there are no wrinkles or pores.It also reminds of the sweat that often appears during sexual arousal during and after intercourse:
The effect may be heightened by smearing the skin with clay:
Even when grain and shine seem to exclude one another, Shakhabalov knows to realise a rather estranging effect through letting the light shine over a rather grainy skin:
A caressing hand appreciates above all the unbroken extension of the skin. While holding a breast is a rather local pleasure, over a back, the buttocks or the thighs, the hand can freely move back and forward. The gaze joins this movement and wants to equally move undisturbed over the expansion of an endless surface. Clefts (eyes, mouth, vagina), openings (nostrils, penis), skin with a different texture (nipples, lips and fingernails), protrusions (nose, penis) and foremost hair, come to disturb the unbroken extension of the body, especially on the face and the front. A natural way of the problem is to concentrate on the side of the body. The only cleft that is to be seen there - the fold of the armpit - can be made undone by lifting the arms:
More appealing is the sight of a back, the object to be caressed par excellence. The integrity of the surface is slightly broken where the back dissolves into the anal cleft, which hides the openings of anus and vagina. But such minor disturbance only comes to enhance the effect of the unbroken extension of the back:
That does not prevent the surface on the front from also having its charms: the inner side of the arms, the breasts, and above all the belly. The pleasure for the eye is heightened through shaving the hair of armpits and pubis, as used to be the rule in painting and sculpting. That threatens to contrast too strongly with the slimy skin of the genitals to the skin. That is why a shaved vagina tends to anxiously be closed, as opposed to an aroused one that tends to stand open like the calyx of a flower:
Through the removal of the pubic hair, the cleft of the vagina catches the eye all the more. Wherefore the cleft is often omitted altogether (reduction of the pubis to a Y, see Chapter VIII), as has been obligatory in classic painting and sculpture - when the vagina was not covered otherwise:
Some artists proceed to
eliminating not only the cleft, but also the folds surrounding it:
A similar strive for homogeneity is apparent in the tendency to omit the nipples as Rodin's 'Fugit Amor':
Other artists even eliminated the lips. The homogenising is completed when also the hair on the skull is removed:
The move towards homogeneity comes to its apogee in Brancusi's ' Sculpture for the blind', where the head is reduced to an egg, over the surface of which the hand can go its caressing course, undisturbed by protrusions and unevenness of all kinds. A comparison with 'Torse de jeune fille' analysed in Chapter III, reminds us of the fact that the removal of all obstacles to the caressing hand is at the same time the ultimate fulfilment of the strive to eradicate every reminiscence of the wound as on Brancusi's 'Sculpture for the Blind'.
* * *
The smoothness of the skin may be emphasized by smearing it with ink, as in that marvellous photo of Man Ray, or with jam, as in Bourson's enchanting photo below, where the sense of nakedness is at the same time strengthened in that the red stain seems to end up in a collar around the neck as if it were a piece of cloth:
The skin may be contrasted with dried paint, sand or stone. In the photo of Yves Noir the crusty structure only heightens the suggestion of soft flesh and breathing life:
The effect is further strengthened in that skin is the organ that is kept clean par excellence. Soiling it tends to convey a sense of accessibility. That explains the strange feeling of tactile presence conveyed by that wonderful photo of Ernesto Timor, where the skin is covered with earth:
Also the structure of foam sharply contrasts with the smoothness of the skin, especially since soap makes the hands slide over its surface. And of course, the most dramatic contrast is with unhealthy, diseased or aged skin:
In other cases, the naked skin of the body is contrasted with objects or
The woods or the grasslands provide many a contrast to the nude skin:
With Ernesto Timor the smooth flawless skin dialogues with the dry texture of leaves - which lends a tellurian flavour to those dark nipples and erect breasts, the shadowy mane of hair and the vaginal cleft:
Most cherished is the opposition between the flawless even skin and the rough angularity of rocks that could hurt it:
In Shakhabalov's photo below, the grainy structure of the sand extends all over the body, which only enhances the sense of the soft breathing flesh covered by it:
Ever since Cranach, the vulnerable nude is often contrasted with the roughness of bark. It is remarkable that in most cases the phallic as well as the vaginal characteristics of the tree are stressed:
The most dramatic way of showing off the even skin of youth is to
contrast it with the wrinkled skin of an aged body (Baldung
Unforgettable is the
opposition of the white nudity of the female body with those rosy
nipples to the dark gleam of the slimy serpent wound around its belly
and shoulders in Von Stuck's 'Sünde':
Lettings one's fingers glide through a voluptuous mane of hair is an altogether different tactile sensation than caressing a back or holding a breast:
Both kinds of tactility are often opposed, so that their difference is only stressed and enhanced:
In Virgil Brill's photo below, the tactile opposition of hair and skin is mediated through the addition of a third, intermediate layer: the water in the background:
Single hairs, on the other hand, cannot be caressed at all. They rather come to disturb the contact between hand and skin, especially when they cling to a wet or sweaty skin. Which does not prevent that the linearity of such hair only stresses the tactile qualities of the skin for an eye that merely looks:
In the photo of Wecksteen below, the opposition is between the undulating surface of the body and the linearity of the hair - linearity which is only heightened through the threads around the middle, which have become nearly intangible through appropriate lighting and are echoed in their turn by the ribbons around the ankles:
Also wisps or dark hair may be contrasted with the even surface of the skin:
Especially an abundant mane of hair may serve as a natural way of concealing not only a sideward glance, but also shoulders, the back, the breast or the whole body (See also Donatello's Magdalen and Alfred Kubin):
Totally different from the mane of hair on the skull is the
The contrast is often endorsed by that between skin and mucous membrane. With Bauret, the contrast is softened in that the mane covering the front is curly, so that it appears to be a magnifying of the pubic hair - effect which is further enhanced by the fact that legs as well as arms are stretched and spread wide:
The contrast between skin and hair may also be transposed to the contrast between the nude and fur, as in the photo of Walo Thönen, where three different tactile qualities are juxtaposed:
(4) THE SKELETON
As a rule, bones play a role only in the male body. In the female nude, the bony structure is covered by a layer of fat. But precisely the softness of that layer may be enhanced through contrast with the bony skeleton. Especially the ribs make the breasts above them appear all the more soft:
The ribs on the back heighten the softness of the thighs:
(5) COLOUR, BLACK AND WHITE
LINE AND SHAPE
The undulation of the flesh can also be emphasized through props or the environment
Most effective is also the use of contrast. Smooth skin looks all the more sensual when it is contrasted the delicate texture of textile and leaves:
With Corregio's Io and Zeus, Io's back, the tactile
object par excellence, is contrasted with Zeus as an intangible cloud
that comes to approach the body from the front.
Marité Malaspina contrasts the surface of the body with the transparance of the surrounding water, revealing at the same time what goes hidden behind that precious surface:
There is not much angularity in the female body. Philippe Pache nevertheless succeeds in creating a marvellous contrast between the rectangle of the arms, accentuated through an angular shadow, and the swing of the now all the more voluptuous hips:
More obvious is the opposition to angular attributes:
or with the 'castrating' effect realised by placing the sharp edge of a mirror between the legs:
The artist need not confine himself to the natural echoes or the use of props. More often, he proceeds to sometimes drastic changes of the shape of the body. A well know example is Ingres' ‘La grande Odalisque’. Here, the emphasis is on the elongated arms and legs, fingers and toes, and above all on the elongated neck. The whole body appears as one endless, undisturbed object of touch. Even the surface of the breast that appears through the armpit is not broken by the presence of a nipple (see Chapter III). In Brancusi's 'Kiss' the confinement of the figures within the limits of a cube emphasizes the intimacy of the kissing couple (see Chapter I)
Also the photographer is not submitted to the limitations of reality. As the photo of Philippe Pache above already illustrated, intelligent lighting and the choice of an appropriate posture, may lead to often unexpected effects. In the same vein, Christian Coigny knows to transform the movement of an uplifted arm into a most alluring polyphony of curves:
The photographers disposes of still other techniques. Parts of the body that approach the lens appear to be larger. This effect may be used to enhance the expressiveness of a gesture or a posture. With Oren Obstblum the curving lends a primeval flavour to the gesture of abandon with which the breasts of that magnificent ante-diluvial being are exposed:
With Ken Lichtenwalter,
the elongation of the legs comes to enhance the sense of nonchalance
emanating from those
legs spread wide:
In other cases, the elongation seems to lend a kind of inner drive to the nude, as if the libido flooded the body or its limbs.
An unusual perspective may lead to a more drastic metamorphosis. The majority of the examples of the phallic woman and the vaginal man in Chapter III are only conceivable through the intervention of the image. With Richard Williams, the elongation of the legs, combined with a appropriate lighting, transform the nude into a impressive phallic woman:
and with Tomy Ceballos into a kind of frog:
Remarkable effects can be obtained by letting the nude protrude by the surface of water:
The transformation can amount to the creation of new erotic beings. Kertész shows multiple bodies, joined to each other like Siamese twins. Keith Nicolson obtains a similar transformation through manipulation in the dark room, as in that magnificent imaginary torso that seems to be the fulfilment of the dream of a body that can be caressed without restraint:
A remarkable erotic effect is achieved through Albert Lemoine's reduction of the symmetry of the body to a concatenation of single parts:
The domain par excellence of deformation is, of course, the handmade image. In the superb pastel below, Freddy Schoofs conujres up an expressive opposition between the rounding of the body and the sharp structures that seems to dissolve the shoulder:
Digital manipulation of the
image offers countless new possibilities:
Or the desirable parts can be multiplied. The penis is a good candidate, but foremost the breast seem to be predestined for such multiplication from the ancient Egyptians onward. The theme is further developed by Bellmer, Lachaise and Louise Bourgeois.
Not only breasts, but also halves of bodies can be recombined to a new erotic being. The oldest examples are perhaps the surrealistic bodies of Bellmer. A variant in photography are the mirrored bodies of Michel Charles, Albert Lemoine and Alva Bernadine:
With Manuel Laval, the axis of symmetry is nearer to the opening, so that the centrifugal legs are opposed to the the central void (see Chapter III):
The transformation can proceed to hybridisation with animals.In most
cases, it is only parts of the body which are replaced. As when the
human being is lent the body of a leopard or a bird. Fur or plumes
invite the caressing hand, a tendency which is strongly counteracted by
the presence of threatening sharp teeth or claws
A special case is when the genitals themselves are metamorphosing into animals:
Hybridisation often goes hand in hand with the creation of a
hermaphrodite: plumes, with which woman like to adorn themselves, are in
essence male props. Fur - from way back a prerogative of male power (Emberly) -
reminds not only of the pubis, but foremost of the hairy male body
Since the representation in an image is no longer limited by reality, the artist need no longerconfine himself to clothes to play the game of revealing and concealing as described in Chapter V. He can resort to the most diverse materials to obtain an even stronger effect:
Most enticing effects can be obtained with wet cloth, especially when the artist is no longer restricted to the use of existing clothes:
The artist can proceed to colour the body in unusual colours, using unconventional pigments and creating the most inventive patterns (for example through solarisation).
But the image has also
inherent means of attracting the attention.
To begin with, there are points on the surface of the rectangle that
naturally focus the gaze (Theodor Lipps). Convention only endorses such
natural propensity. In Titian's ‘Venus of Urbino’ the vagina is situated
at the intersection of the middle of the long side and the golden
section on the short side.
But the image possesses above all intrinsic means of concealing. That seems strange, since the image rather conjures up the idea of showing, revealing, laying bare. In fact, the image only shows merely one moment out the whole process of the unfolding of beauty, without any hope that we soon will lay eyes upon the other moments, as in the real world. To be sure, the image can solve the problem as we have seen in Chapter VIII. But it can also make a virtue of necessity. Just like clothes, the image only stirs the desire to lay bare the concealed parts and moments. This is especially true of images that only show the back side, especially when, as in the photo of Amelkovich, the gesture with which the nude lifts up its arms, cannot but teasingly remind of the treasures hidden on the forefront:
The same goes for images that imitate the blur around the focus of the eyes and then only stir the desire to penetrate the areas that go hidden in the 'flou' (see Chapter VIII).
Even more efficient is the use of shadow. In the image, the gradation of light and shadow is given once and for all. The eye cannot accommodate and subsequently penetrate the formerly dark areas. The artist can use this effect to fuel the erotic tension: how long we might stare at the shadowy parts of the image, we never shall be able to penetrate its darkness:
The effect is further enhanced when the light falls on the clothes that have to be laid off:
The most efficient means of concealing is, finally, the frame. The artist can stage the whole body, so that we can admire one part after another. But more often does he restrict himself to showing only one part of the body, revealing us one beauty by bereaving us of the sight of another .
(10) THE IMAGINARY WORLD
Not only can the qualities of the nude be idealised in the image, the nude itself can be staged in all kind of imaginary settings. With Koldo Chamorro, ominous shadows fall over the nude:
With Guncar, the nude is challenging a steaming locomotive, whereby the opposition between the challenging flesh and the overwhelming mechanics of the locomotive only strengthens the erotic freight of the encounter:
But the image is first and foremost the place where relations with less
fantastic, but therefore not less imaginary partners is staged. That
shall be the subject of our next two chapters.