see also: 'the ecstasies of eros'

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Chapter IX of 'The erotic eye and its nude'


In the preceding chapter, we have seen how the image lays bare the intrinsic blindness of the eye while at the same time being a remedy for it. In this chapter we will describe how the image succeeds in heightening - idealising - the beauty of the nude. The artist can change its colour, texture, form, posture and behaviour so that it can better meet the demands of the erotic eye. Also the characteristics of the image itself - its immobility, the frame, the inner structure of its surface - provide new possibilities.

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An even and flawless skin is a powerful erotic stimulus. That is why, in handmade images, all kind of irregularities are simply omitted. A photo can be retouched. More sophisticated is the use of the natural 'low definition' of a painted, sculpted or printed surface:


In photography, the same effect can be achieved through the choice of the right grain or through digital correction.

As a reaction, many photographers reveal the minor wrinkles, the little hairs or the minuscule knobs on the skin. Through rendering the little knobs, a remarkable sense of tactile sensuality can be achieved:

luc selen

paul politis

igor amelkovich

eric kellerman

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:

luc selen

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:

luc selen

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:

norm edwards

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:

dominique lefort

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:

albert lemoine

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:

jindrich vanek

tony ryan

alain paris

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 qualities of the skin can also be heightened through opposition, for example with bruises or the imprint of underwear in the skin:

carla van de puttelaar

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:

stéphane bourson

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:

yves noir

floris andréa

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:

ernesto timor

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 an environment.

The warmth and the softness of the skin can be opposed to the rough surface of hard metal:

igor amelkovich

The woods or the grasslands provide many a contrast to the nude skin:

oleg bilitsky

daniel barreau

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:

ernesto timor

Most cherished is the opposition between the flawless even skin and the rough angularity of rocks that could hurt it:

dejan dizdar

brian peterson

ludovic goubet

alexander shakhabalov

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:

alexander shakhabalov

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:

walter bosque

fabiola narváez ojeda

fabiola narváez ojeda

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 Grien).

And, finally, an echo of the contrast between the archaic slimy skin of the genitals and the nude is to be found in the opposition of the skin with the wet vegetation on the rocks in Barreau:

daniel barreau

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':


We already mentioned the fetishistic strive to lay eyes upon the central opening (Chapter III). The sight of the genital often hurts the aesthetic sensibility of the eye. That is why it is often replaced with more centrifugal parts of the body (Chapter III), but alsof with props:

rafael navarro

rafael navarro

(3) HAIR

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:

eric kellerman

Both kinds of tactility are often opposed, so that their difference is only stressed and enhanced:

marcel extra

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:

virgil brill

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:

konrad gös

karl h. warkentin

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:

objet de désir

hermann foesterling

alain paris

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):

ernesto timor
(gregor erhart


ernesto timor

ernesto timor

Totally different from the mane of hair on the skull is the pubic hair.

rafael navarro

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:

jean-françois bauret

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:

walo thönen


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:

brian peterson

dejan dizdar

The ribs on the back heighten the softness of the thighs:

jean-françois bauret

Also the bones in the fingers may accentuate the softness of the breast of the buttocks:

eduardo segura

dominique lefort

igor amelkovich


In chapter VIII(b), we have demonstrated how sophisticated techniques of lighting can heighten or diminish the feeling of rounding. Here, we have only to mention how all kinds of props may intensify the colour of eyes, hair and skin by making them resound in a more encompassing chord of colours.
In the photo of Tina Cassati below, the resonance of the colours is only heightened through the opulence of exotic fruits and flowers:

tina cassati


Echoes in the body itself can intensify the feeling of roundness. An example is the lowest rib that echoes the undulation of the breast, effect which is only emphasized through appropriate framing:

peter stenzel

mick payton

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:

tina cassati

alain paris

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:

marité malaspina

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:

philippe pache

More obvious is the opposition to angular attributes:


r.g. griffeth

claus rose

maite soler

Things come to their apogee when the vulnerable nude body is contrasted with cold metal, especially when it wears a suit of armour and brandishes a sword:

richard de chazal

or with the 'castrating' effect realised by placing the sharp edge of a mirror between the legs:

alva bernadine


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:

christian coigny

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:

oren obstblum

With Ken Lichtenwalter, the elongation of the legs comes to enhance the sense of nonchalance emanating from those legs spread wide:

ken lichtenwalter

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.


ernesto timor

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:

richard williams

and with Tomy Ceballos into a kind of frog:

tomy ceballos

Remarkable effects can be obtained by letting the nude protrude by the surface of water:

hermann foesterling

or by photographing its reflects in a deforming mirror. Louis Duclos used the method for obtaining the anamorfosis of portraits in 1889, but it is above all André Kertész who produced the most surrealistic erotic beings with this method in 1933. They inspired Salvador Dali to his 'melting forms'
. The photo below is an excellent illustration of the processes we described in chapter III:


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:

keith nicolson

A remarkable erotic effect is achieved through Albert Lemoine's reduction of the symmetry of the body to a concatenation of single parts:

albert lemoine

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:

freddy schoofs


The image allows for even more radical transformations.

To begin with, there is the recombination of photographed parts of the nude:

angel burbano

Digital manipulation of the image offers countless new possibilities:

francesco d'isa

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.

stefan beyst

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:

michel charles

albert lemoine

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):

manuel laval

manuel laval

In the delicate picture of Bogdan Zwir below, the central void is merely hinted at by the protrusion of the extremities:

bogdan zwir

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 (Knopff).

In other cases, the upper part of the body remains human: sphinx, centaur, mermaid, angel.

milton montenegro

bogdan zwir

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 (Alfred Kubin).


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:

igor amelkovich



dirk lakomy

jorge parra

Most enticing effects can be obtained with wet cloth, especially when the artist is no longer restricted to the use of existing clothes:

richard reed

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.

The attention can also be focussed through appropriate lighting


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:

igor amelkovich

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:

paul bolk


gorden thye

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 .


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:

koldo chamorro

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.

Stefan Beyst,December 2003

From the same author:
'the ecstasies of eros'

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see also:

waclaw wantuch

gabriele rigon craig morey

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