This is something that I find fascinating. When you go around galleries you can usually hear children giggling about how rotund the ladies are, especially the nudes. And it's true, they pack a lot of lard. For various reasons the ideal of female beauty was much larger than it is today.
Italian artist Anna Utopia Giordano addresses this in The Venus Project. She has taken some of the most celebrated nudes and given them an 'Extreme Makeover' (that show makes me want to vomit) using Photoshop.
The difference is startling and often unsettling. Some nudes look adolescent like Ingrés 'Venus Anadyomène' (1848) and others don't have any physical presence in the composition like Bouguereau's Venus (1879). The sensuality is lost in Gentileschi's 'The Sleeping Venus' (1625) and Cabanel's 'The Birth of Venus' (1863), although arguably I can't help thinking that some might be an improvement but that may just be with my TwentyFirst Century eyes (sorry Richard Westall 'The Power of Venus', best stick to paintings of Lord Byron).
I've often thought that one of the reasons that Velázquez 'Toilet of Venus' (1847-1851) is so palatable today (other than the fact that the man was a genius and the painting is pure heaven) is the slender line of the reclining nude. Hats off to Giordano, but any alteration to a Velasquez would be detrimental.
|William Adolphe Bouguereau 'The Birth of Venus' 1879|
|Sandro Botticelli 'The Birth of Venus' 1486|
|Artemisia Gentileschi 'The Sleeping Venus' 1630|
|Richard Westall 'The Power of Venus'|
|(Agnolo di Cosimo) Bronzino 'Allegory of Love' 1545|
|Francesco Hayez 'Venus' 1830|
|Alexandre Cabanel 'The Birth of Venus' 1863|
|Diego Velázquez 'The Toilet of Venus' 1847-1851|
I was discussing this last night with a friend and it is interesting that whilst 'you can never be too rich or too thin' (thanks for that pearl of wisdom Wallis Simpson) and 'nothing tastes as good as being thin' (Kate Moss), curves in nudes are considered sexy. Fashion models are expected to be skeletal because they're showcasing the clothes which arguably hang better on such figures. Page Three girls and High Street Honey's aren't, they're starkers. Slim not skinny is still preferable for a nude. So, whilst Giordano has addressed this conundrum interestingly and called it to attention, perhaps it is slightly off the mark?