11 June 2013

An Examination of Nudity in Sculpture (Focused Particularly on the Intimacy of Cupid + Psyche)

I discovered Bad Catholic only this year, if I remember rightly, and I think Marc has something going on these subjects. He is also the only blogger I have seen (so far! I haven't searched the whole internet, obviously) to deeply consider topics of modesty and sexuality inspired by and citing Catholic documents to explain his thoughts and enter discussion with others. I am particularly interested in the modesty topic, as were you to ask me what that should look like I would have a difficult time answering in a full, concise and satisfying way.

So anyway, these posts, especially those which included pieces of art (paintings and sculpture), got me thinking about the art I saw at the Louvre in March. Especially, I focused on sculptures with female nudity, since that really seems to be a major issue we deal with when we talk about modesty ("Cover yourself up!") and sexuality ("Breasts. Everywhere."). Since sculpture largely seems to ignore our modern outcries, what is it focusing on?

[A couple things to note: I know not everything modest centers on the female, centers on breasts, excludes men, etc. I just wanted to consider the "role" nudity plays in these pieces, beyond it being the style or culture when these pieces were sculpted. Maybe it will make sense as I go on.... Also, I am not a fancy-shmancy, trained art student, so these are just my musings; I don't claim to have the exact interpretation which everyone takes, but isn't that kind of the point of art: examining and thinking and expressing one's ideas?]

Photo by me.

This one of Aphrodite and Eros (Venus and Cupid) was one of the first I saw walking through what felt like a maze of marble. I was drawn to this piece because of the mother-child interaction. This seemed very appropriate, as it demonstrates one of the chief roles a woman takes on. She is patient and careful as he explores the world.

Role of Nudity: Nurturing. Obviously a woman nourishes her child with her body, before and after he is born. She does so with her time, with her intellect, with her instinct; with her body is just one realm.

Photo by me.
The Three Graces. My mind immediately jumped to the intimate bond shared between sisters and close-as-sisters friends. There is also a balance in the sculpture: an odd number of persons, the leaning in triangle effect which occurs in other pieces of art (classic example: The Last Supper). It is the connection of the three which makes this sculpture so strong.

Role of Nudity: Comfort. These sisters are in complete companionship. They aren't going to judge each other as a girl in this modern day fears when she changes in the girls' locker room or keeps her dress size a secret. There is a natural way about the pose and lack of attire: acceptance and confidence to the point that you'd think they never gave a thought to their nudity, like pre-apple Adam and Eve.

Photo by me.
Oh, Venus de Milo. "I don't get it," I remember saying, "it" being the craze that seemed to surround this piece which had a room if its own. The fiance explained it to me later: the alternating angles pose, the detail in the abdomen, the way the cloth seems ready to fall, the curious lack of arms. There is a lot going on with this piece, considering how small and narrow it is in comparison with others.

Role of Nudity: Because of the way the cloth looks as if it is precariously slipping past her hips, this sculpture does partially strike me as sensual in an anticipatory way. But I do not immediately think of "sexual," exactly. It's a bit difficult to place my finger upon, but there is still an element of elegance and refinement that makes this art and not profane (by which I mean degrading). It celebrates the female form, admiring it but respecting it, as it should be. (I think I get it now.)

Photo by fiance.
And then I got to Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss. I was anxious to get to this sculpture because it is beautiful in several ways: the intertwining, the embrace, the face to face interaction, the story behind the sculpture. As I was looking at it earlier today with Marc's posts still on my mind, I realized that any "sexual body parts" are hidden or unseen from the standard view (go poking around if you want to look like a weirdo). Much of the sculpture I saw in the two days I spent at the Louvre was quite open with nudity, even in-your-face to the poor Americanized traveler I was ashamed of myself for being (though, I did get over it, because art is art and somehow that is reason enough sometimes to break the bonds of American weirdness and be comfortable around the human form; tangent?). Of course there is a sensual undertone, but that's just it: an underlying hint, not an overwhelming kick in the face to your senses.

Stumped, I wondered, "If this sculpture covers up, as modern interpretations of nudity would seem to support, why is it one of the most intriguing, intimate pieces I've ever seen? Why is it not as showy showy as other pieces?" Well, there are several reasons.

It is practical. Psyche is being awakened by Cupid, so the presence of a blanket draped around her hips would make sense. Cupid is lifting her, so it is more practical and flattering for him to lift her as he is: how weird would it be if he were strangling her or hauling her up by her stomach?

It is about their connection. Your eye is immediately drawn to the meeting of their faces. That is the center of the sculpture and the story: Psyche awakens to see her love and that moment must be as breathless as she is in the moments before (she falls into a death-like sleep). Even the two were completely unobstructed, I don't think you could focus on that with the intensity going on with their faces. It is corresponding and balanced: man and woman, standing and laying, lowering and rising, waking and sleeping, reaching and holding, eternal life and eternal death.

It is about eternity. I love the way their arms are intertwined, because it looks like a figure eight to me, which makes me think of the infinity symbol. As gods (as Psyche becomes), they will never die and their love will never die.

This piece is beautiful because it manages to be perhaps the most intimate sculpture in the world (again, I'm not an expert, but look at it!) without being super sexual and instead expressing so many other facets of intimacy. That thrills me because while sex is obviously intimate, it is not the only way intimacy can be expressed. There is an element of intimacy in all of these works--the intimacy of shared breath and blood of a mother and her child, the intimacy of close companionship, the intimacy of an anticipatory moment--but Cupid and Psyche manage a romantic intimacy that is sweet, tender and tasteful. I do not base this on the fact that it hides so called "sexual body parts," though that is the case, but because I think it shows what true intimacy is: the ability to be completely yourself with another, a give-and-take harmony, free from judgment and hesitation, for one moment being two halves of the same whole. It speaks to the practicality, balance and eternity of intimacy.

So what is the Role of Nudity here? It highlights human intimacy in a balanced, all-encompassing way which extends beyond the common "sex only and always" interpretation the modern day world seems to take. It is, quite simply, beautiful, as intimacy should be.

No comments:

Post a Comment