There was trepidation in some quarters in advance the Renaissance Nude would be full of voluptuous, reclining female nudes designed to appeal to the male gaze. Of course, there are plenty of examples of Renaissance paintings which fit that stereotype, from Giorgione, Titian and others, but they are few and far between in this exhibition. In fact the exhibition turns this prejudice rather on its head dominated as it is by some compelling male nudes, both paintings and sculpture.
The theme of the exhibition is that as the medieval period transitioned into what we refer to as the Renaissance, depictions of the nude became increasingly prevalent. But while the traditional narrative would suggest that this process started in Italy and was closely associated with the emergence of humanist thinking linked to the rediscovery of Greek and Roman art and literature, this exhibition tells a different story. It demonstrates how the nude as a subject of art emerged across Europe at roughly the same time and was as closely linked to the telling of the Christian story as it was the development of humanism. It is a compellingly represented story.
The exhibition comes to the Royal Academy from the Getty Collection. And so a further attraction is that many of the exhibits are drawn from US collections and particularly that of the Getty Collection itself. They are therefore works which were certainly much less known to me and reinforced the sense that this is a genuinely fresh perspective on what might feel a very traditional subject. It is well worth a visit.