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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Body Compare: How Are Attitudes Toward the Naked Body Expressed Through Art?

Male and Female Twin Figures (flanitokelew)

Male and Female Twin Figures (flanitokelew)
Artist / Origin: Bamana artist, Kala, Mali
Region: Africa
Date: 20th century
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Wood, metal
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: (Male) H: 14 in. (35.6 cm.), W: 5 in. (12.7 cm.), D: 4 ½ in. (11.4 cm.); (Female) H: 13 7/8 in. (35.3 cm.), W: 5 ½ in. (14 cm.), D: 5 in. (12.7 cm.)
Location: The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Credit: Courtesy of the Newark Museum, Collection of Bernard and Patricia Wagner, Promised Gift/Photo by Sven Lindahl

Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise

Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise
Artist / Origin: Masaccio (Italian, 1401–28)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1427
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Fresco
Medium: Painting
Location: Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

How are attitudes toward the naked body expressed through art?

Although the body is a ubiquitous subject in world art, its treatment is neither static nor singular. It varies across continents and cultures, within cultures and throughout time. Figural approaches vary according to the needs, circumstances, beliefs, and values of makers and their audiences. The Bamana twin figures and Masaccio’s Adam and Eve demonstrate two distinct ways of representing men and women and two distinct ways of thinking about the nude human form.

Questions to Consider

  • Given the treatment of the body in the two works above, do you think that the two cultures which produced them share the same attitude towards nudity or nakedness? Explain.
  • The artist who created the Bamana twin figures employed angular and geometric forms to represent the body. In contrast, Masaccio uses chiaroscuro and foreshortening to shape his Adam and Eve. What are some reasons why one artist might favor a more abstract approach to the body, another a more naturalistic one?
  • These works both feature a man and woman. How do the bodies of man and woman compare to one another within each work? What kind of relationship between the sexes does each work posit? What role does the body play in expressing this?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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