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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A milestone in art history,
This review is from: The Nude: A study in ideal form (Hardcover)In 1956 this was the definitive work on the subject, and it is difficult to understand the way the portrayal of the unclothed human form was considered in Western art history until recently, without reading it. It is an easy, graceful read, well-written and amply illustrated with black and white photos inset in the text. This review is of the original edition, without the additions by Charles Saumarez Smith
Clark takes the classical world as its starting point, and then relates it to traditions from the Renaissance on. "Apollo" is the archetype of the rational male intellect, portrayed as a young athlete. "Venus" he distinguishes in the Western tradition both as the Celestial Venus; a portrayal of the female as something beyond the fleshly, and as Natural Venus, more human, accessible and sensual. "Energy" is the title he chooses for his discussion of figures in action, displaying speed, strength and agility in an idealised way. The chapters on "Pathos" and "Ecstasy" address both classical imagery and that of Christian iconography.
Chapter 8, "The Alternative Convention" is the first to really move away from the Mediterranean. In the Northern Renaissance, even artists like Durer had trouble with the human form; Clark says Durer could not understand that the solution was an attitude of mind, not some simple set of geometric parameters. Unclothed men and women, in northern art, look more like ordinary people caught unawares, not icons of the ideal. This is one of the more interesting chapters, because it highlights the fact that Clark's state of mind is itself rooted in the Mediterranean tradition, while modern treatments of the body are far more in the Northern mould.
In Chapter 9 Clark takes us forward to what he regards as "modern art" - chiefly Matisse, Picasso and Henry Moore. Having dealt with later 19th century painters such as Manet and Renoir in the chapter on "Natural Venus", he is concerned mostly with the matter of abstraction, and seeks to find a consistent philosophy to end the book on. I did not find this convincing, and felt that his decision not to address the later 20th century developments in the work of Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and Stanley Spencer, which proved the forerunners of art such as that of Ron Mueck and Cindy Sherman, was significant.
What Clark omits is interesting. Two artists who are now well-known for pushing the genre beyond its classical limits, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, receive no mention. He sees the northern (realist) tradition as a problem with achieving the Mediterranean ideal, rather than a quite different project in which the unclothed form is treated to a different kind of humanism; one which permits tenderness, compassion and an honest eroticism. Nor does he recognise the objectification of the body, especially the female, which is at the core of the classical tradition. In his discussion of Manet's Olympia, he explains that it shocked because it presented the subject matter in a realistic rather than idealised setting, and that we have now got over it and are able to appreciate it on its merits; he fails to see that the painting still has power precisely because the artist is challenging that objectification.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well thought out discussion of the Western tradition,
By A Customer
This review is from: Nude (Hardcover)Whether you are a student of the arts, religion, history, or life you will learn from this work. Mr. Clark speaks with the authority of an educated and thoughtful expert on the subject and with the voice of a formidable author as well.
His work is as densely packed with meaning as you might expect to find in the writings of Reinhold Niehbur yet is possessed of a wonderfully literary mask. The writing is so well done, one might accidently read right over the meaning in the haste of seeing what will come next.
If you're the highlighting or underlining type, I'd recommend saving such marking for the second read as more of the true significance bubbles to the fore. Put aside your expectations of a "typical" art history text and prepare for an incredible enlightenment.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Folio Society edition is a gorgeous book,
This review is from: The Nude: A study in ideal form (Hardcover)This is the Folio Society edition of this book, which is a lovely big hardback in a slip case with the pictured painting by Ingres printed directly on the cover.
It has about 200 images, less than my older edition (which has 300) but they're well chosen, and the quality of the reproductions is stunning - for example, I've never seen a reproduction of Manet's Olympia which didn't either lose the background detail or flatten the figure's detail; this does neither. In these days of easy googling of images, less images isn't much of a problem.
5.0 out of 5 stars Dated yet brillant.,
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This review is from: The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (The A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts) (Paperback)The writing is dated yet brilliantly written. For anyone intersted in the nude
reading this will give you the history to your human form as interpretted through
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read Lynda Nead as an antidote,
This review is from: The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts) (Paperback)A seminal book for all art historians, but from a very masculine tradition of art history: Lynda Nead's The Female Nude is absolutely essential reading to accompany this text, if you are aiming at any kind of understanding of the issues involved.
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The Nude: A study in ideal form by Kenneth Clark (Hardcover - 2010)
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