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Within one-tenth of a second, people form a variety of opinions about each other based on what they see, and these opinions are not necessarily favorable to us.

Yesterday, while browsing my Google+ feed, I came across a link to my post “Is it a good idea to share your nude photographs, if you are a nudist?”  kindly reblogged and shared on Google+ by Paul K., author of the wonderful blog about nudism Zjuzdme.org. Someone on Google+ left a comment under my photo saying, let me quote, “so small dick u have”. First of all, I felt like I let down Paul, because it was unclear to whom the comment was addressed. Secondly, I thought that it was not a good idea to share my nude photograph taken on a chilly day.

With a feeling of a little disappointment, I turned to the history of visual art.

When it comes to art, there are two popular questions: “Why does Michelangelo’s Adam have such a ridiculously small penis” and why does “the most famous of Greek statues, Michelangelo’s David”, depict “big muscles, but a tiny penis”?

Michelangelo Buonarroti - Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo Buonarroti – Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo learned the philosophy and art of ancient Greece and admired the Greeks’ attempt to capture ideal beauty in their statues. According to Larissa Bonfantethere were “two concurrent strains of nudity in Greek art: one reflecting a magical or apotropaic function (herms, satyrs, etc.), characterized by the erect phallus; another, developing from athletic nudity, a more empirical interest in the naked, athletic male body (kouroi, athletes and male figures in black- and red-figure vase painting), where the sex organs themselves are less obtrusive”.

Statue of kouros - Wikimedia Commons

Statue of kouros – Wikimedia Commons

“Satyrs, animal-like human figures with horses’ tails, were represented full of vitality, naked, with exaggerated huge phalli (or phalluses)”. Actors who represented satyrs in the theater in the 5th century B.C. “wore animal-skin loincloths with a large phallus sewn on”. The herms the Athenians encountered daily in the streets of their city, from ca. 540 B.C. on, “consisted of a male head sculptured on a pillar, on which was carved an erect phallus, serving as a reminder of the powerful magic residing in the alerted male member”.

On the kouros, Greek sculpture representing a nude young man, “the sex was simply uncovered; while the phallus was emphasized on satyrs and herms, and on the stage”. “The kouros type fits the concept of the sacred quality of nudity: its nakedness represented a feature of initiation ritual. It referred to those religious dances and rituals that called for the candidate’s nakedness as a special costume or habit”. The ideal of youthful male beauty “included the small penis of a younger man”. “Youth was an essential aspect of the nudity of the kouros. Old men and ugly slaves have longer penises”.

“In contrast to the large, erect phallus of the magic, apotropaic figure, a beautiful young man was characterized by a small penis. For women, too, whether they were represented naked or dressed, in art, literature, and life, depilation and small breasts were part of the ideal of youthful beauty”.

Of course, each time has its own aesthetic values. I’ll bear it in mind when choosing the images for my blog.

No one knows exactly when people invented clothes. Usually, the origin of clothing is dated back to 100,000 years ago. According to archaeological research, “prehistoric hunters may have worn the skins of bears or reindeer in order to keep warm or a sign of personal skill, bravery, and strength” [1]. The needle was invented by the end of the Old Stone Age – about 25,000 years ago. At about the same time, people started to make yarn from plants or from the fur or hair of animals. They had begun to raise plants and started to herd “wood-producing” animals like sheep.

Of course, clothes have a very important biological function, but it appears that “even in cold climates, some people seem more interested in decorating their bodies than in protecting them. In the 1830s the British biologist Charles Darwin (1809-82) travelled to the island of Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of South America. There he saw people who wore only a little paint and a small cloak made of animal skin, in spite of the cold rain and the sleet. Darwin gave the people scarlet cloth; they took it and wrapped it around their necks, instead of wearing it around the lower body for warmth. Despite the cold weather, the people wore clothing not for protective reasons, but primarily for decorating their bodies and making them appear attractive” [1].

Humans “have used clothing to define our kind (especially to differentiate ourselves from animals), and to differentiate ourselves from each other” [2]. In all societies and cultures, “dress characterizes group membership and beliefs”. “Shamans … have always worn special clothing to identify themselves. … Motorcycle gang members … wear leather jackets, boots, and various items such as brass knuckles to convey toughness and group identity” [1].

It is not a great discovery that “what makes nudity appealing … is the absence of clothing”. “Nudity is the oppositional counterpart to clothing”. Clothing and nudity “constitute a single system of meaning” [1].

So what does nudity mean? There is a simple answer: “nudity is associated with sex because … one usually becomes nude in order to engage in sex” [3]. Despite the fact that one may find this explanation exhaustive, there’s another point of view on nudity.

It was noticed that “in a clothed society, … nakedness is special, and can be used as a “costume” [4]. In other words, nudity can be “imagined as a form of clothing” [2]. If so, when was it appropriate to wear this “costume”, in historical perspective?

“In anthropology, for example, nudity-as-clothing can appear as the category of “ritual nudity”, in which the theorist analyses the way nudity can function as a kind of costume in ritual or magic” [2]. “In Greece the remarkable innovation of athletic male nudity, which surely originated in a ritual, religious context, developed a special social and civic meaning. It became a costume, a uniform: exercising together in the gymnasia marked men’s status as citizens of the polis and as Greeks”. Men “attended the gymnasium, and proudly wore the “costume” that was appropriate for this place”. “Nudity as a costume was fashionable” [4].

“Throughout the sixth century B.C., black-figure Attic vases regularly show athletes competing in the nude, as well as nude gods, heroes, mortals, revelers, etc.” [4]. “In the convention of heroic nudity, gods and heroes were shown naked, while ordinary mortals were less likely to be so, though athletes and warriors in combat were often depicted nude” [5].

In this context, the “modern” attitude towards nudity seems disappointingly primitive. Nudity, a “costume” related to magic and heroes, has lost most of its meanings. It’s time to find them again.

Isaac Newton by William Blake

Isaac Newton by William Blake – Wikimedia Commons

References
[1] Marcel Danesi, The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice, University of Toronto Press, 2007
[2] Ruth Barcan, Nudity a Cultural Anatomy, Berg, 2004
[3] Yahoo Answers: Why most peoples always associated nudity with sexual?
[4] Larissa Bonfante, Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 93, No. 4, 1989
[5] Nude (art) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

According to the art historian Michael Camille, the traces of direct physical attacks can be seen “in hundreds if not thousands” of “medieval illuminated manuscripts” [1] (see also [2]). Specific texts, images, or parts of images were found offensive and destroyed by “the owners, guardians, or users of these books”.

It is believed that images acted more powerfully upon the viewers in the Middle Ages than today. It can be explained by some aspects of “medieval theories of vision itself, which gave an active role to the eye in the process of perception. Vision entailed the eye’s actually taking an imprint of the thing seen” [1]. Medieval scholars have thought that either the eye is sending out rays to see the object or the object is sending rays to the eye. Vision was active, dangerous and “prone to sin”. Pregnant women were not allowed to look at “very disgusting animals” (like apes or monkeys) in the face, because they could give birth to children “similar in appearance”.

It seems interesting that “thirteenth- and fourteenth-century illuminators were not worried about” depicting human genitals. The earlier medieval period, “certainly up to the fourteenth century”, might be described as a time when images of naked human bodies were rife, and “when no danger was seen to exist in explicit representations of bodies” [1].

It all began to change at the very end of the Middle Ages, “not before the fifteenth century” [1] (compare [3]) . The medieval church established a control over public decency. In 1402 Jean Gerson, bishop of Paris, wrote a treatise on the corruption of youth, “which urged the secular and ecclesiastical authorities to introduce laws against the exhibition and sale of obscene pictures”. As a result, “postclassical” pornography was invented “at around the same time”.

Starting from the later Middle Ages, the numerous images of male and female genitals were erased from manuscripts. It continued up to Victorian times, when some collectors of manuscripts took a hand in the process in order “to prevent the penis being seen by wife and children” [1].

Scenes showing naked female characters were often erased from books. “The majority of excised female figures in medieval manuscripts suggests the work of later male clerics” [1]. There was a solid theoretical background for it. In Gemma Ecclesiastica by Gerald of Wales [4] one can find a chapter entitled ‘On not staring at women’. A medieval clergyman wrote: “Just as one should avoid the company of women, so too should one avoid staring at them or being stared at by them” [5]. He quoted St. Augustine: “Even if your eyes should fall upon a woman, you must never fix your gaze”.

Michael Camille wrote at the end of his essay [1]: “The fact that male and female genitals are still blocked in television representations of the body makes us heirs to a tradition that began in the later Middle Ages, when those heirs scratching out offensive and dangerous things from the beautifully illuminated books they inherited, or making representation itself the veil that covers rather than reveals, saw the obscene for the first time”.

Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)

Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)

Image: Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) (From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

References
1. Michael Camille, Obscenity Under Erasure, in Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the European Middle Ages / ed. by Jan M. Ziolkowski, Leiden, Brill, 1998.
2. Art Historian Michael Camille, 1958-2002
3. Vadimage Blog: History of one delusion
4. Gerald of Wales – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
5. Suzannah Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

For the first time, I’ve learnt about nudism from the summer catalog published by Oböna Reisen, which bills itself as Europe’s largest tour operator for naturist holidays [1]. It was the first half of the 1980s and I was a teenager. At that time I lived in a country called Soviet Union, where anything that wasn’t sanctioned by the primitive, poverty-stricken form of imperial ideology was forbidden – or at least considered suspicious. The images in the catalog gave me a chance to glance at the world of naturist clubs, some of the photos even seemed to tell short stories about people and places. The Oböna catalog (the latest one can be found here: [2]), which fell in my hands by accident, was my only source of information about nudism for a few years. In some sense, it was like something from the ancient world, when the people had limited access to information.

In the Middle Ages, the largely illiterate population relied more upon visual representations of important information (such as different religious events) then the printed word [3]. Now the situation is different. “Nearly everybody in America and western Europe has learnt to read and write nowadays. Illiteracy recedes everywhere”, wrote Herbert George Wells in 1929 [4] . But the tendency to focus on visual representation of information in many areas of human activity does not vanish. We are visible creatures. “We depend on our sight more than any other of our senses and amazingly, 80% of what we perceive comes through our eyes; and our memories are 80% imagery” [5].

“Photography is one of the most compelling and authoritative forms of visual communication, challenging the viewer and demanding an emotional response” [6]. It is not surprising that photography “played an important role in spreading the word about naturism”, not only in my case. “In the early decades of the twentieth century”, when nudism emerged as the “cult of nudity in the concept of the simple life”, photographs “helped to convey in visual form evidence of the pleasures of being without clothes, to suggest a range of activities with an emphasis on life out of doors, and to attract new supporters” [7].

The first naturist magazines “could only print the most circumspect of poses and still risked prosecution. Photographs of naked men were carefully posed so that the genitals were concealed by arms or legs or the figure was shown from the side or from the three-quarter view; from the rear the figure could be safely shown completely naked. <…> Women rarely appeared in naturist photographs until the 1920s and 1930s, when they too went through a similar de-sexing process which involved masking out bodily features such as pubic hair and the dark circles around the nipples on the photographic print” [7].

“The air brush (‘pneumatic pencil’) was invented in the 1890s and proved excellent for use on photographic prints to tidy up the image and remove unwanted detail. It produced a thin fine pencil spray of neutral coloured paint which could be judiciously applied to photographs of the nude.”

“Naturists and the publishers of nudist books and magazines fought a constant battle with the various authorities for the right to print honest and accurate ‘life’ photographs, showing the outdoor activities of the nudists and the lives they led without censoring the image.” “It was not until the 1960s in the UK and the USA that any major success was achieved: naturists won the right to print untouched photographs” [7].

The principles of the American Sunbathing Association state: “We believe that sunshine and fresh air in immediate contact with the entire body are basic factors in maintaining radiant health and happiness. We believe in creating beauty in all things and therefore encourage men and women by daily care and culture to create for themselves the body beautiful. <…> We believe that presentation of the male and female figures in their entirety and completeness needs no apology or defense and that only in such an attitude of mind can we find true modesty” [8].

I believe that the modern nudists should continue spreading “the word about nudism” and, in full agreement with principles stated above, provide visual evidence of nudist lifestyle “as a healthful and moral practice”.

References
1. FKK-Urlaub mit OBÖNA Reisen‎
2. Katalog – OBÖNA Reisen FKK-Touristik
3. Book Review: Gothic: Visual Art of the Middle Ages 1150-1500
4. Herbert George Wells, The Work, World and Happiness of Mankind, Greenwood Press, 1968.
5. EYES 101: Basic Facts and Anatomy
6. Digital Photography | Ravensbourne
7. Emmanuel Cooper, Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography, Routledge, 2013.
8. Elton Raymond Shaw, The body taboo: its origin, effect, and modern denial, Shaw Publishing Company, 1937.

The technical definition of exploitation movies is cheaply made pictures distributed by roadshowmen or by local independents called states’-righters. A major studio was opening, in those days [the 1930s and 1940s], 400 prints. An exploitation picture never had more than 15 or 20, and they moved around from territory to territory…[1] (David Friedman)

Wikipedia defines “Exploitation film” as a “film which is generally considered to be low budget, and therefore apparently attempting to gain financial success by “exploiting” a current trend or a niche genre or a base desire for lurid subject matter” [2]. According to exploitation producer David Friedman, “exploitation pictures are as old as film itself” [1]. It is not surprising that “many exploitation genres relied on nudity as a source of spectacle” [3]. Eric Schaefer, an author of “meticulously researched, interdisciplinary study” of exploitation films [3], calls the “nudist films” (something about “unashamed nudists”) one of the “cornerstone genres of classical exploitation focused on the spectacle of the nude body”.

Recently, while browsing Internet Archive (which is a “non-profit digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge” [4,5]), I came across the classical exploitation “nudist film” called “Expose of The Nudist Racket” (see [6]; it also can be found on Vimeo [7] and YouTube [8]). It was filmed in 1938 for “Hollywood Producers and Distributors”. Producer is, in fact, unknown. The Short Format film is now distributed under Creative Commons license (Attribution 3.0).

Image: frames from "Expose of The Nudist Racket" (1938)

Image: frames from “Expose of The Nudist Racket” (1938)

In the first half of the 1930s, the American press considered nudism mostly unfavorably. “Crude jokes were made and the reporters liked nothing better than going to a nudist camp and teasing the members for a story, which was usually written up in disrespectful ways”. Later “nudism came to be viewed by the press as a benign, if unconventional, practice” [3].

Film producers used different strategies “for bringing nudism to screen”, in order to “legitimize” the subject. For example, it could be a pseudoscientific, “anthropological approach” with references to “customs among primitive peoples” [3]. The “Expose of The Nudist Racket” took a different attitude. The creators of the film tried to be funny employing “titles and narration for comic effect”. Jokes about fat women are the height of their humor capacity.

Eric Schaefer admits that “some spectators went to see the films to satisfy their curiosity about the nudist movement” , but he insists that “the nudist exploitation films were designed to create sexual arousal in, or at the very least titillate, viewers”. However, “despite the exploitation films’ sexualization of nudism, the nudist’s advocacy of sunshine and simplicity of life found an ideal vehicle for expression in the movies, in part because of their overlapping ideology” [3]. “Nudism was presented as a middle-class lifestyle option” and “a possible antidote to modern life”. The nudist films pointed to the “precedent of social nudity in ancient Greece, which was “simple” yet highly “civilized” according to modern standards”.

“Expose of The Nudist Racket” can convince you that time goes by, but nothing changes. The nudists still want “publicity for their movement”, while the second word in a word-combination “social nudity” remains the key one for most people.

References
1. David Chute, Washes of Sin: An Interview with David F. Friedman, Film Comment, July-August, 1986
2. Exploitation film – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
3. Eric Schaefer, “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!”: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959, Duke University Press, 1999
4. Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine
5. Internet Archive – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
6. Expose of The Nudist Racket. : uncredited : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
7. The Expose Of The Nudist Racket (1938) on Vimeo
8. Expose of The Nudist Racket. – YouTube

Chronology

Period of free development

The late 19th century. Organized social nudism started in Germany. Sunbathing was recognized as an especially healthy form of recreation, and the nude body was rediscovered as an expression of naturalness and true morality [1]. The flourishing of nudism in Germany is also considered as a reaction to the extreme moral conservatism of 19th-century Prussia. On the other hand, conservative circles viewed nude bathing as a moral decay [2].
1920s – 1930s. In the Weimar Republic, the movement was accepted by the majority of the people and became part of mass culture. Nudism developed in many different branches and tested the legal boundaries of ‘indecent behaviour’ [3].

Strict prohibitions

1933 The Nazis had outlawed many of the nudist organizations for lewdness.
1945 The Allies prohibited nudist movement after World War II [3].
1954 The GDR government introduced the ban on nude bathing for the entire East German Baltic Sea coast

Under control

Late 1933. Some nudist organizations united under the umbrella of the Nazi sport movement and became legal.
1946 Various FKK clubs were allowed by the Allies
1940s – 1960s (the Adenauer era) In West Germany nudity was equated with pornography and nudist movement was unable to regain mass popularity [1].
1950s-1980s In East Germany FKK continued and even expanded its mass appeal even though FKK clubs were not officially allowed. East-German citizens could choose between FKK beaches and Textilstranden (textile beaches) where swimsuits were worn [1].

FKK-Strand im Bezirk Cottbus, July 1982 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

FKK-Strand im Bezirk Cottbus, July 1982 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Present

After 1990 With unification, the textiles began to dominate again at many beaches. But in the new millennium, the non-club-oriented, laissez-faire attitude seems to have won over most people. Nowadays, discussions about nudity flare up in the media, but in everyday life few people are offended to see someone strip completely, even in a public park [1].

Links
1. Catherine C. Fraser, Dierk O. Hoffmann. Pop culture Germany. ABC-CLIO (2006)
2. Freikörperkultur – Wikipedia
3. A. Krüger , F. Krüger , S. Treptau. Nudism in Nazi Germany: Indecent Behaviour or Physical Culture for the Well-being of the Nation. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 19, (2002) 33 – 54.

Traditionally it was believed that the Ghent Altarpiece was begun by Hubert van Eyck, who died in 1426 whilst work was underway, and completed by his younger brother Jan van Eyck, but some modern researchers distinguished the hand of only one artist, namely Jan van Eyck, in this painting.

This altarpiece is one of the few large fifteenth-century polyptychs that can be seen today in its original location at Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium (The Visual Arts: A History, Revised Edition by Hugh Honour, John F. Fleming). It was a fundamentally innovative work in its depiction of naturalism. (Blurring the boundaries between art and life: Jan van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece (1425-32) by Diane G. Scillia)

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve) by Jan van Eyck

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve) by Jan van Eyck

Karel van Mander (1548 – 1606) wrote that the Ghent Altarpiece could serve as proof of Jan van Eyck’s  scholarship, because of

the fig that Eve holds in her hand; for St Augustine prefers to believe that it was a fig that Adam ate rather than an apple; the reason is that literally the text speaks of a fruit, and does not distinguish which fruit; but they clothed themselves with fig-leaves <…> and not with the leaves of apple. (The Lives of the illustrious Netherlandish and German painters by Karel van Mander)

It was, of course, a great discovery by Augustine of Hippo and a sigh of real scholarship. So I thought I should make a note of it, to remember in the future. Concerning the altarpiece, one may say that its naturalism didn’t stand it in good stead. In the 19th century, the naked representations of Adam and Eve were considered unacceptable in a church and the panels were replaced by dressed reproductions.

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve dressed)

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve dressed)

Only in the 20th century Jan’s Adam and Eve returned to their original positions. (see Adam and Eve: Shameless First Couple of the Ghent Altarpiece by Linda Seidel).